Growth and decline in the US Catholic Church

By Michael Sean Winters, 22 April 2024
Members of the faithful are seen during the Mass of Canonical Establishment of the Archdiocese of Las Vegas at the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer in Las Vegas, Nevada, in October 2023. Image: Archdiocese of Las Vegas/Facebook


The recent Pew Research survey numbers show that the Catholic population has remained at around 20% since 2014, after dropping off from 24% at around the turn of the century. Catholicism is still the largest denomination in the country, but the ethnic and geographic distribution of the Catholic population has changed. Now 29% of all Catholics in the U.S. live in the South and 24% live in the West. Only 26% live in the Northeast and even fewer, 21%, live in the Midwest.

The future of the Catholic Church in this country requires intentional focus on the Latino and other immigrant populations. A 2014 Pew survey found that nearly a quarter of all Hispanics were former Catholics. Some have joined Protestant congregations, especially evangelical and Pentecostal groups which set up storefront churches in Hispanic neighborhoods. Others, especially second- and third-generation Hispanic Catholics, follow the path of secularization their Anglo co-religionists have trod. There is no more pressing challenge facing the Catholic Church in this country than helping our Latino, Caribbean, African, Asian and European Catholic immigrants not assimilate into the mainstream, secular culture.

Catholicism needs to generate culture. The power of the Christian faith, manifested in suffering, prayer, obedience, may not capture headlines or clicks, but it is that power which moves silently and unseen, even in a spiritually barren landscape like our own secularized culture. If it is to bear fruit, those of us still in the church need to listen to the Spirit, not to ourselves, and follow wherever the Spirit leads.

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With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.


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