May 29, 2017
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May 29, 2017

The Decline in Hispanic Religious Activity For more than a decade the Barna Group has been reporting that large numbers of Hispanics have been leaving Catholicism in favor of Protestant churches. During that same period there has been a concurrent jump in the proportion of Hispanic adults who have become born again Christians. It has been widely assumed that the pattern would continue, to the peril of the Catholic Church in America. Things change. The most recent emerging pattern related to Hispanic faith is the increase in the number of Hispanics who are leaving Catholicism – and, in a growing proportion of cases, leaving Christianity, whether Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox, altogether. The elevation of Cardinal Bergoglio to Pope Francis, making him the first Latino pope of the Roman Catholic Church, has had a positive effect on the faith commitment of many Hispanic people around the world. Surveys have shown his popularity in the US, as well, among both Catholics and non-Catholics (and among both Hispanics and non-Hispanics). In the United States, though, a battle is being waged between the prevailing culture of narcissism and a more traditional adherence to Judeo-Christian morality. Hispanic Americans, as much as anyone else, appear to be caught in that struggle for self-identity and spiritual perspective. New research from the Barna Group indicates that there have been significant shifts in both the religious beliefs and religious behaviors of Hispanics in the U.S. Six religious behaviors, in particular, bear examination. · There is a significant contingency of Hispanic adults who attend church – especially Catholic Mass – every week without fail. However, once you get past that minority segment, Hispanics are following the national trend of declining church attendance. In 2004, 39% of Hispanics attended church services on any given week. That number has fallen slightly, to 35% in 2014. · However, a related measure – the proportion of unchurched adults – has risen dramatically during that same decade. In 2004, less than one-third of the Hispanic population in America (31%) was characterized as unchurched. In the decade since, that percentage has risen substantially, to 43% today. What has transpired is that there is a growing proportion of Hispanics who have transitioned from infrequent attenders to non-attenders. · One of the most alarming changes in Hispanic religious behavior relates to the mean annual donations they make to churches. Among those who attend church services, the mean aggregate amount of contributions to churches in 2003 was $526. The average sum plummeted to just $393 in 2013. That constitutes a 25% drop in giving. · At the other end of the spectrum is prayer – a “costless” spiritual activity that can be done by anyone, anywhere, at any time, for any purpose, for any length of time. Yet, even prayer engagement has declined substantially. In 2004, more than four out of five Hispanic adults (84%) prayed at least once during a typical week, other than while they were at a church. In 2014, the figure has declined to less than three out of four (73%). · Sunday school has never been a big draw among Hispanics, since many Catholic churches do not offer such a program for adults. Even so, attendance on any given weekend at religious education classes has diminished dramatically. In 2005, 15% had attended such a class; but in 2014, the proportion was barely half as high (8%). · An even more pronounced loss has been experienced in relation to small group participation. In 2004, nearly one-quarter of Hispanics (22%) were engaged in some type of small group that met outside of the church during the week, for prayer, Bible study, or Christian fellowship. Over the past decade that proportion declined by more than half, dipping to just 9% in 2014. · Volunteering at a church was also a much more common activity ten years ago. In 2004, one out of every four Hispanic adults (25%) volunteered at a church during a typical week. In 2014, that number has fallen to just one out of every seven (14%). These declines are a serious indication that Hispanics are becoming less engaged in corporate spiritual activity. In a forthcoming article we will look at the shift in Hispanic belief patterns that have precipitated such a drop in religious behavior. George Barna is the Executive Director of the American Culture & Faith Institute (Woodside, CA). The bestselling author of 50 books, he is also the founder of the Barna Group. George Barna

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