Religious "Nones" on the rise

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Oct 10, 2012

In somewhat breaking (but maybe not very surprising news), the Pew Forum released research findings yesterday headlining that religious “nones” are on the rise in the U.S. What’s a religious “none”? An individual who doesn’t identify with any particular religion.

Here are some interesting nuggets from the executive summary:

One-fifth of the U.S. public and a third of adults under 30 are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling. In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults.

Many of the countrys 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.

Most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

So in the “good news” category, we see that religiously unaffiliated people still have some sort of spiritual interests and think the church benefits society in some ways.

Yet in the “bad news” category, that somewhat positive view of the church is largely overwhelmed by their perception that religious organizations are too involved in politics and too legalistic.

I’ll admit that my thoughts are not fully developed about what this means for leaders, the church, and those of us who care deeply about young people and their families. But one question I keep wondering is this: What if the church and those of us who follow Jesus were more known for what we’re for than what we’re against?

Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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