Visiting Pastor Bobby Brooks tells the story of David and Goliath to a congregation of students. Worshipers quickly flip to the 1 Samuel chapter on their smartphones.
Every Tuesday night, the Central Florida Wesley Foundation gathers at University Carillon Methodist Church off McCulloch Road, and although the UCF club boasts a good 80 members, that number is David-sized compared to the Goliath crowd it used to draw.
On par with national trends, the Wesley Foundation has lost 36 percent of its members since 2007, when it saw 125 students.
These numbers, provided by UCF’s Office of Student Involvement, are self-reported estimates from the registered student organization.
Similarly, America has seen a drastic decline in the number of citizens who identify as Christians.
No matter the denomination, age, race or region, the Pew Research Center found that 71 percent of Americans call themselves Christians — 5 million fewer since 2007.
“I don’t know if it’s just a lack of interest or commitment,” said Charity Lopez, associate director of the Wesley Foundation. “It’s easier to stay at home on your couch. … I don’t think I’ll ever say, ‘Well, this is enough,’ because that’s not what God wants.”
Richie Hartig, assistant director at Wesley, pointed out that if students are looking for good music, they’ll go to The Social; if they’re looking for a motivational speaker, they can listen to a TED Talk.
“Christianity isn’t an interest. … If the church has to compete against all that, it’s going to lose out,” he said.
And it’s not just UCF’s Wesley Foundation that’s following this trend.
Campus Crusade for Christ, or CRU, is down 186 members since 2007, and Catholic Campus Ministry has lost 95. The Latter-day Saints Student Association and Orthodox Christian Fellowship have also seen minor dips.
Meanwhile, other organizations such as Adventist Campus Ministry @ UCF, Baptist Collegiate Ministries and Sigma Phi Lambda have actually seen a rise in members.
So where are the Christians going? To the “nones” — religiously unaffiliated groups, such as atheists and agnostics.
The Pew survey of 35,000 adults found that the religiously unaffiliated have multiplied to 56 million — jumping from 16 to 23 percent since 2007. The numbers for atheists and agnostics, specifically, doubled to 7 percent.
College-aged citizens make up 34 percent of these nones — a sizable swell from the 27 percent in 2007. Ex-Christians, who represent 19 percent of surveyed adults, have also recently flooded these unaffiliated groups.
The same can be said for UCF’s own Secular Student Alliance, which has managed to stay pretty consistent in membership over the years, slightly falling to 54 members from 67 in spring 2012, when the club was established.
However, club President Benjamin Karpf, a junior mechanical engineering major, said it’s grown leaps and bounds since its founding, when members met in a virtual broom closet.
Raised in the United Church of Christ, club Vice President Emalee Schierman said it was the dogma that turned her off Christianity — and her aspiration to become a pastor.
“One of the fundamental ideas is: You are fundamentally bad. You need someone to save you,” the junior psychology major said.
Nicholas James, who’s been a part of SSA for three years, said it was the freedom that came with college that pushed him to research more religions.
Having attended Catholic school from pre-K to 12th grade, it was “never apparent that there was the choice to believe. Well, you could not believe, but then you’re going to hell.”
Other religions were found by the Pew Research Center to have slightly increased. Judaism and Islam both saw less than a percentage point of growth.
In fact, the biggest membership boost at UCF came from the Jewish club Chabad, which has jumped from 80 to 1,000 members since 2007.
The other Jewish organization, Hillel, saw a decrease, shrinking from 850 to 310 members. The Muslim Student Association increased from 70 to 110.
Caroline Glenn is the Content Manager at the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter @bycarolineglenn or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.