Almost half of Americans see the nation having “more people who are not religious” as a bad thing, according to a new Pew Research study. Forty-eight percent of the country is worried about the growth of the so-called “Nones,” while 39 percent say it doesn’t matter and 11 percent believe it is a good thing.
Substantial majorities of White evangelical Protestants (78), Black Protestants (64) and White Catholics (56) said the growing number of the non-religious is not good for society, while a plurality of White mainline Protestants (46) and Hispanic Catholics (48) did not believe the trend made any difference. In each religious subgroup, those who attended services weekly were much more likely to view negatively the growth of those who are not religious. Perhaps surprisingly, only 24 percent of the unaffiliated themselves felt their growth was a good thing.
Men and women held similar views on the issue. Younger adults were less likely than older Americans to believe the trend was a bad thing, with 50 percent of those under 30 believing the trend made no difference to society, including 43 percent of the religiously affiliated young adults.
In the last five years, the religiously unaffiliated have increased from 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population. They include those who are atheist, agnostic and those who decline to give any religious affiliation. Since 1972, Catholics have remained stable in the U.S., while Protestants have dropped 11 percent and the unaffiliated have risen by the same amount. In Canada, the Nones have almost caught up to Protestants, with the former making up 24 percent of the population and the later 27.
For Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, the data on the Nones does not mean “the sky is falling” for evangelical Christianity. “A big part of what is happening is that the ‘Nominals’ – and by that I mean nominal mainliners primarily, but nominal evangelicals as well – are shifting and becoming the ‘Nones’,” he wrote. “This makes sense, as the cultural currency (in other words, the value a society places on identifying as a Christian) is decreasing. And thus, we see a movement away from Christian identity as a cultural value.”
While Stetzer finds it concerning that so many Americans are moving away from any and all religious memories to which churches could appeal, he also sees the changing religious landscape as an opportunity. Churches can now “clearly state what a Christian is, as others are no longer claiming that title as frequently,” he wrote. “Furthermore, teaching believers to live on mission in their contexts, rather than just to bring their friends to church, is how we will reach the Nones.”
See related articles “The Future of the Church in America” and “Cultural Christianity is Dying, and that’s a Good Thing”