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Twenty years into the New Millenium, How Has Church Life Changed?

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

By Garry M. Spotts, M.Div.

The year 1999 seemed significant to most adults in the U.S. because it would be the only time in our lives that we would witness the change of a century and a millennium in one. The late, Prince, wrote a song to memorialize the moment, the W2K scare caused everyone to scramble, hoarding water and pulling money out of the banks.

According to a Gallup Study:[1]

U.S. church membership was 70% or higher from 1937 through 1976, falling modestly to an average of 68% in the 1970s through the 1990s. The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999 and more than half of that change occurring since the start of the current decade.

The prime reason for the decline is the increase in the number of Americans who have no religious preference or affiliation. The article also states that among those still claim a religious affiliation, a large portion of them do not attend or belong to a church. The trend supports other data about the growth of the de-churched population.

According to the Pew Research Center’s “Religious Landscape Study,”[2] 5% of Kentucky’s adult population attends Historically Black Protestant Churches. The World Population Review projected that Kentucky’s adult population was 3,428,185. The five percent of the adult population attending Black Churches lands at 171,409 adults. See the breakdown below:

Baptist Family (Historically Black Protestant Trad.) 4%

  • National Baptist Convention 1%

  • Progressive Baptist Convention < 1% Independent

  • Baptist (Historically Black Protestant Trad.) < 1%

  • Missionary Baptist (Historically Black Protestant Trad.) 1%

  • Other Baptist (Historically Black Protestant Trad.) 2%

Methodist Family (Historically Black Protestant Trad.) < 1%

  • African Methodist Episcopal Church < 1%

  • African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church < 1%

  • Christian Methodist Episcopal Church < 1%

  • Other Methodist (Historically Black Protestant Trad.) < 1%

Pentecostal Family (Historically Black Protestant Trad.) 1%

  • Holiness Family (Historically Black Protestant Trad.) < 1%

  • Nondenominational Family (Historically Black Protestant Trad.) < 1%

  • Nonspecific Protestant Family (Historically Black Protestant Trad.) 1%

Given the 20% decline in the number of adults attending church in the past 20 years, we can reasonably conclude that Historically Black Church attendance among adults was at 214,261 in 1999. The resulting drop to 171,409 adults in Kentucky who attend Historically Black Protestant Churches does not account for those who identify as or affiliate with Catholic and non-Christian religions.

To view the statistics as troubling is unproductive. Just as pain in the human body suggests disease or injury and calls our attention to it, we should consider the information in the same way. The data calls for a response, a treatment plan to correct the current challenge, and to bring our churches to a healthier state.

To ignore the reality of declining church attendance or the waning association and identification as Christians only allow the condition to proceed unchecked. The paradigm shift enveloping the church requires a change in the rules of engagement because the old rules no longer control or set the standards for “success.”





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