While the South has often been described as the Bible Belt, recent studies of personal religious preferences paint a different picture.
The latest survey of religious preferences from visitors at the Warren County A&L Fair reveals a continuing decline in adherence to any one faith. In four out of the last five years, “no preference” was the top choice of respondents asked to name their religious affiliation.
“The trend is quite disturbing, but the results challenge us to work harder in local evangelism and Christian influence in the community,” said Charles Bogle, an elder at Central Church of Christ, which has conducted a religious preference poll at the county fair since 1991. “The poll shows we have great opportunities in teaching the soul-saving gospel of Christ.”
In that first survey 24 years ago, a tiny majority of voluntary respondents named the Church of Christ as their religious preference as compared to no-preference, 36.2 percent to 35.1 percent of the 1,809 total participants. In the same poll in September 2015, the religiously unaffiliated claimed a solid majority, 56.2 percent, doubling the second-place Church of Christ at 27.6 percent, according to survey organizer Ken Campbell.
Beginning in the second year of the study, 1992, no-preference seized first place and never let go. That share rose more or less steadily from then until it reached its high point of 59.3 percent in 2014 before taking a slight downturn this year.
“We think the real no-preference number is higher than what we’re reporting simply because of the natural bias in favor of the Christ of Christ in front of an exhibitor booth prominently displaying our name,” Bogle said. “This is not a scientific poll, but due to the relatively large number of respondents we think it begins to approach a practical level of statistical reliability. Our polling seems to track pretty closely with national trends in professional surveys.”
The highly respected Pew Center surveyed more than 35,000 Americans to find “the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who described themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly 8 percentage point in just seven years.”