Review of What Americans Really Believe

dr rodney starkStark, Rodney.  What Americans Really Believe.  Baylor University Press, 2008.  ISBN: 978-1-60258-178-4.

Meet the Author

Since 2004, Rodney Stark has been a University Professor in Social Sciences and the Co-Director of the Institute of Studies of Religion at Baylor University.  Stark is an American sociologist of religion who previously taught for over thirty years at the University of Washington.  To learn more visit his personal website or see his curriculum vitae.


Book BasicsWhat Americans really believe

Forty-one years ago, Stark co-authored American Piety: The Nature of Religious Commitment, which considered the results of two unique studies on American religious belief and practice.  What Americans Really Believe seeks to take up where that work left off and also to offer insight into the changes that have happened over the years between the studies.  This book is based on research that was done in 2005, 2006 and 2007 through the Baylor Surveys of Religion.  The 2005 and 2007 surveys were national in scope and included over 1500 participants.  The 2006 survey focused on economics and religion and included over 1000 participants. 

The book is a statistical feast with eighty charts.  Additionally, the data is often explained and used to challenge widely accepted beliefs that are either not based on research or that come from conclusions made from very limited research.    For those who are interested in the future of the American church, I would consider this a must read as it offers insight not into what academics think but what ordinary Americans believe.


So What?

Among Stark’s findings:

  • Denominationalism is alive and well (liberal Protestant denominations are in decline, conservative Protestant denominations are on the rise)
  • Young people leaving the church is not a troubling new trend, but the continuation of earlier generations.  They still tend to return after becoming parents.
  •  Church membership as a percentage of the overall American population has been on the rise throughout our history (from 17% in 1776 to 35% in 1870 to 59% in 1952 to 64% in 1990 to 69% in 2005)
  • Megachurches are healthier than most realize.  Their members, when compared to the mainstay of American church (those with under 100 members) are more likely to attend worship weekly, tithe, and share their faith with others.  They are also more likely to do volunteer work in the larger community.
  • Americans believe in God (the percentage has been at or above 94% for the last sixty years).

Stark’s statistics tell the story of American belief today, the efforts of American Christians will impact the statistics of tomorrow.  What are you doing that will make a difference? What is your small group doing? Your congregation? Your fellowship or churches or denomination?


  1. […] focuses on the percentages of people who read it and how often they engage in that behavior.  In What Americans Really Believe, Rodney Stark reports that 28% of Americans (24% of women and 32% of […]

  2. […]  Rodney Stark’s What Americans Really Believe (2008).  Stark takes a very similar approach in addressing data with a topical approach: congregations, beliefs and practices, atheism and irreligion, and the public square.  His book differs from Chaves’ because of its reliance on other data, namely research that was done in 2005, 2006 and 2007 through the Baylor Surveys of Religion. (Read my review here.) […]

  3. […] consider reading Rodney Stark’s What Americans Really Believe.  My review is available here and some facts about American religious beliefs and practices from it are located […]

  4. […] of his recent books, What Americans Really Believe (2008), has been reviewed on this blog (click here to read […]

  5. […] taught for over thirty years at the University of Washington.  He has published 30 books (my review of What Americans Really Believe / my review of The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement […]

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