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Wall Street Journal: Why does the press trumpet bad news about church attendance?

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The national news media yawned over the Baylor Survey’s findings that the number of American atheists has remained steady at 4 percent since 1944, and that church membership has reached an all-time high.

“But,” ponder Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson in the Wall Street Journal, “when a study by the Barna Research Group claimed that young people under 30 are deserting the church in droves, it made headlines and newscasts across the nation — even though it was a false alarm.”

“Surveys always find that younger people are less likely to attend church,” note Stark and Johnson in the Journal‘s  Houses of Worship feature, “yet this has never resulted in the decline of the churches. It merely reflects the fact that, having left home, many single young adults choose to sleep in on Sunday mornings.

The Journal article notes:

Once they marry, though, and especially once they have children, their attendance rates recover. Unfortunately, because the press tends not to publicize this correction, many church leaders continue unnecessarily fretting about regaining the lost young people.

In similar fashion, major media hailed another Barna report that young evangelicals are increasingly embracing liberal politics. But only religious periodicals carried the news that national surveys offer no support for this claim, and that younger evangelicals actually remain as conservative as their parents.

Given this track record, it was no surprise this month to see the prominent headlines announcing another finding from Barna that American women are rapidly falling away from religion. The basis for this was a comparison between a poll they conducted in 1991 and one they conducted in January of this year.

The reporters who ran with this story ought to have wondered why this change wasn’t picked up sooner if it was going on for 20 years. Many national surveys have been conducted during this period—in fact the Barna Group has been doing them all along. Did the organization check to see if its new results were consistent with its own previous data or with the many other national surveys widely available? There is no sign that it did. If it had, it would have found that its findings about women are as unfounded as previous claims about young people deserting the church and young evangelicals becoming liberals.

Barna reported in 2010 that about 40% of both men and women read the Bible during a typical week, as female weekly Bible-reading had fallen from 50% in 1991. By contrast, the 2007 Baylor national religion survey found that 29% of men and 40% of women read the Bible about weekly. The statistic for women is consistent with Barna’s reported findings, but the findings for men differ greatly.

The Baylor findings were in full agreement with the results of a 2000 Gallup Poll finding that 29% of men and 43% of women were weekly Bible-readers. This, in turn, was consistent with a 1988 study by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, which found that 25% of men and 39% of women were weekly readers. If the Barna claim about a major decline in women’s Bible-reading is true, it must have happened in the past three years. This is quite unlikely, given the remarkable stability of the statistics over the past several decades.

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  • http://politicalrevelation.com Dan W Rykard

    It is good to see the results of Baylor survey,The news Media has become so far left that any chance they get to put down Christianity or a person that confesses to be a Christian, look at what they did to Sarah Palin and are trying to do to Rick Perry. I do not understand what the Media is afraid of but when you keep bad mouthing something as Christianity you have a problem.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment siham

    Well Mr. Rykard, what the public media is afraid of is the Christian morality. The public media is run by people who are way off. I used to thinks that their profession is honorable, but since at least ten years, I do not respect the public media at all.

  • http://GODBLESSYOU Columbus.o.Tobias

    Hi Good day Sir/Madam How is the work of God? This is Columbus.o.Tobias Pl my request is this to have a good Relationship with the Church of God that will Teach me more Things abort the bible pl get bark to me.God Bless you

  • http://www.GODHEADPRODUCTIONS.com R.C. Beckom

    I really don’t see the problem the majority of people that call themselves christians have not even read the Bible which them not really no what they really are, to be Christian means to be Christ Like, Jesus always observe the Sabbath and never ever ate pork,those that eat pork and go to church on Sunday are really Sun Worshippers who Roman Catholics. I don’t say nothing, I read the Bible and this is what it tells me. Because of Constatine Mostly all Americans are Sun Worshippers calling themselves Christians as if they don’t know that! C’mon, give me a Break

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