U.S. Women to Church Leaders – Count Me Out

No population group among the sixty segments examined has gone through more spiritual changes in the past two decades than women. – The Barna Group

An excerpt from Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage, Vol. II (1938) reads, “No future life could heal the degradation of having been a woman. Religion in the world had nothing but insults for women. ”

Richardson was relaying a sentiment that many women felt, but for social reasons, rarely vocalized.  There is no need for me to excerpt parts of the Bible or religious rules that marginalize women.  Consequently, over the past two decades, more and more American women quietly, without the need for a revolution, decided to leave their church in numbers.  According to the Barna Group, “Church attendance among women sank by 11 percentage points since 1991, declining to 44%. A majority of women no longer attend church services during a typical week.”

The Barna Group national tracking surveys was conducted over a 20-year period and profiles specific differences between the genders in relation to 14 religious beliefs and behaviors of significance. The report is the third in a series of six that constitute the annual State of the Church report released by the Barna Group.  The company is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. It conducts primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.  It has been their research that has unraveled the quiet exodus, a behavior that is unique to women and may provide a call to religious leaders around the country.  But, perhaps it is too late for that.

Barna’s survey points to the fact that the number of “unchurched” women has grown nearly 20 percentage points since 1991, “the largest drops in church attachment identified in the research.”  And, if women leave the church, there is a domino effect.  Mothers do not bring their children to church.  Religious education is neglected.  The glaring omission of women may be the reason that adult perceptions (a new generation of churchgoers) of the Bible has changed.  According to the survey, “In 1991, 46% of adults [men and women] strongly affirmed that ‘the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches.’ That has slumped to just 38% who offer the same affirmation today.”  Women leaving the church has had a catastrophic effect on organized religion.  Other affects of note the Barna Group presented include:

  • Church volunteerism has dropped by eight percentage points since 1991. Presently, slightly less than one out of every five adults (19%) donates some of their time in a typical week to serving at a church. [Volunteerism among women has dropped 31% since 1991].
  • Adult Sunday school attendance has also diminished by eight percentage points over the past two decades. On any given Sunday, about 15% of adults can be expected to show up in a Sunday school class.
  • The most carefully watched church-related statistic is adult attendance. Since 1991, attendance has receded by nine percentage points, dropping from 49% in 1991 to 40% in 2011.
  • The most prolific change in religious behavior among those measured has been the increase in the percentage of adults categorized as unchurched. The Barna Group definition includes all adults who have not attended any religious events at a church, other than special ceremonies such as a wedding or funeral, during the prior six month period. In 1991, just one-quarter of adults (24%) were unchurched. That figure has ballooned by more than 50%, to 37% today.

Former Catholic Nun, Corita Kent (1918-1986) is quoted by the LA Times in a 7/11/74 interview, “One of the things Jesus did was to step aside from the organized religion of his time because it had become corrupt and bogged down with rules.”

Rules have driven women away, and with them the generations of children have followed.