… For a long time, the strict-religions theory seemed to explain a great deal, at least in the United States: in the 1980s and 1990s, conservative religions were indeed thriving even as mainline Protestantism’s numbers went down the toilet.
More recent work has called this into question, driven by the reality that almost all religious traditions are now struggling — even conservative ones like evangelical Protestantism and Mormonism, which once seemed so reliably immune.
Sociologist Darren Sherkat calls the old strict-church theory the “supply side” thesis, since it assumes that religion is akin to a free market economy in which a religion might increase its market share through the conversions of people who are attracted to its unique message. Sherkat contrasts it with the other main thesis that is gaining ground, secularization:
. . . secularization theories argue that as the United States becomes more secular, religious attachments will become less important. Hence, secularization proponents expect to find that nonaffiliation is increasing, that religious switching is more common, and that more fundamentalist and exclusivist religious groups will decline or only increase through fertility differentials.
And that is indeed the case: all three of those factors he mentions are now happening. If supply-side theories alone could explain why liberal religions seemed to decline in the 1990s and beyond, Sherkat argues, we would see evidence that the exodus from liberal traditions such as mainline Protestantism was matched by a corresponding growth in conservative religions that was not already due to those religions’ higher fertility – and the data don’t show that.
That’s not to say that the secularization theorists have it all right, either; Sherkat says their “grand, linear, evolutionary perspective” of religious decline “is just as far-fetched as the supply-side stories yearning for a sectarian Christian America.” Rather, religious decline is related to broader demographic patterns that are complex and ever-changing, from declining fertility and immigration to generational replacement. A big part of the problem is that Americans are having fewer kids.
Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow explains it well:
Some argued that [mainline Protestantism declined because] people wanted strict churches and these had become too lax. The better evidence, though, showed that nearly all the decline in mainline denominations was attributable to demographics. Mainline members were better educated and more likely to be middle class or upper-middle class than the rest of the population. As such, mainline members married later, had children later, and had fewer of them. Memberships declined because there were simply fewer children being born into these denominations. Evangelical Protestants, meanwhile, escaped these demographic problems. As long as they kept marrying young and having large families, their growth would make up for the mainline losses. There is just one problem: the same demographics that caused problems for mainline churches are now prevalent in the whole society.
To sum up: liberal religions’ loss has not been our gain. Conservative religions, at best, used to hold steady as a percentage of the population; now we are not even doing that.
Instead, the real growth has been in nonaffiliation, as people are no longer switching religions so much as dropping out altogether. About 7% of Americans claimed no religious identification in the early 1970s, when the General Social Survey began tracking it. In 2016, according to PRRI, that group (the “Nones”) had nearly quadrupled to 26% of the U.S. population – and there are signs it will only accelerate through cohort replacement. As you can see from the infographic up top, among younger Millennials in 2016, 39% had no affiliation.
Read more at … https://religionnews.com/2018/03/08/if-mormonism-becomes-liberal-and-progressive-wont-it-decline-even-more/