I recently came across an interesting article which was primarily about religious observance in western Europe, but which also compared that region with the United States. Even though this research is four years old, it’s still timely and points out some significant differences between these two geographical areas.
First of all, what is meant by “religious observance?” There were four measures of this in the study in terms of comparing western Europe and the U.S. Here they are, with percentages of professing Christians in western Europe (15 countries) and the United States who:
- Say religion is very important in their lives: Western Europe 14%, U.S. 68%
- Attend religious services at least monthly: Western Europe 31%, U.S. 64%
- Pray daily: Western Europe 18%, U.S. 68%
- Believe in God with absolute certainty: Western Europe 23%, U.S. 76%
It doesn’t take any rigorous statistical analysis to see the huge differences in religious observance between western Europe and the United States! Across the board, professing American Christians are significantly more religiously observant than professing western European Christians. The second stunning thing is that these are stats for professing Christians. A significant majority of professing American Christians, for example, pray daily (68%), while only a paltry 18% of professing western European Christians do the same. A word of caution is in order here, however; are American Christians praying to the one and only true God, the God Who has revealed Himself in Scripture? My fellow blogger and sister in Christ Ann, who goes by “Seeking Divine Perspective,” is in the process of writing a good series of posts entitled “Are You Praying to the Wrong Person?” Click here for the latest in her series: https://seekingdivineperspective.com/2022/11/25/are-you-praying-to-the-wrong-person-part-iv-fallen-angels/
Regarding the last stat mentioned above: Even the percentage of professing western European Christians who believe in God with absolute certainty is a paltry 23%, while in the U.S., the percentage is 76%. I should add that I would love to see corresponding stats for this question: “Do you read the Bible regularly?”
What does all of this mean? First of all, it’s very easy to say that you’re a Christian in the Western world; it is not easy if you live in a country with severe persecution. Second, these stats bring to mind what Charles Colson wrote and spoke about more than 30 years ago: that western Europe was post-Christian, meaning that it used to be largely Christian, but was not anymore. Now we can see that stark reality on display very clearly. Western Europeans who stopped identifying with a religion mentioned four primary reasons why:
- Gradually drifting away from religion: 68%
- Disagreeing with their religion’s positions on social issues: 58%
- No longer believing in their religion’s teachings: 54%
- Being unhappy about scandals involving religious institutions and leaders: 53%
I find the #1 reason especially enlightening; in so many cases, when people stop identifying with Christianity in the U.S., it’s because they have gradually drifted away; in other words, it’s not usually something that happens suddenly. (I mentioned this in a post in May about deconversion.) Regarding the second reason, you will not be surprised to learn that two social issues frequently mentioned were abortion and same-sex marriage. There are many other illuminating findings in this research study; I have only scratched the surface. If you’re interested in more, here’s the link: https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2018/05/29/being-christian-in-western-europe/
Perhaps as American Christians, we are tempted to pat ourselves on the back in comparison to western Europe. We might even think that we are a majority-Christian nation. However, since the actual percentage of American Christians is only 7.5% (!), we have no reason to be smug, to put it mildly. You can either read John Dickerson’s The Great Evangelical Recession for the research regarding this number, or you can just read something I wrote in 2020: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/05/07/how-many-christians-are-there-in-the-united-states/ I read a few years ago that Spain’s population was less than 1% Christian; I have also read the same about Slovenia (which is not one of the 15 nations included in the Pew Research study which is the focus of this post). It is not hard to believe that further research such as Dickerson wrote about would reveal similar, astonishingly-low, percentages of true Christians in other western European countries.
These statistics about western Europe should serve as a warning to us. Regardless of what happens, we are called to stand firm in our faith by living in obedience to God’s Word. Speaking of: If we are going to live in that kind of obedience, we need, first of all, to be in God’s Word regularly! Ideally, that would be daily, while for some of us, perhaps a few times a week. Regardless, we should certainly not rely only on our pastors’ faithfully teaching us every Sunday. Second, however, we do need to be in close fellowship with other believers, and one place that can certainly happen is at church. Third, we should be praying daily; in fact, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray continually.” I like even better the way the King James Version puts it: “Pray without ceasing.” If we are in the Bible, in koinonia (close fellowship), and in prayer regularly, we will be much better equipped to live the kind of obedient lives that our Lord calls us to, regardless of the overall spiritual condition of our nation.