The church, it seems, is experiencing a constant “wake-up call” these days.
It needs to wake up about the needs and interests of Millennials and the growth of the “nones.” It needs to wake up about worship styles, ministering outside the four walls and being generally more relevant.
And there is so much more.
The Pew Research Center has just uncovered another one: churches must become more aware of the religious and interdenominational makeup of their own congregations.
Pew has reported that one-in-five American adults were raised by parents of mixed religious backgrounds.
“This includes about one-in-10 who say they were raised by two people, both of whom were religiously affiliated but with different religions,” Pew said in its Oct. 26 study. Examples include “a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, or a Jewish mother and a Protestant stepfather.”
Another 12 percent of respondents said they were raised by one religious parent and another who was unaffiliated, such as an atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” Pew reported.
And that, says Mark Tidsworth, is something else that clergy and congregations need to wake up to.
Church leadership’s understanding of what’s happening in their own pews often lags behind reality, said Tidsworth, president of South Carolina-based Pinnacle Leadership Associates.
The increasing religious diversity of society is not just occurring outside of churches, but also within them, he said.
Ministers especially must strive to update their knowledge about members and visitors as they prepare relevant sermons, he added.
“For pastors, we can learn that perhaps we can err on the side of assuming there is more religious diversity in the congregation than we thought.”
They and their congregations must also strive to show members and visitors of varied backgrounds that the Christian story offers transformative hope for the world, he said.
The Pew study is further proof that churches can no longer assume its core membership is made of complete families who regularly attend worship, Tidsworth said.
“There is more diversity in the congregation than they think there is.”
And it’s growing, Pew found in its research.
“To be sure, religiously mixed backgrounds remain the exception in America,” according to the report. “Eight-in-10 U.S. adults say they were raised within a single religion, including two-thirds who say they were raised by two people who shared the same religion, and an additional 14 percent who say they were raised by a single parent.”
But the numbers are trending upward, it added.
“Fully one-quarter of young adults in the Millennial generation say they were raised in a religiously mixed family,” Pew said. That exceeds all other generations.
The religious backgrounds of Millennials are even more diversified. Almost 24 percent said they were raised by a religious “none.”
“In addition, only a quarter of Millennials say they were raised by two Protestant parents, once the archetype of an American family.”
Pew also learned that most — 62 percent — Americans raised by Catholics continue to identify as Catholic. Similarly, eight-in-10 Americans raised as Protestants continue to identify with that tradition.