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‘Nones’ on the rise: What does increase in adults with no religious affiliation mean for the church?

Graphic via Pew Research Center

One-fifth of Americans — and one-third of adults under age 30 — have no religious affiliation, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Dubbed “nones” by Pew, the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow, the report indicates:

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).
This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.
However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

Reader feedback: What are the ramifications of this trend for Churches of Christ? Please be sure to include your full name, home congregation, city and state in case we decide to quote you.
Read coverage of the study by The Associated Press, CNN and Religion News Service.

  • Feedback
    This should not surprise us. The denominations are dying. The church is dying. Our own children are leaving The Faith. We are not teaching The Word to others.
    Ken Hargesheimer
    Sunset church of Christ
    Lubbock TX
    ken hargesheimer
    October, 10 2012

    Paul ran into a similar problem in Athens (Acts 17) and began where they were at, some were philosophical others religious, probably none in that crowd were of Jewish background. When he was finished some scoffed but some wanted to hear more and others followed.
    Most of the time Paul went to areas in the city such as the synagogue to find/attract his initial contacts. In cities where there was no synagogue he went to where the Jews might gather. This is an approach which is similar to our “building magnets” that we have grown to depend on. We attract people once engaged looking to re-engage or those new to the area ready to seek and engage.
    For many in this growing group we will need to meet them where they are – work, neighborhood, social settings, etc. Just as Paul began where the Athenians were at we will need to begin with where our friends are at.
    bruce warmbrod
    October, 10 2012

    What a great opportunity. However, if we are just trying to “affiliate” people with the churches of Christ, we’ll
    miss the boat. Our mission is to tell/show people the gospel,
    the gracious story of Jesus Christ, in order for those people
    to fall in love with Him. Their fellowship, “in Christ,” will
    automatically happen if we share the truth with them. Let’s
    stop counting heads and start counting souls who have truly
    given their lives to the Lord. We have such a wonderful story
    to tell, and such a pure manner of telling it, (the Bible only).
    Gary Villamor
    October, 11 2012

    The ramifications are staggering if we continue to do what we have been doing and expect different results. According to the cited report the majority of the unaffiliated are white, under 30 and have no interest in finding a church home. A conspicuously oversimplified observasion is that their strength is in their ability to network and quickly find and digest competing answers to almost any question. Their weakness is razor thin relationships and unmet family needs. If all we offer them is information and an invitation to church their rejection is predictable. If we offer an invitation into our home and deep, caring relationships connections are likely.
    Tim Tripp
    October, 11 2012

    You know what this says to me?
    This means that the Church is either not living its mission or we have chosen the same path as other denominational groups to make “church” only about Sunday and not everyday life. People are leaving “religion” in general because their perception is based on a lack of genuine discipleship lived outside the pews and church buildings. People want to see genuine Christianity (isn’t that what attracted people to the Church in Acts anyways?)…let’s stop talking about it and go serve the people in our community with the love of Christ! Maybe even as a Sunday morning worship service?!? Get outta the pews!
    Paul Castleman
    October, 11 2012

    We may view the “nones” as those who have seen variuos churches as self-serving clubs with increasing RE and staff, but sharing very little with the poor. The early church had no RE or staff, but gave Jesus’ love as Paul wrote(Gal. 6:10). Current monologues are NOT
    what Paul wrote, “For you may all speak for God, that all may learn, and all may be encouraged.” – 1 Cor. 14:31. Cf. 1 Thes.5:19-20,
    Rom. 15:14, 2 Cor.4:13, Eph. 4:15-16, Mal. 3:16. The priesthood of
    ALL believers (1 Pet.2:9) has been overlooked, and many are seeking
    people who reflect Jesus in what we say. Coffee shops and parks are good places to speak of Jesus, and our homes are ideal places to share sincere faith and love. We should know that our sins wash away claims for any distinctive practices. Psalm 65:4a, 2 Thes. 2:13. [email protected]
    Wayne McDaniel
    October, 11 2012

