The vast majority of Americans may be Christians, but fewer than half join a congregation — and that trend, warns a religion researcher, should concern church leaders.

“In some ways, our chickens have come home to roost,” said Dale Jones, a research director with the Church of the Nazarene who worked on the newly released U.S. Religion Census. “Churches have talked about needing to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ — what you hear is, ‘I need a relationship, I need to be born again,’ but not, ‘I need to be involved in a congregation.’ Guess what? That’s where we are.”

The once-a-decade census, unveiled Tuesday, found that while upward of 80 percent of Americans claim to be Christians, only about 49 percent are affiliated with a congregation.

While other studies examine total membership, beliefs or worship attendance, this one counts the actual number of people who are affiliated with U.S. congregations — or, as Jones put it, the people who are “involved enough to the point where they know to count you.”

And the latest numbers show that mainline Protestants and Catholics, who dominated the 20th century, are losing ground — literally — to the rapid rise of Mormons and Muslims.

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