Take a drive down Main Street of just about any major city in the country, and—with the housing market ground to a halt—you might pass more churches for sale than homes. This phenomenon isn’t likely to change anytime soon; according to the author of a 2021 report on the future of religion in America, 30 percent of congregations are not likely to survive the next 20 years. Add in declining attendance and dwindling affiliation rates, and you’d be forgiven for concluding that American religion is heading toward extinction.
But the old metrics of success—attendance and affiliation, or, more colloquially, “butts, budgets, and buildings”—may no longer capture the state of American religion. Although participation in traditional religious settings (churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, etc.) is in decline, signs of life are popping up elsewhere: in conversations with chaplains, in communities started online that end up forming in-person bonds as well, in social-justice groups rooted in shared faith.