How Many Christians Are There in the United States?

One of my biggest questions from the past 20+ years was this one. I decided to start with this question because of the name of this blog: To the Remnant.

It used to puzzle me in the 1990s when I saw surveys that estimated 90% of Americans believed in God. I soon understood that there are a lot of gods people believe in. Then I saw estimates about the percentage of Christians in the U.S., which was almost invariably between 60% and 70%. Taking it a step further, the percentage of evangelicals was typically estimated to be between 30% and 40%. It seemed to me that I was getting closer to finding out what percentage of Americans were Christians. However, 35% still seemed to me to be inflated for two reasons.

First of all, the American church seemed to be very anemic. If one third of Americans were Christians, why weren’t we having more of an impact on society? Why was American society moving further and further away from virtue? Why did it seem that “tolerance” was becoming more and more “virtuous,” including in the church? Why was it that causing offense to an unbeliever was becoming one of the worst things a Christian can do? To be clear, I’m not in favor of causing offense for an unbiblical reason, but I Peter 2:7-8 says, “But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,’ and ‘A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.'”

Second, the Lord Himself said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Notice the words “many” and “few.” It is certainly possible that in a given society at a given time, the majority of people are on the narrow road to heaven, but it didn’t seem like the U.S. fit that conclusion. Instead, it seemed like “few” was much closer to the truth.

In 2008, the Pew Forum published a research study about the American religious landscape. One very important question that American evangelicals were asked was, “Are there many religions that lead to eternal life?” A very disturbing 57% of the respondents answered, “Yes.” Since by that time, the number of Americans who claimed to be evangelicals was ~25%, that meant about 11% of Americans believed that Jesus was the only way to heaven. I should add that there are American Christians who do not claim to be “evangelical,” including some Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox. I estimated at the time that perhaps 13% of Americans were Christians.

In 2013, John Dickerson wrote The Great Evangelical Recession. He cited four different research studies (one from 1998, the other three from 2008-2011) that sought to determine what percentage of Americans were evangelical Christians. Three of those studies came up with 7%, and one with 8.9%; do the math, and you come up with 7.5%. If you add in Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox who don’t claim to be “evangelical” but who are true Christians, perhaps the number of American Christians is between 9% and 10%.

One caveat about these numbers is that how the word “evangelical” is defined is not always consistent. However, the 2008 Pew Forum study that I mentioned includes both belief and obedience. Regardless of whether the four researchers cited in Dickerson’s book agree precisely on the definition of “evangelical,” the fact that three came up with the same percentage and that the fourth was not drastically different give me confidence that the percentage of American Christians is probably below 10.

I do not take pleasure in the likelihood that the vast majority of Americans are on the road to hell. I also believe that things will get worse before they get better. It wouldn’t surprise me if we “bottom out” at 4% and then start to reverse course. I also believe that the American church, meaning the Lord’s people in the U.S., will emerge much stronger.

6 thoughts on “How Many Christians Are There in the United States?

  1. Good to see you online, Keith! I’m so glad for the way God is leading you. I’m eager to read all the blogs. Oh, and I love the cover photo!! Nancy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Greetings Keith! Well this was an excellent overview of how many are possibly truly Christian! It is a very frightening thought to realize that so many multitudes who “think” they are truly Christian when they are not. It is sobering, and to paraphrase a quote from Paul………”If I barely be saved”…….man how many times when I’ve gone through the “shifting” mill, the dark valley’s, realizing how dreadfully sinful our flesh is, even while being a Christian. The horror’s of realizing the rebellion within at time, the unwillingness to follow, back sliding, days of doubt’s, fears, unbeliefs……on and on. But that is what is called the “cup of suffering”. It reveals who we truly are, and that assists us to realize how self-righteousness, needs to be nailed to that cross, because we have nothing within us to stand upon, it just causes us to run to the Lord and His Keeping and Saving power…
    Getting to know HIM and to be ONE with HIm is a life time growth. Just when we “think” we have it all! BAM! We are cast into the “valley of death”, because that is all that exists within our fleshly hearts…….thank the Lord He paid it all and that includes the Sanctification process ongoing…….
    I digress. In my 42 years with the Lord, and relationships I have had with “believers” for 20 yrs….. and in and out of sooooo many apostate churches…………you truly get to see how many are not truly part of the Body of Christ, He is our Temple, and He dwells in us, and we in Him…..THAT is the true church……and it took 20 years to learn that!
    Thank you for this well written posting, it is so sad……but our dear Lord informed us along with His Apostles that in the later days……..Lawlessness would increase…..and much of that is happening within the false church, who proclaim they are the true……..makes me tremble……
    Lord bless you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it is frightening to think of how many churchgoers in the U.S. are only that, and not true Christ-followers, even though they think they are; they remind me of the goats in Matthew 25:41-46. Thankfully, however, not a single one of the Lord’s chosen will be lost!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree with you, Keith. The word “Christian” has been applied to anything from people who celebrate Christmas and Easter to anyone who was born in the U.S.
    I prefer the term “Christ-follower.” I suppose people could still lie about it, but I think that term makes them at least think about it a moment.
    I had never heard of the two criteria for defining “evangelical” being belief and obedience, but I think that’s a good way to look at it – and a good way to narrow down the numbers.
    The evil that has become so rampant lately could have the positive impact of waking up people who believe in Jesus, deep down, but have been complacent. The Church needs to realize that in times like this we need every one of us to be engaged in the battle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I like that term, too, ever since I heard a pastor use it many years ago. And yes, I agree that all of the evil that’s been happening at least has the potential to wake up people who are “sleeping.”

      Liked by 1 person

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