• Non-denominational congregations continue to grow and have just overtaken any single Protestant denomination in terms of adherents, according to the U.S. Religion Census. The census identified 44,319 independent congregations without any denominational affiliation, increasing from 35,496 in 2010, lead researcher Scott Thumma reported at the annual meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association in early November. The 21 million adherents of nondenominational churches outnumber Southern Baptists, although the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has about 7,000 more churches. The census captured data on churches right at the start of the pandemic. For the first time, the census included the Jehovah’s Witnesses in its count, finding that there are now more Spanish-speaking Witnesses than English-speaking members in the U.S.Other conservative Protestant churches showed some decline, including the Christian and Missionary Alliance (losing about 200 congregations between 2010 and 2020); the Churches of Christ (losing 700); the Foursquare church (400); Free Will Baptists (350); the Cleveland, Tennessee-based Church of God (180); the Wesleyan Church (150); and the Vineyard (about 50). Other evangelical denominations showed modest growth: the SBC and the Assemblies of God (increasing by about 500 congregations each); the Presbyterian Church in America (100); the Church of the Nazarene (100); and the Evangelical Free Church (250). Black Protestant churches have also seen some growth: The Church of God in Christ (300 congregations); the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (150), and Full Gospel Baptists (100).(The U.S. Religion Census data can be downloaded here:



  • Countries with high levels of religious freedom were not any more likely to have high rates of Covid cases and deaths, a new study finds. Especially in the early phase of Covid, many worried that congregations were “super-spreaders” of the virus and that those countries with more religious freedom facilitated its spread compared to more restrictive societies. While most studies have looked at how legal measures adopted by governments on Covid directly or indirectly affected religious freedom, the preliminary study by Nilay Saiya of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, which was presented at the November meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Baltimore which RW attended, looked at the effect of religious freedom on Covid. He used global cross-sectional data on Covid infections and deaths (from the World Health Organization) and a religious freedom measure rating countries on a five-point scale ranging from severe repression of religion to broad openness to religious civil society organizations. Saiya found no evidence that countries with higher levels of religious freedom experienced more Covid deaths and infections than countries with more repressive religious policies. The analysis suggests that religious institutions that flouted governmental public health restrictions were the exception rather than the rule, even if such cases received the most media coverage.

    Source: Bill of Health.


  • New research finds that, coming out of the pandemic, Eastern Orthodox churches in America experienced less loss of members and a growth in faith, especially among more conservative members, and the pattern of growth suggests that online worship has little future in these congregations. In a presentation at the November meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Baltimore, Alexei Krindatch of the National Census of Orthodox Christian Churches reported a 15 percent drop in church involvement since the pandemic among Orthodox congregations, a loss less than that reported for other congregations. He found that those congregations that maintained offline worship for much of the pandemic did much better than parishes that switched to online worship, even showing growth. A minority of congregations (14 percent) showed growth rates of 20 percent. Many of these congregations had the common characteristics of having in-person worship during the pandemic, being “intentionally Orthodox,” having many converts to the faith, eschewing a “big tent” approach to Orthodoxy in favor of members having more uniform views, and having a conservative social outlook, including being critical of public health mandates such as wearing masks and supporting vaccination.

    Most of the congregations wanted in-person worship, particularly their younger members (with 87 percent of younger parishioners wanting in-person worship compared to 78 percent of middle-aged and 69 percent of older members). This suggests that “online worship has little future in Orthodox churches,” Krindatch said. He also found that faith and trust in clergy grew during the pandemic but that such attitudes declined in regard to bishops and their control of parishes. There was also a growth in optimism among members about working together and common decision-making in parishes. Yet, like most other congregations, there was continuing decline among youth.

    (Krindatch’s report can be downloaded here:

    Source: Orthodox Reality.


  • The recent midterm elections broke a record for the number of Muslims running for office, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).CAIR tracked a record-breaking 145 American Muslim candidates running for local, state, and federal office, including 48 state legislative candidates in 23 states. The council noted that many of the candidates were women and that there was a rising number of Somali Americans running for office. Most of the candidates were either Democrats or “non-partisan.” More than 80 Muslim candidates won local, state, federal and judicial seats in over 20 states, according to CAIR and the Jetpac Resource Center, a nonprofit that works to increase Muslim representation in politics. The victories represented the highest number of electoral wins among Muslim Americans since Jetpac and CAIR began tracking Muslim candidates. Mohammed Missouri, Jetpac’s executive director, noted that all Muslim state legislators who were up for reelection retained their seats.

    Mirriam Seddiq created American Muslim Women Political Action Committee to help elect leaders who will advocate for Muslim women’s rights. (Source: Noel St. John/National Press Club – Middle East Eye)


  • Source: Picryl.

    Most Catholic universities and colleges are not following in the path of secularization trodden by their Protestant counterparts, even though the future of Catholic schools has shifted from the hands of religious orders to those of the laity. In a study of Catholic higher education published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (online in November), Baylor University researchers Perry Glanzer, Jessica Martin, Theodore Cockle and Scott Alexander measured the Catholic identity of colleges according to an Operationalizing Faith Identity Guide (OFIG) that they created, including such criteria as the presence of Catholic Mass, requiring the president to be Catholic, having centers and institutes related to religion and Catholicism, a statement of faith, and required theology courses. They found that the majority of Catholic colleges and universities have maintained some affiliation with the Catholic Church, that not one Catholic institution of the 181 studied was completely secular, and that all of them referred to their Catholic identity in their mission statements. In that, these institutions are very different from Protestant schools, 83 of which the researchers found to have no relation to their sponsoring churches.

