What is an evangelical? Ask a hundred different scholars and you’ll get a hundred different answers. It’s a notoriously slippery term (at least a little bit by design) that makes the study of evangelicals difficult for religion researchers. While theologians may have one definition of “evangelicalism,” it’s becoming increasingly clear that the millions of people who call themselves evangelical have their own definition of the term and it’s not entirely clear what they mean by it. One thing it increasingly does not mean? Going to church.
New research from pastor and Christian researcher Ryan Burge finds that the number of self-identified evangelicals who attend church regularly continues to drop, with 26.7 percent saying they seldom or never go to church. About 13.5 percent of self-identified evangelicals say they go to church “yearly,” bringing the number of evangelicals who go to church once a year or less to about 40.2 percent. About half of self-identifies evangelicals attend weekly or more, with the other ten percent saying they attend about once a month.
Even more evidence here that "evangelical" is not a religious term anymore.
Among self-identified evangelicals in 2008:
16.1% reported never or seldom attending.
58.6% reported weekly or more attendance.
26.7% never or seldom (+10 pts)
49.9% weekly or more (-11 pts) pic.twitter.com/xukBAX77ue
— Ryan Burge 📊 (@ryanburge) April 8, 2021
This is pretty striking, but it’s also a reminder of just how loose evangelicals are with what makes them an evangelical.
One of the most common doctrinal definitions of evangelicalism is known as the Bebbington Quadrilateral, named for British historian David W. Bebbington. He said the four markers of evangelicalism are Biblicism (a high regard for the Bible), Crucicentrism (a focus on Jesus’ death on the cross), Conversionism (a belief that everyone needs to be evangelized) and Activism (prioritizing expressing the good news of Jesus through social action). It’s notable that church attendance isn’t really represented in the quadrilateral. That might be because evangelicals tend to focus more on the individual, prioritizing the personal relationship with Jesus over any communal obligation. This may or may not have much to do with the overall decline in church attendance among evangelicals, but it’s notable.