Congregational membership has dropped by 20 percentage points over the past two decades, hitting a low of 50 percent in 2018, according to a new Gallup poll. Gallup found church membership to be at 70 percent in 1999, consistent with much of the membership rates throughout the 20th century. Since 1999, that figure has fallen steadily, while the percentage of U.S. adults with no religious affiliation has jumped from 8 percent to 19 percent (with some sources reporting the rate of non-affiliation to be as high as 23 percent). Among demographic groups, the biggest drops were recorded among Democrats and Hispanics. Among Americans identifying with a particular religion, there was a significant drop in church membership among Catholics—declining from 76 percent to 63 percent over the past two decades, which may be related to the clergy sex-abuse scandals. Protestant membership dropped from 73 to 67 percent over the same period.

Even among inactive members of churches in several European countries, a majority not only still pay a church tax imposed on all baptized Christians but have no plans to opt out of it even though they can, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Church taxes have been viewed as contributing to the high rate of secularism in Europe, leading people to officially leave their churches to avoid paying these fees. But the survey found there are far more people more willing to finance their church than attend it. Six of the 15 countries studied have such mandatory taxes: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland (three—Italy, Portugal and Spain—have voluntary programs, while no church taxes at all are collected in Belgium, Britain, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Norway). In those countries with the mandatory tax, most adults say they pay it, with the share of self-reported taxpayers ranging from 68 percent in Sweden to 80 percent in Denmark; and no more than one-in-five respondents in any country say they used to pay but have stopped. “In addition, among those who say they pay, large majorities describe themselves as ‘not too’ or ‘not at all’ likely to take official steps to avoid paying the tax in the future, including nearly nine-in-ten in Denmark and Finland.”

(The Pew study can be downloaded at:

With a substantial share of atheists, France is now one of the most secularized countries in Europe, along with what was formerly Eastern Germany, the Czech Republic and Sweden. Pierre Bréchon (University of Grenoble), who will shortly publish a book that he has coedited with Frédéric Gonthier and Sandrine Astor, La France des Valeurs: Quarante Ans d’Évolutions (Presses Universitaires de Grenoble), on changes in values in France over the past forty years, has summarized some observations on the evolution of unbelief in France in an interview with the French newsletter LaïCités (March). Although there are various shades of nonbelief—from decided atheists, to people who have no religion and may be indifferent to religion, to those who are more open to the idea of the existence of God or some kind of spirituality—such nonbelievers now make up the majority of the French population. Religiously indifferent people rank highest (about 33 percent of the population), with atheists following behind (about 20 percent). However, atheists make up a larger percentage among young people (about 30 percent). It is only among young Muslims that religious practice is on the rise.

A significant development is the rise in the percentage of people who have never been exposed to religion during their life. This was the case for 10 percent of the French population in 1998, and it is now close to 20 percent. This is important, since people who were religiously active in their younger years are more likely to remain believers, while relatively few people who were never religiously socialized later come to join a religious group. Bréchon sees the decline of religion primarily as a decline in affiliation with religious institutions. Antireligious activism has declined too. Diffuse beliefs, such as the possibility that there is life after death, appear to be more persistent. Both atheists and religiously indifferent people put more emphasis than believers on individual autonomy. As expected, they are found more often on the left of the political spectrum and tend to be more permissive on moral issues as well as less attached to traditional family values. But on some attributes, such as support of democratic values, trust toward other people, or feelings of happiness, there are no significant variations between believers and nonbelievers, Bréchon adds.

(LaïCités, 86 avenue du Général Michel Bizot, 75012 Paris, France;