    Many of the Protestant colleges and universities occupied the extremes of the OFIG, either being largely secular or religious. In contrast, the Catholic schools were more in the middle of the spectrum. They required at least one theology course, had Mass available, and sponsored centers and institutes relating to religion. Yet the researchers found that the majority did not refer to Christian reasoning in their codes of conduct or require two or more Christian courses, and that less than five percent required faculty or staff to be Catholic. The researchers found that the most recent school started by a religious order was in 1965. The loss of the religious orders’ educational vitality has been replaced by lay-led, often conservative colleges that the researchers conclude “perceive that the more hostile higher-education culture requires…more distinctly Christian and separate institutions that maintain the Church’s educational mission and faithfulness.”


  • Church planting was largely unaffected during the pandemic, with only slight dips in attendance at their launches, according to a new survey. Presenting his findings at the November meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Warren Bird, of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, reported that overall there were a “number of new churches already in motion to reproduce themselves by starting one or more other new churches.” In a survey of 2,702 participants (2,315 of which were church planters and 387 multisite church pastors), Bird found that only in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, were new church plants not able to “launch large” (having at least 200 attendees the first day), with the proportion of those doing so standing at only seven percent; in the two years since, the proportion is back to the 20 percent range characteristic of the years before the pandemic. Other findings confirmed the effect of being multisite and engaging in church planting, and vice versa.(The study on church planting can be downloaded from:


    Source: Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.


  • Fewer than half the people in England and Wales consider themselves Christian, according to the most recent census, representing the first time that Christians make up a minority in the officially Christian nation. The 2021 census, released in late November by the Office for National Statistics, found only 46.2 percent of the population of England and Wales describing themselves as Christian, dropping from 59.3 percent a decade earlier. Meanwhile, the Muslim population grew from 4.9 percent to 6.5 percent, while Hindus grew to 1.7 percent from 1.5 percent. The non-affiliated, or “nones,” have grown from 25 percent of the population in 2011 to about 37 percent today.


  • An updated longitudinal study of individuals who “deconverted” from their religions finds that they still retain a strong interest in spirituality, even more than those who remained in their faiths. The study, first published in 2009 by German psychologist Hans Streib, followed 272 participants from the U.S. and Germany, some of who (called “traditionalists” or “stayers”) remained in their religions while others were in the deconversion process (“movers”). Streib and a research team tracked down 45 of these interviewees (mostly the German participants this time around) in their new book, Deconversion Revisited (Vandenhoek & Ruprecht), and found that the pattern of the movers claiming a “more spiritual” self-identification had remained stable. There was also a decline in the “more religious than spiritual” identification. At the same time, those who deconverted in the original study showed greater rates of self-acceptance and finding meaning in life, while those deconverting in the second wave of the study showed lower rates of self-acceptance and finding meaning in life. Because of the small number of interviewees, Streib and his research team caution that their findings are not necessarily representative of the larger population of “deconverts.”


  • A new study of Jehovah’s Witnesses finds that during the pandemic the organization expanded in countries with Internet access, even drawing back inactive members, but suffered greater losses in places remote from Internet connections. In a paper presented at the November meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Anatolii Tokmantcev of UCLA used Armenia as an example of how the Jehovah’s Witnesses both flourished and failed in the wake of the pandemic. As with other faiths, the Witnesses ceased normal in-person operations during the height of Covid, including door-to-door proselytism, and encouraged virtual meetings. Pre-pandemic, very few Witnesses in Armenia were adept at using smart phones and tablets, but to conduct meetings, public ministry and Bible studies during Covid they became so. Even elderly members were comfortably using multiple Zoom functions at the time of Tokmantcev’s observations in 2021. The online meetings became more social, while the strictness of dress code was loosened as members often didn’t use the video functions of Zoom.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses’ mobile carts in Venice, Italy, 2019 (Tiia Monto, Wikimedia Commons).

    According to the elders, the number of attendees grew because those who had “always been interested but did not want to spend time going to meetings [could] now join by Zoom.” During the pandemic, the number of publishers (or active members) who returned to regular publishing rapidly increased. Some who had been disfellowshipped were reinstated and returned to the organization. Public talks during the meetings were often given by members from other countries and even continents. “As a result,” Tokmantcev noted, “the cohesion of the worldwide JW community that used to be abstract became more tangible and real despite the discontinuation of the local in-person meetings.” Publications and teachings once issued from the Watch Tower Organization became more diverse in origin and nature, including new kinds of music and even TikTok videos. Required hours of “preaching” were maintained through sharing and speaking to friends and family. In short, the “density of practices” associated with being a Witness retained its intensity.

    While in 2020, the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 10,652 publishers in Armenia, in the most recent report from 2021, the organization reported 700 more publishers—the first instance of growth since 2010. Yet at the same time, the number was one of the lowest ever recorded in Armenia. Tokmantcev concluded that digitalization was key in understanding these trends. The Jehovah’s Witness world report shows that in the poorest countries—places where the Internet is accessible to less than 10 percent of the population—the religion lost up to 10 or even 15 percent of its members. “At the same time, the countries with ‘old JW’ communities, such as Great Britain, Armenia, France, and Germany, that used to stagnate in terms of growth, demonstrated impressive growth.”