Friday, November 9, 2012

Church Affiliation Colonial and Now -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Here.  A taste:
So how were things in the good old days? A consensus questioned by a few serious scholars—Patricia Bonomi among them—is that fewer than 20 percent of the colonial citizens were active in churches. Change came after 1776, so that, in one common estimate, church participation jumped from 17 percent to 34 percent between 1776 and 1850. A better past, more illuminating for comparison in present concerns, is between the early 1960s, when participation crested, and today.
I'll have to check the footnotes; but I do seem to remember more than one authority claiming this may be a lowball. The truth usually lies somewhere in between. On the one hand the Christian Nation notion that virtually every American citizen at the time was an orthodox Trinitarian, church active Protestant is bogus. There were plenty of nominal, unchurched men more likely to be in a tavern on a Saturday night than in a Church on Sunday. But the exact numbers? What constituted a statistical majority? Not sure.


secularsquare said...

I would be interested to know how this broke down by section. My guess is that church participation (whatever that might mean) was higher in the more "planned" communities of New England. In the South and frontier, the low participation rate may reflect the institutional weaknesses of the churches. Thousands of settlers in the "backcountry" petitioned denominations for ministers that the denomination could not supply. This proved especially true for denomination such as the Presbyterians that required educated ministers.


Tom Van Dyke said...

This blog had a long discussion on church attendance levels here

in the comments section.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Yes Hutson and Mark David Hall (?, I think citing Hutson?) challenged this number as a lowball.