An economic downturn that began in the 1990s, coupled with unemployment and outmigration has affected the number of faithful attending religious services in Michigan. While Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations have seen a drop in numbers, at least one other religious affiliation has seen steady growth for several decades. Evidence of this comes from a recent studies by the Pew Research Center and the U.S. Religion Census. In its Religious Landscape Study for 2014, Pew shows some significant demographic changes.
Overall, the Pew survey found 25 percent of Michiganders identify as evangelical Christians; 18 percent identify as Catholics; 18 percent as belonging to mainline Protestant churches; 8 percent belong to historically black Protestant churches, and the remainder belong to faith communities such as The Church of Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Another 5 percent of the residents of Michigan identify with non-Christian traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
The Pew study also shows lack of traditional religious faith in Michigan. For example, about 16 percent of the respondents in Michigan said that they either do not believe in God, or are just not certain whether God exists. That figure indicates a rise from 11 percent since 2007. Twenty-five percent of the Michigan respondents did not identify with any specific faith, while 58 percent are not affiliated with any congregation. Approximately 18 percent of adult Michiganders responded that heaven does not exist, while 9 percent said they are not sure. Fewer believe in hell. Of the respondents, 32 percent said they do not know if it exists while 8 percent said they are not certain.
In other statistics, 42 percent of Michigan residents polled said they are members of a religious congregation and 33 percent said they attend religious services at least once each week. Of those polled, 35 percent said they attend only sometimes, while 32 percent seldom or never attend. A related study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that Americans tend to fib about their attendance at church or temple. The institute discovered that actual church attendance is approximately half the rate indicated by opinion polls.
Michigan has a population of approximately 10 million. Of the 4.1 million residents affiliated with a congregation 41.2 percent – 1,717,296 are Catholic. The second biggest cohort consists of those who belong to evangelical nondenominational Protestant congregations. These are figures that were determined by the U.S. Religion Census. These numbers differ from the Pew survey since Pew asks about religious identify, regardless of practice or membership in a congregation. The U.S. Religion Census counts the number of worshippers affiliated with a congregation.
While Catholics are dominant among Christian affiliations in Michigan, they also saw one of the greatest drops in membership. Between 1990 and 2010, Catholics affiliated with a parish dropped by 27 percent, according to the U.S. Religion Census. Since 2000, the drops was 15 percent.
Mainline Protestant denominations were not immune to loss. The Episcopal Church saw membership drop by 44 percent between 19990 and 2010. Among Presbyterians, membership dropped 39 percent, while Evangelical Lutheran churches saw a drop of 28 percent.
So where is the growth of faith in Michigan?
The U.S. Religion Census determined that the growth among adherents of Islam has jumped by 50 percent since 2000. Having started at 80,000 Muslim worshippers, Muslims now constitute a larger religious group than several Protestant affiliations, including Christian Reformed, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Southern Baptist traditions. It is the Detroit metropolitan area where approximately 80 percent of Michigan’s Muslims live, being concentrated in Wayne County. The city of Dearborn, long dominated by the Ford Motor Company, has the largest mosque in North America. According to MLive, there are approximately 120,000 Muslims living in Michigan.
And Hamtramck, a small city that is entirely surrounded by the city of Detroit, recently elected a Muslim-majority city council. Hamtramck was once known for its vibrant Polish-American culture. It is now a melting pot consisting of approximately 24 percent Arab (mostly Yemeni), 19 percent African American, 15 percent Bangladeshi, 12 percent Polish, and 6 percent Yugoslavian (many Bosnian), according to figures from the official U.S. Census. The number of Muslims is not clear because the U.S. Census does not ask about religion.
Religion in the United States
Evangelical Protestant 25.4%
Mainline Protestant 14.7%
Historically Black Protestant 6.5%
Orthodox Christian 0.5%
Jehovah's Witness 0.8%
Other Christian 0.4%
Non-Christian Faiths 5.9%
Other World Religions 0.3%
Other Faiths 1.5%
Unaffiliated (religious "nones") 22.8%
Nothing in particular 15.8%
Don't know 0.6%