    The Word says that the church will ALWAYS be here. We are the Bride of Christ. Christ is coming back for his bride! Many have been called but few are chosen. The Word says that very few people will be saved. Remain Faithful Until Death and you shall receive a crown of life. Enough said.
    todd padgett
    October, 11 2012

    Daily Bible study, and prayer for opportunities to evangelize would go far. Sometimes, I think we talk ourselves into doing nothing because changing the world seems too massive of a task. But if we will agree to simply let God’s Holy Spirit work through us while we do our normal routine to His glory, God’s work would be done. Even if it’s one life changed at a time, that really adds up! Just plant seeds and let Him do the rest!
    Barrett Vanlandingham
    October, 11 2012

    Folks, this is a subject that has been on my heart for over 20 years. It is and will be my intention to work harder as I do understand that there are many older Christians that have not been working on being the “Bible Filled Church Member”, that Christ expected us to be. Sad to say many of the Senior Elderly Bible Students have gone on to their REWARD.
    With heartfelt efforts the work will continue to do all that I am able to do in my remaining years, to help with Study Materials, prepared Biblical Lessons and many many hours of concentrated efforts that it will take. Please Pray that this effort will bring the Spiritual Results that our Heavenly Father and his son expect.
    Bud Rawlins
    October, 11 2012

    My experience is that “Nones” are people who can’t identify with a church and keep their integrity.
    Yes, you read that correctly, they have too much integrity to identify with a church.
    Their problem is that the church stands for things they don’t believe in and they don’t see Jesus teaching. At the same time they see the church avoiding the things that Jesus talked about the most.
    James T Wood
    October, 11 2012

    Alan Highers believes the problem with members leaving the faith is lack of doctrine. I agree; I don’t we, as the Lord’s Church, work hard enough in teaching Bible doctrine to our youth.
    October, 11 2012

    Christians must adjust to the times. We may not ride donkeys from village to village. Some may still do that and that’s good where it is necessary. But we also need to take advantage of opportunities our technology gives us. Preaching on street corners may accomplish a little in our hectic time. Maybe Jonah had success in Nineveh. But we can advertise in our local free circulars (such as Penny Saver in my area), create programs for public access channels, buy ads on TV and in newspapers and magazines. As my wife said when we were in business, “Advertising is the name of the game.”
    Ellis Jones
    October, 11 2012

    The “nones” are one of the segments of our society that offer a special opportunity to committed Christians. However, in order to take advantage of that opportunity we must know, believe from the heart, faithfully but humbly live and boldly open our mouths and speak the message of the gospel and its implications for daily living.
    If we truly imitate the truth and spirit we see taught and practiced by Christ’s church from her beginning in Acts 2, we will reach the same kind of hearts they did. We will certainly find some of those hearts among the “nones”. That is all we can do and all we should do. Evangelism is not “rocket science”, but it does require a genuine life commitment that makes it part of who we are instead of a “program” or a “strategy” of the church.
    Larry White
    October, 11 2012

    I am concerned about how churches respond to people who are different. I’ve often felt worse after attending the assembly. I have Type 2 Diabetes and sleep apnea. I sit in the back row in case I need to step out of services to go to bathroom or not snore if I go to sleep during Bible class or preaching. The pulpit minister where I attend tried to make people sit at least 8 rows from the back. We had a big conflict. When he, an elder and I met, he told me that there is no excuse for anyone sitting in the back eight rows, that I am using diabetes as an excuse to sit in the back row and that sleep apnea does not make you tired.
    Narcissistic personality disorder is major in churches where some ministers and leaders believe that they being right is more important than being scriptural. Some have compensatory narcissistic personality disorder where they have to be right in church or that they are more entitled than others to make up for a self-deficiency. I have been turned off by members who have OCD and feel that everything in the service has to be done “right” instead of having a “right, humble” attitude. While there are valid, scriptural complaints, some people will complain about anything. When someone in church says I study too much, I’m better studying on my own and avoiding classes. Also, it bothers me when I am struggling with a problem in my life and I can’t get help for it. In fact, sometimes I have to go other churches to find classes that will help me because of control issues some leaders have toward curriculum. Why can’t some people be considerate, listen and think about the impact of their actions on others.
    Johnny Mullens
    October, 11 2012

