Fewer Americans than ever—an average of 50% last year—belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque, a Gallup Poll has found. Membership had been at least 70% from 1937 through 1976. The drop has accelerated in the past 20 years. The main reason is that fewer people have a religious affiliation; 19% say they don't identify with a faith. But Gallup points out that even those who do are less likely now to belong to a house of worship. Older people are much more likely to belong to a church than young people, but membership fell in the past two decades among all age groups—about 10 percentage points among Generation X, baby boomers and older people. For millennials, church membership is running at 42%.
Jesse Waggoner, a pastor in Charleston, has seen churches close over the past 30 years. But his Mount Calvary Baptist Church has grown from 100 to 350 members in seven years. He recommends preaching a consistent message, WSAZ reports, but updating the presentation to keep up with the times. He also greets worshipers as they arrive. "Thank you for your bravery," Waggoner tells them. "Because it takes a certain amount of courage to come into a place that you don't know with people you are not familiar with doing things that you don't really understand." (The least-religious cities are on the West Coast, one survey found.)