By Aaron Earls
Americans’ confidence in major U.S. institutions—including the church—fell in 2021, after a brief increase during the 2020 pandemic.
According to Gallup’s annual tracking poll, an average of 33% of U.S. adults say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in 14 institutions, down from 36% in 2020.
After experiencing at least a 5-percentage-point rise in confidence among Americans in 2020, public schools, the medical system, small businesses, the church or organized religion, and banks all fell at least 5 points in 2021.
From 2019 to 2020, Americans who expressed confidence in the church as an institution grew from 36% to 42%. However, that number dropped back down to 37% in 2021.37% of Americans say they have confidence in the church — a 5-percentage-point drop from 2020, according to Gallup. Click To Tweet
This year, 19% of U.S. adults say they have a great deal of confidence in the church, 18% say quite a lot, 34% say some, 26% say very little, and 4% say none or have no opinion.
Hispanic adults are most likely to say they have high confidence in the church (43%), followed by white (37%), and Black adults (35%).
Younger adults are less likely to express confidence in organized religion. While 4 in 10 U.S. adults 35 and older say they have quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in the church, 3 in 10 adults under 35 have the same opinion.4 in 10 U.S. adults 35 and older have quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in the church, but only 3 in 10 adults under 35 have the same opinion, according to Gallup. Click To Tweet
Churches also suffer from a lack of confidence among college graduates (31%), as well as political independents (35%), moderates (33%), Democrats (27%), and liberals (19%).
Gallup first began tracking U.S. adults’ confidence in the church as an institution in 1973. In 1975, a high mark of 68% expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the church.
After a downward trajectory, the church experienced a boost of confidence in 2001, as most other national institutions did in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, rebounding to 60% for the first time since 1987. Twenty years ago also marked the last time at least 6 in 10 Americans had confidence in the church.
In 2009, 52% of U.S. adults said they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the church as an institution. That was the last year a majority of Americans held that belief. In 2018, confidence levels dropped below 40% for the first time. They edged above that mark in 2020, only to fall back below in 2021.The downward trajectory of confidence in the church as an institution mirrors the decline of trust in pastors, according to Gallup’s annual ratings of professions. Click To Tweet
The trajectory of confidence in the church as an institution mirrors the decline of trust in pastors, according to Gallup’s annual ratings of professions. In 2018, pastors reached their lowest mark at 37% who say ministers have high or very high honesty. In 2019, that climbed back up to 40% before dipping back down to 39% in 2020.
Currently, confidence in the church, while relatively low, still remains higher than most other institutions.
Ratings of institutions by public confidence levels:
Small business 70%
The military 69%
The police 51%
The medical system 44%
The presidency 38%
The church or organized religion 37%
The U.S. Supreme Court 36%
The public schools 32%
Large technology companies 29%
Organized labor 28%
The criminal justice system 20%
Big business 18%
Television news 16%
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.