    Perhaps Jesus would say to the “nones”–many of them anyway–“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” What the “nones” need to see in the “ones” who follow Jesus are lives that are genuine, real, authentic, and service-oriented. Like so many Americans, the “nones” live over-scheduled, over-scripted, over-stressed lives. If they would witness in genuine Christ-followers examples of peace, joy, kindness, love, patience and the other fruit that the Spirit produces, if they could see lives exemplified by the rest that Jesus promises, then open doors for communication, conversation, and deep consideration could be found. Most people don’t want or need more meetings to attend, but, as one earlier comment suggested, to find a family where they are warmed and welcomed, a clear connection that counts–that might very well lead them into a new (or renewed) relationship with the One who loves them most.
    Alan C. Henderson
    Cedar Grove Church of Christ
    Greater Atlanta Christian School
    Atlanta, Georgia
    Alan Henderson
    October, 11 2012

    Many observers of Christianity and once members of congregations see churches losing their spiritual emphasis as so many have become immersed in conservative politics. This identity with partisan politics has been going on now for 32 years. There is no question that this would eventually take a huge toll as objective observers know full well that this is not what churches are supposed to be about. The preachers manage in most every sermon to say something quite pleasing to those who want the church to be political. The comments in SS classes so often are political in nature. One dares not disagree without condemnation.
    We are reaping what we have sown. This will not change. We have gone down this road too long. And virtually no one in the church is pinpointing this digression.
    Harold Williams
    October, 11 2012

    If we continue to emphasize that the Gospel is Church of Christ doctrine instead of the facts about Jesus, I expect our denomination will continue to decline.
    Joe Bain
    October, 11 2012

    Simultaneously, North American society is experiencing a decline in newspapers. The two trends are related, both being the product of increasing development and spread of electronic communication. The mix includes the way in which technology has also Increased the mobility of society–better and faster transportation. Not only has knowledge increased, but also people are running to and fro.
    We’re in an environment where people go virtually to places where they formerly went physically, even buying groceries via the internet. I have a Roman Catholic friend who no longer attends mass bodily but instead clicks into Mother Angelica (or some similar program) to “get mine at home.” My friend hasn’t become “Me and Jesus got our own thaeng going”; although that potential exists with others (and should be of concern), my friend remains devoutly albeit electronically Catholic. It remains to be seen how enough eucharistic ministry can be developed to convey consecrated wafer and wine to all the electronically faithful, but Churches of Christ need as well to accommodate to the new challenges and possibilities.
    You are already witnessing the replacement of hymnals by computer projection. Before long collection plates will have swipe tracks and keypads for credit card contributions. Electronically attended congregations concern me for the time being, as I am an old-fogey but cannot ostracize myself from the overwhelming force of cultural change.
    Finally, the noted trends affect North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and certain similar economies. Christendom in Asia and Africa is growing, and Latin America (perhaps most prominently Brazil) is evidencing considerable conversion from Roman Catholicism to other Christ-professing fellowships. If indigenous Europeans fail to strengthen their judeo-christian resolve, their continent will become dominated by Islam. The article’s implication of growing atheism in the United States is problematic. The 21st century will be a time of intensity and conflict related to religion, including atheism.
    David Ramsey
    October, 11 2012

    This was not a problem in the 1950’s. We must ask ourselves, “what changed”.
    I am sure there are many answers to that question, but one is very obvious.
    In the 1950’s, the children and youth were in assembly with the mature adults, except during Sunday bible class. Sunday night and special “Gospel Meetings” were attended by all. Activities were attended by all.
    This closeness helped the youth bedcome familiar with the short-comings and struggles of the adults, and they were very aware that those adults depended upon God and His word to help them overcome those struggles.
    This taught the youth that we were all sinners. Saved by the grace of God. Were all dependent upon Him, because we knew “to whom could we turn”.
    This example gave the youth strength to also turn to God and His word for their help.
    In 2012, there is a big “gap” in the church with the youth and adults not really knowing each other.
    Ken Powell
    October, 11 2012

