Church membership. . . and funeral ceremony

The Gallup Poll recently released its findings on church membership last week and I found an article on it written by the Associated Press that you can read here.  One of the interesting items was that, contrary to anecdotal thought, Hispanic Americans church membership has dropped, since 2000, from 68% to 45%.  That is a larger drop than non-Hispanic white and black Americans.

The common thought had been that because Hispanic Americans tended to affiliate with the Roman Catholic religion that they were growing in percentage of church membership.  However, according to the article, church membership among Roman Catholics in general has dropped to 63% from 76% since 2000 partly because of the clergy sex-abuse scandals.  The reality is that while the size of the Roman Catholic church in the United States is growing – mostly from immigration of Hispanic families – the percentage of Hispanic families that join is falling.

In contrast, again according to the article, Protestant membership has only dropped to 67% from 73% over the same time period.

Here are some other interesting findings from the poll:

  • Church membership among Democrats is now at 48% compared to 71% in 2000.
  • Church membership among Republicans is now at 69% compared to 77% in 2000.
  • Among Americans ages 65 and over 64% are church members
  • Americans in the 18-29 age bracket are church members at a 41% rate.

According to Nancy Ammerman, a professor of the sociology of religion at Boston University, the overall decline in church membership is driven by cultural and generational factors.  She states, “Culturally, we are seeing significant erosion in the trust people have for institutions in general and church in particular.”

Funeral Director Daily take:  I became a full time funeral director in 1980 and in my area of rural Minnesota, virtually everybody had a church affiliation.  Not everyone always attended, but virtually everyone had an identity with their family ties for as we said, “Marrying and burying”.

I think that identity truly helped funeral homes sell services simply because the “service” was seen as a necessary part of the death care process.  As families have left churches and have had weddings in destination locales, we have lost that “sense of belonging” to a church that we could call home.  There are other reasons people have left churches as the article points out.

Membership in a church or in a society or group such as the Knights of Columbus, Masonic Lodge, or American Legion gives a reason for formal services at death.  In my opinion, it will continue to be difficult to promote funeral or memorial services in a society where “joining” is no longer seen as necessary.  Death care providers have to understand this reality and really listen to what the consumer client family wishes.  Funeral homes will have to continue to be receptive to alternative services that – absent of religion or organization – are meaningful to the client families.  Failure to do so may be devastating to the bottom line.

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