- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The continuing popularity of evangelical Protestantism has emerged as the exception in an otherwise sobering new report this week about Christianity in America.

There were 62 million evangelical Protestants in 2014, about 2 million more than a parallel survey found in 2007, the Pew Research Center said in its Tuesday report, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”

Those numbers stood in contrast with an overall shrinking population of Americans who identify as Christians.

The U.S. remains strongly Christian, the Pew study said, noting that in 2014 there were 173 million Christians, or around 70 percent of people in a population of 245 million adults. But that is down by an estimated 5 million Christians and an 8-percentage-point population share since 2007, when Pew reported some 178 million Christians or 78 percent of the smaller 227 million-adult populace.

Evangelical Protestants include the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, the Churches of Christ, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Presbyterian Church in America, and many nondenominational congregations, including megachurches.

Christianity Today captured the angle with its headline: “Evangelicals Stay Strong as Christianity Crumbles in America.”

One “striking” reason evangelical churches are holding their own in population surveys is they win new members faster than they lose old ones, said Jeff Walton, director of communications at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

The massive Pew report — which used data from some 35,000 adults — asked people whether they had joined or left a religious body.

The answers suggested that for every person who joined the Roman Catholic Church, six others were departing. In contrast, for every person who left an evangelical church, an average of 1.2 people joined, said Mr. Walton.

Nondenominational churches — which would include many megachurches that loosely affiliate with established evangelical denominations — have significantly grown, the Pew study found.

In 2014, 13 percent of Protestants said they were in a nondenominational church family; in 2007, only 9 percent said the same.

During the same time period, the share of Protestants who said they were “Methodist” dropped from 12 percent to 10 percent, while those who said they were “Lutheran” dropped from 9 percent to 8 percent.

The largest discrete Protestant denominations in 2014 were the Southern Baptist Convention (representing 11 percent of Protestants) and United Methodist Church (representing 8 percent), the new report said.

The study further found that most adults still identified with their childhood religion.

The highest retention rate was among adults raised as Hindus (80 percent retention), followed by Muslims (77 percent retention) and Jews (75 percent retention). People in several other religions also saw a majority of their adult children continued the faith: historically black Protestant, evangelical Protestant, Mormon, Catholic and Orthodox Christian.

However, less than half of children raised in mainline Protestant churches, Buddhist temples or as a Jehovah’s Witness maintained that faith as adults, according to Pew.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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