Church attendance declines as US adults drop religious associations

NOW: Church attendance declines as US adults drop religious associations

WEST ALLIS, Wis. (CBS 58) – Many people will be packing into their houses of worship Tuesday and Wednesday to celebrate the Christmas holiday. But the number of people who identify with a particular religion in the U.S. continues to fall.

At St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in West Allis, the trees are lit, poinsettias are in place, and extra chairs have been set out in anticipation of large Christmas crowds.

They’ll bring their family or other friends to come and join them for worship,” said Associate Pastor Noah Kegley.

Kegley says Christmas services traditionally bring larger crowds, he expects triple the church’s average Sunday attendance. But he has seen attendance at the church decline over time.

“Many churches have experienced that,” said Kegley.

The Pew Research Center found 65 percent of American adults identify as Christians, down 12 percentage points from a decade ago. Meanwhile the number of people who reported being atheist, agnostic, or believing nothing in particular has grown to 26 percent.

“I grew up going to church services every week, especially holidays,” said Mike Brickl.

He spent Christmas Eve taking pictures of his kids for his wife as a surprise gift. He had no plans to attend church and wasn’t surprised to learn about the decline in religious association.

“There’s been a lot of negative publicity with a variety of religions and I think people have just decided for themselves what’s best,” said Brickl.

He has his own traditions now. He takes books to Children’s Wisconsin and St. Mary’s Hospital for parents who have newborns in the ICU. And while church attendance has changed nationally, Kegley said their ultimate mission has not.

“Even if attendance isn’t what is used to be, there are still people who faithfully set out to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ,” said Kegley.

Lower attendance can also impact a church’s finances. Kegley said even with smaller regular attendance their day to day operations are fine. He said they also see a bump in donations during December.

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