01: A one percent drop in membership in the Southern Baptist Convention may not seem much, but it’s the first membership decline in the church body in 72 years.
SBC figures show the number of baptisms, the Baptists’ major marker, dropped by about 4,800 last year. But attendance at Sunday services actually rose by 174,052. Analysts suggest that this downturn may be another sign that Americans are drawn to groups and congregations that promote individual spirituality and entertain them. But they are less ready than previously to make a commitment or participate loyally in congregational life.
02: A survey of students at 12 American universities finds that their rate of religiosity, such as holding to traditional beliefs, declined sharply in the four years they attended school. The National Review magazine (May 31) reports on a follow up study it conducted of the Class of 1998 — among a mixture of state, Ivy League, and Catholic and Protestant schools — after surveying these students as freshmen back in 1995.
Over 60 percent of the seniors still maintained their 1995 formal religious affiliations, but “the authority of religious precepts appeared to have given way to the rules of experiment.” By the senior year, those attending religious services at least once a week had dropped off significantly at ten of the colleges, as did attending “twice a month.” For instance, 41 percent of freshmen at UCLA attended religious services weekly, while only 16 percent of seniors did so.
The percentages of those attending only twice a year grew to double digits, while those attending “not at all” rose from 22 percent in 1995 to 33 percent last year. Praying to God was also less frequent among seniors than freshmen. Daily prayer was down at nine colleges, while praying several times a week dropped at eight schools.
The relatively high percentage of freshmen students approval of such behaviors as abortion, homosexuality and mercy killing only increased (except divorce). On religious affiliation, the students choosing “other” faiths in 1995 had been cut in half by 1998. There was also a high rate (ranging from 28 percent to 36 percent) of “nones” in current religious affiliation at such schools as Brown, UCLA, Yale, Stanford and Dartmouth.
(National Review, 150 E. 35th St., New York, NY 10016)
03: While newspaper editors and publishers consider the subjects of religion and ethics is important in their coverage of local news, only a minority believe that their papers cover this field well, reports a new poll.
Seventy-two percent of editors said “Church News” (as it was called in the study) was extremely important or very important, and “‘values, ethics or religion news beyond the basics” was rated as important or very important by 63 percent of the editors, according to the survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
The study, conducted by the firm Clark, Martire, and Bartolomeo, Inc., is cited in RNA Extra (March/April/May), the newsletter of the Religion Newswriters Association. In rating their newspapers’ performance on religion and ethics, only 44 percent of the editors said they were doing an excellent to good job. “Church news,” however, was viewed as receiving better coverage by 70 percent of the editors.
(RNA Extra, P.O. Box 2037, Westerville, OH 43086)
04: The more a mother sees religion as part of her identity, the better relationship she will have with her children, reports a University of Michigan study.
The study, conducted by William Axinn and Lisa D.Pearce at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, found that the personal importance a mother finds in religion (the study included women of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths) predicts the quality of her relationships with her children, starting before birth through age 23. The Detroit News (May 8) notes that the study is based on a 35-year (begun in 1962) survey of 850 Metro Detroit women.