Holy Smoke

The future of churchgoing in the West: why Protestants should worry and Catholics should panic

33 min listen

In This Episode

King Charles III is the first British monarch to inherit a post-Christian kingdom. Less than half of his subjects identify themselves as Christian, and only about one in 20 adults in the UK go to church on Sundays. Since 1980 church attendance has more than halved – and that’s broadly the situation in most of Western Europe. 

In the traditionally God-fearing United States, in contrast, roughly 20 per cent of people are practising Christians. But there, too, the statistics now point to a steady decline in religious belief; the figures are worrying for American Protestants and catastrophic for American Catholics. 

My guest on this episode of Holy Smoke is Ryan Burge, an associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University who posts twice-weekly reports on the state of US religion on his Graphs About Religion website. He’s also a pastor in one of the least doctrinally conservative Baptist denominations, the American Baptist Church. As you’ll hear, he identifies with the enormous number of Americans – probably a clear majority of the population – who feel alienated by an increasingly sectarian ‘progressive’ atheism and, on the other, by the dogmatic views of many Evangelical and Catholic leaders on the subjects of homosexuality and abortion. 

At every stage in our conversation, Ryan produces statistics that socially conservative Christians would rather not think about. Indeed, we know they haven’t been paying attention to them because the pro-life movement was so obviously unprepared for the current backlash against the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade even among churchgoing Republicans. 

You may not agree with Ryan Burge’s opinions, but it’s hard to envisage a future for Western Christianity unless believers confront the huge body of research on which they’re based. 


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