The Fall of the Nones?

For all the clamor you hear about increasing secularization of the United States, something may
be shifting. 

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that there appears to be more faith — not less — among young people. What does this mean? A higher percentage of people who believe in “something” doesn’t exactly mean the same thing as a higher percentage of people claiming a religious affiliation. This caveat, the Journal says, is clear from the survey’s definition of faith: “​​The Springtide survey uses the term ‘higher power,’ which can include God but isn’t limited to a Christian concept or specific religion, to capture the spectrum of believers.”

The survey reports a five percent increase in young people who say they believe in the existence of a higher power, and that is not nothing. Since the 1990s, the number of Americans who identify as Christians, and those who claim any religious affiliation at all, has fallen. This “rise of the nones” has been a topic of conversation for decades now. Long-time religion journalist Bob Smietana’s 2022 book, Reorganized Religion, is essential context to what this information likely represents. 

More Faith, Not Less

30% of 18 to 25 year olds say they believe — more than doubt — the existence of a higher power (up from about 25% in 2021).
— Springtide Research Institute, December 2022

of 18 to 29 year olds said religion was very important to them (the lowest percentage
of all age groups)
— Wall Street Journal (NORC poll), March 2023

of 18 to 29 year olds attend religious services monthly or more (down from 24% in 2019)
— Pew Research Center, March 2023

*as reported in the Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2023

“More than a few had been burned by abusive or domineering leaders and given up or had a falling-out with people in the pew,” Smietana says. But he contends organized religion is worth saving — because it affects all of us. Faith is living. “Will the church?” he asks. For churches and institutions “help their neighbors. They comfort the grieving, they visit the sick, they laugh and rejoice together, and they pick one another up when they fall. They keep the faith when all seems lost.

Pew Research Center Projects the Future

Based on patterns in recent decades, Pew estimates in 2070:

34-52% of Americans will claim no religious affiliation

35-54% of Americans will identify as Christian

31% of people raised Christian will become unaffiliated between ages 15-29

3% of people raised Christian will switch to a different (i.e., non-Christian) religion during their young adult years

21% of people who are raised with no religion (i.e., as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular”) will become Christian in young adulthood

The numbers from 2020:

28% identified as “none”

70% identified as religious(63% Christian, 7% other)

43% attend a service monthly or more

65-70% say religion is very important

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