The stock market isn’t the only thing that’s been trending down lately. The Barna Group, which conducts and analyzes trends relative to faith and practice, reported recently that religious behavior has declined in a variety of ways during the past 20 years.

For its periodic “State of the Church” series, Barna tracked six behaviors associated with Christian practice, and all but one were down. Bible reading on a weekly basis dropped five percent (now 40 percent), while church volunteerism is down eight, with just 19 percent of adults doing any volunteer church work in a given week.

Sunday School attendance for adults also dropped eight percentage points (to 15 percent), and worship attendance declined from 49 to 40 percent. Meanwhile, the number of “unchurched” folks (who haven’t attended in the past six months) soared from 24 to 37 percent.

The only statistic that remained relatively unchanged was the percentage of adults who attend a church with more than 600 members.

Perhaps the most significant of Barna’s findings is that the participation of women in church has sharply declined: church attendance was down 11 percentage points, to 40 percent; Sunday School attendance dropped from 24 to 17 percent; church volunteerism dropped nine points; and the number of women who haven’t attended at all in the past six months rose by 17 percent.

Folks who’ve been involved in church for very long know that in many congregations, women provide the spiritual backbone. If participation by women continues to decline, we’re in real trouble.

In an intriguing twist, while religious behavior is down, the number of all adults Barna classifies as “born again” was up by five points, from 35 to 40 percent. Among women, the number rose from 38 to 44 percent.

Just another reminder that belief and behavior don’t always walk in step. A thought, perhaps, for personal reflection …

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