The Pew Forum recently released results of a study about religion. Residents of all U.S. states were asked the question, “Is religion very important in your life?” Worship attendance, frequency of prayer and belief in God were also measured. The rankings by state are very interesting. Go to pewforum.org for the detailed results. Let me give you some summary information.
The top 20 “religious” states as measured by the criteria mentioned above were, not unsurprisingly, located in the South and Midwest, with the exception of Idaho and Utah (because of devout Mormons). The bottom five consisted of all six New England states (two sets of two states were grouped together – CT & RI, and NH & VT) and Alaska. New York was 39th and New Jersey was 30th. In the highest ranking state, Mississippi, 82% said religion was important to them. In the lowest ranked grouping (New Hampshire and Vermont), only 36% said religion is important to them. That’s quite a spread.
What I find interesting is that the lowest-ranking states are heavily Roman Catholic, especially Massachusetts and Rhode Island. New York, which is fairly Catholic was 39th Having these “Catholic” states in the lower rankings tells me that there are many turned-off and/or dropped-out Catholics in those states. These statistics beg the question, why isn’t religion more important to Catholics? I suspect a good number of Catholics attend mass with some degree of regularity, but religion isn’t important to them, meaning the Church and its teachings aren’t important to them.
The states in the lower and middle rankings generally consist of a mix of Catholics and Protestants in their populations (PA, IL, MI, OH). What’s happening is that the Protestant churches haven’t been doing a good job of reaching out to the unchurched, both former Catholics and nominal Protestants. They have been content to remain as they are, with the result that many of these churches are in decline. Only an average of 56% of people across all states responded that religion is important to them. That tells me that either churches haven’t been engaging in evangelism or they have not been feeding the people spiritually. It’s probably both, not either/or.
As the country continues to slide into humanism, relativism, secularization, and apathy when it comes to spiritual matters, the Church must engage the unchurched. Let’s begin reaching out to our communities and introduce the people to Jesus Christ. The field is ripe. Will you begin to harvest? The Church must either evangelize or it will fossilize.
At the same time, biblically-based preaching and good children’s and adult educational programs are important to feed the spiritually hungry. Studies say this younger generation is searching for spiritual truth. If they don’t find it in church, they’ll look elsewhere.