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Southern Baptists 6.7 percent of population

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptists make up nearly 7 percent of the United States adult population, according to a new Pew study that also shows evangelicals outnumbering mainline church members and Catholics.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey was released Feb. 25 and was based on interviews with 35,000 Americans. It showed that 6.7 percent of 225 million American adults (18 years old and older) say they are Southern Baptist, which makes it the largest represented non-Catholic denomination in the survey. Adults affiliated with the United Methodist Church total 5.1 percent of U.S. men and women, while every other denomination makes up 2 percent or less of the adult population.

More than three-quarters of the adult population (75.8 percent) say they are affiliated with a Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox church. Protestants — which in the survey include evangelical churches, mainline churches and historically black churches — make up 51.3 percent of the adult population, followed by Catholics (23.9) and Orthodox members (six-tenths of a percent).

Evangelical Protestant Churches — which include Southern Baptists — comprise 26.3 percent of adults and outnumber Catholics and Mainline Protestants (18.1 percent).

Pew compared data from the survey to data in past General Social Surveys (GSS, another well-known survey) and found that Protestants are declining as a share of the population. But that decline may not be among evangelicals.

“What scholars who have analyzed the GSS data have found,” Pew reported, “is that the proportion of the population identifying with the large mainline Protestant denominations has declined significantly in recent decades, while the proportion of Protestants identifying with the large evangelical denominations has increased.”

Both the Pew report and the GSS findings are in line with the results released in 2002 by the Catholic-affiliated Glenmary Research Center which showed growth among conservative evangelical churches and decline in liberal mainline denominations.

Among the study’s other findings:

— People affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Alliance of Baptists, a general “liberal/progressive Baptists” category and those with an ambiguous Baptist affiliation in the mainline tradition make up less than three-tenths of a percent of U.S. adults. The survey lumped all four into one category (Other Baptist denomination in the Mainline Tradition) and named them among Mainline Protestant Churches.

— Mormons are 1.7 percent of the adult population, Jehovah’s Witnesses seven-tenths of a percent.

— Historically black churches make up 6.9 percent of all adults.

— Those who attend nondenominational evangelical churches are 3.4 percent of American adults.

— Members of historically black churches (69 percent) and evangelical churches (68 percent) are more likely than those of mainline churches (55 percent) to marry someone from their own Protestant affiliation.

— Catholicism has “lost more people to other religions or to no religion” than any other religious group. The losses, though, have been offset by immigrants, 46 percent of whom are Catholic. Nationwide, half of all adult Catholics under 40 are Hispanic. There is a “significant ethnic shift that is occurring among younger Catholics.”

— Jews comprise 1.7 percent of adults.

— Four-tenths of a percent of the adult population are Muslim, a decrease from a figure of six-tenths of a percent found in an earlier survey. [Both figures are quoted in the Pew report.] Seven-tenths are Buddhist, four-tenths are Hindu.

— More than one in six adults (16.1 percent) are not affiliated with any religious group. But most of them are not atheist or agnostic. Atheists make up 1.6 percent of U.S. adults, agnostics 2.4 percent. The remainder of the unaffiliated group are those who say religion is “not too important or not at all important in their lives” (6.3 percent) and those who say religion is “somewhat important or very important in their lives” (5.8 percent) but nonetheless have no affiliation.
The complete report can be accessed at http://religions.pewforum.org/reports
Compiled by Michael Foust, an assistant editor at Baptist Press.

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