    What it means to the CofC depends on what part of the CofC we are speaking of. The more progressive churches who reach out to those who are searching yet not willing or ready to completely turn away from their past beliefs are problably attractive to this group of “nones” since they see an open, welcoming atmosphere that is not so dogmatic. These groups are open to possibly allowing musical instruments in the services, will consider individuals members even though they have not been baptised “For forgiveness of sins”, and accept those from previous broken marriages that were not “for scriptural reasons.” Yet the groups who are more traditional and even very “conservative” are not so attractive to the “nones” because they are not willing to compromise at all. The areas mentioned above are not seen as potential “sticking points” and they are not viewed as debatable. This is why we see the more progressive churches continuing to grow and the conservative churches remain very small and even shrink.
    Our religious environment in the United States makes it very difficult for so many people. It is good that we have the freedom of choice, but it creates such a climate of confusion that many do not know which way to go. I used to believe that anyone could (as the old saying would go) sit down with a bible and come to know the truth, the same truth that anyone else would who sat down with the bible. I now believe that is not the case. Too many smart people have used the bible seriously and open-mindedly and have come to different conclusions about what the bible teaches about the church, worship, and the plan of salvation. Who is right? Of course, whatever group we are with is the one we would say is right. People are not looking for confusion, they are looking for comfort and a steady hope. When we polarize ourselves against everyone else, many see that as negative. I would believe that the “nones” are ones who would see it as a negative and be turned off by the attitude.
    Glenn Landrum
    October, 12 2012

    It seems that the “nones” are made up of a wide variety of people. Some are deeply religious, but may have found “organized” religion hypocritical. Unfortunately, at times, we in the church have been guilty of that, and we need to work hard to prove to them that we are truly genuine. Other “nones” simply have not had the opportunity to learn the good news of the coming of God (Jesus), who came in the flesh in order to die on the cross and give His own saving, cleansing blood for us. There are many lost souls out there who are lost. We need to be out there in force to teach those people. We need to deepen our faith and become less selfish and less self-centered enough to share our Lord with them, and not just keep Him to ourselves.
    Cottondale church of Christ
    Cottondale, AL
    Evelyn Asbury
    October, 12 2012

    I think the church has blended in too much with the world.Because now it’s hard to tell the difference between the christians and non-christians..I notice on facebook that many members of the church focus more on guns and debates on polotics and not nearly enough on Christ.Earlier years the church focused more on religious debates sencerity about saving a lost soul.This is what I see.
    calvin r
    October, 13 2012

    The church can emerge again and see growth in america if we get back to God’s blueprint:)
    calvin r
    October, 13 2012

    I find it interesting that some want to blame the church for people’s unbelief. While we are to take the gospel to the world, and are not doing that as we could, let’s put the blame for most of the problem where it belongs – Satan and bad soil (Luke 8:4-16). Jesus made it clear that most people will take “the broad way.” The answer to winning any soul(s) is not in being progressive (going beyond the word of God with error on marriage doctrines or false worship – for that is not growth with God), nor is it found in simply pointing people to the church versus their church or the church versus their personal convictions. It is found in doing exactly what Jesus said to do by loving each other in the church (Jn. 13:34-35), caring enough about the lost to help them when they are hurting (as the Samaritan did) and persistently share the gospel of Christ without compromise. Whether we are talking about the “nones,” rank infidels, or people with religious convictions, people must be pointed to Jesus as One to whom they must be willing to yield everything. (Luke 9:23; 14:25-33). Perhaps one of the greatest stumbling blocks is that many individuals in the church have not done that! And if we have not, to that degree we are to blame.
    Roger Leonard
    October, 20 2012

    I wish to Amen Calvin R’s last two points!
    Roger Leonard
    October, 24 2012

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