Despite the media frenzy surrounding the influence of evangelical Christians during the 2004 presidential election, the new study indicates that evangelicals remain just 7% of the adult population. That number has not changed since the Barna Group began measuring the size of the evangelical public in 1994.
Barna surveys do not ask people to define themselves as “evangelical” but instead categorize people as such based on their beliefs. In this approach, evangelicals a subset of born again Christians. In addition to meeting the born again criteria (described below) evangelicals also meet seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; contending that they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; stating that Satan exists; maintaining that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not by being good or doing good deeds; asserting that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; saying that the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. In this framework, being classified as “evangelical” is not dependent upon any kind of church or denominational affiliation or involvement.
Several segments of the population are more likely than average to be found within evangelical circles. The vast majority of evangelicals are Protestant; less than 1% of Catholics fit the description. Similarly, adults who describe themselves as conservative on social and political matters are much more likely to fit the definition than are those who say they are liberal in their thinking on such matters (17% versus 1%, respectively). The largest concentration of evangelicals lives within the South; the most limited number resides in the Northeast. Even though all evangelicals are born again Christians, less than one out of five born again adults (18%) meet the evangelical criteria.
The report also illustrates the comparatively enormous size of the born again constituency. As with the term “evangelical”, the phrase “born again Christian” is not assigned to those people who call themselves by that name. Barna’s surveys categorize people as born again if they say they “have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in my life today” and also contend that after they die they will “go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior.” Four out of ten adults fit this definition.
When all of the atheists, agnostics and adults associated with non-Christian faith groups are combined, they are only half as numerous as the born again segment (21% compared to 40% respectively). The remaining body of people – 39% of the nation’s adult population – is what Barna categorizes as “notional Christians” – people who consider themselves to be Christian but are not born again. For more than a decade, the sizes of the born again and notional segments have been roughly equivalent.
This matches roughly this Kos diary, which references sources that show that actually, non-Christians are the fastest growing segment of society. In fact, the numbers of Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists have increased the most, percentage-wise, since 1990, according to references therein.
We have to remember that some groups are simply louder than others.