Who Has Been Born Again?

by Albert L. Winseman, D. Min.
Religion and Social Trends Editor

The "born-again" experience is a significant part of the American religious landscape, and seems to be a phenomenon with considerable staying power. Indeed, born-again Christians wield considerable influence in several areas of contemporary society. So exactly how many Americans are born-again, and which Americans are most likely to identify themselves this way?

The percentage of Americans who identify themselves as "born-again" or "evangelical" did not shift from 2003 to 2004, according to Gallup data aggregated from each year*. In 2003, 42% of U.S. adults said they were born-again or evangelical; the 2004 percentage is 41%.

There is little difference between the percentages of men (39%) and women (42%) who said in 2004 they are born-again; similarly, there are no significant differences by age. But a few other demographic categories display fairly typical variations here.

Region and Race

Billy Graham, perhaps the most famous evangelist of all time and author a how-to book on being born again, is from the South, and the South has far and away the highest concentration of born-agains/evangelicals in the country. A solid majority of Southerners describe themselves as born-again (58%), while just 38% of those in the South say they are not. The numbers are nearly opposite in the East and West -- 26% of residents of the East are born-again, while 69% are not, and 27% of Americans living in the West say they are born-again, while 64% are not. Midwesterners are in between these two extremes -- 44% of those in the Midwest describe themselves as born-again, while 53% do not.

Black Americans are far more likely to identify themselves as born-again or evangelical, with 63% of blacks saying they are born-again, compared with 39% of white Americans.

Other Factors

The percentage of born-agains is higher among Americans with no college education and lower among those with at least some college education, 49% vs. 33%, respectively. And as income goes up, the percentage of self-described born-agains goes down: 47% of those who make $30,000 a year or less claim to be born-again, compared with 33% of those who make $75,000 or more a year. Finally, Republicans are far more likely to say they are born-again (52%) than Democrats (36%) or independents (32%).

Finally -- and not surprisingly -- individuals who attend religious services weekly or more often are far more likely to describe themselves as born-again than those who attend services less frequently. Sixty percent of weekly attendees are self-reported born-agains or evangelicals, while only 44% of those who attend less than weekly or monthly and 23% of those who seldom or never attend identify this way. Not coincidentally, church attendance is highest in the South and Midwest, and lowest in the West and East.

Bottom Line

Because a sizable percentage of Americans consider themselves to be born-again, religious leaders need to take an active role in response to this trend. They can help their members -- both those who are born-again and those who are not -- come to a deeper understanding of the theology of, and biblical witness to, the born-again experience.

They can also help interpret the terms born-again and evangelical for a secular society. Religious leaders need to encourage harmony on this issue. Particularly in a political climate that remains fairly contentious, there are those who are inclined to use religious orientation -- particularly the born-again experience, with its philosophical implications of repentance and spiritual rebirth -- to divide rather than unite people.

*Results based on aggregated data from surveys in 2003 and 2004, conducted with 2,003 national adults, aged 18 and older. Based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

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