Commentary

Business analysis shows the religious right outrage industry is failing fast

Market Share

Here the news takes a turn for the worse for evangelicals. Essentially, every serious demographic study of evangelicals in America shows that their market share is in decline.

Graph showing: The number of Americans who identify as Evangelical is in decline.
The number of Americans who identify as Evangelical is in decline. Brynn Tannehill

The most recent data available shows that this decline has continued, and that now only 13% of Americans consider themselves white evangelicals.

These losses get even steeper when you take demographic age into account. Most of these losses are simply young people dropping out of religion altogether, and becoming part of the “nones”.

While some evangelical leaders such as Russel Moore have suggested that they can reverse the trend with Hispanic converts, the data below shows that even if you assume all Hispanic Protestants are evangelical, their market share would still be in decline.

Given the full-throated support that evangelical churches have given President Trump even as he proposes military run internment camps for undocumented Latino children, calls them rapists and murderers and implies they’re “animals”, it is hard to envision Latinos finding a comfortable home in many white evangelical churches.

Graph showing: Most young people do not claim a religious affiliation.
Most young people do not claim a religious affiliation. Brynn Tannehill

This might be survivable if white evangelicals had a bunch of young people coming up through the ranks, but they don’t. The data shows that they are, on average, one of the oldest denominations out there, despite encouraging high fecundity rates through things like the “Quiverfull” movement.

At the same time, one-third of their kids are leaving the faith, and of those, 40% drop out of religion altogether.

Graph showing: White evangelicals are primarily people over the age of 70.
White evangelicals are primarily people over the age of 70. Brynn Tannehill

They aren’t converting people at a sufficient rate to stem their losses, either. For every person who has left the unaffiliated and now identifies with a religious group (and evangelicals are the most common winner) more than four people have joined the ranks of the religious “nones.”

Thus, when looking at market share, evangelicals are in free fall and there is little to suggest that it will turn around quickly.

Brand Identity

First the good news. Just like when Americans hear the words “soda” and “photocopy” they think of Coca-Cola and Xerox, when they hear the word “Christianity” they think of evangelicals. They are in effect, synonymous.

This would normally be a good thing, but it’s not. Now the bad news.

We know this, because when the Barna group (run by born again evangelical George Barna) did focus group work asking Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 what words best describe Christianity, the most common answer was “antihomosexual”.

This was used by 91 percent of non-Christians to describe Christianity. The same was true for 80 percent of Christians in this age group. The next three most commonly mentioned were “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”

Yes, it could be argued that maybe these people in the focus groups weren’t specifically thinking about evangelicals, but it would stretch the bounds of credulity to do so.

No religious group has been more actively involved in politics, bet more of its future on being anti-gay, or been more visibly hypocritical in its morals (being gay is unforgivable, but most voted for a man who sexually assaulted teen girls) than evangelicals.

(Note: Roy Moore narrowly lost, and in great part due to Black women turning out in record numbers, not because evangelicals voted for the Democrat).

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