Monday, March 09, 2009

New Survey: Those With No Religion Fastest-Growing Group in US

On Monday, a new religious study was released that showed that 15% of the US population defines themselves as belonging to no religion. Here is an excerpt from the American Religious Identification Survey—conducted by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College. (Here is also a link to a US News report on this study.)

"The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that reflects an additional 4.7 million 'Nones.' Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country, with Vermont, at 34 percent 'Nones,' leading all other states by a full 9 points.'Many people thought our 2001 finding was an anomaly,' [Ariela] Keysar said. We now know it wasn't. The 'Nones' are the only group to have grown in every state of the Union.'"

In addition, every single Christian group has decreased in terms of percentage of the US population--and most have declined in raw numbers as well. In regards to atheism, the study says:

"Only1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900 thousand to 1.6 million."

In sum, the findings show or lead to the conclusion that:

  1. Religion and Christianity are on the decline in the US;

  2. Protestantism is doing worse than Catholicism due to Catholic immigrants;

  3. Mormonism is keeping up with population growth, and Islam and New Age/Wicca are exceeding it;

  4. Atheism, while still a small percentage of the population, is on the rise; and

  5. "Spirituality,"--or non-organized belief in God--is still vibrant in the US.

What implications does this have for the church in the US?

  • Attractional methods alone will have decreasing effectiveness, though they will reach some.

  • Not only theologically, but pragmatically, we must make the structure of the church be missional in nature and make dramatic changes in how we allocate our resources. This might mean moving all "Bible studies" off site, in coffee shops, Starbucks, homes, schools, meet people where they are. With antagonism and apathy towards religion, fewer will show up because we have better programs. And those that do will already be Christians.

  • We need to train our members in knowledge of other faiths and resurgent atheism and methods to reach these adherents.We must make dramatic changes. Sadly, however, most churches will do almost nothing to respond to these cultural changes. Those that do respond will respond incrementally only. With a shrinking pool of Christians, there will be an increasing competition amongst churches for members. This will, ironically, put more pressure upon church leaders to shore up "programs" to attract church members to shore up the decreasing member base.

In the midst of all of this, it is unbelievable to me that our fellowship is consumed on all sides with "doctrinal issues"--meanwhile our nation is hopelessly lost. And the resistance to making practical, methodological changes, such as replacing Sunday night worship or Wed. night classes with outreach and service, moving "classes" off site, planting new churches, changing times, making budgets missional, etc., is quite simply, absurd.

What do you think of these findings? How should the church respond to the changing (a)religious landscape of the US so that we can reach people today?


Anonymous said...

I think the biggest key in reaching the Athiest/Agnostic movement(speaking as one myself) is to shift from messages of fire and brimstone, and of 'God Hates Abortions and Gays!' and instead focus on a message of Love.

James Nored said...

To our atheist/agnositc friend--I agree with you. The gospel means "good news," and the message of Christ is a message of hope, love, forgiveness, and reconcilliation. I am sorry for those who have "missed the point" and emphasized the wrong things. May we show love and serve all people in the name of Christ, who loves and serves us despite our many flaws.

Kevin M said...

I think part of the problem can be traced to Christians identifying themselves as members of a particular church and not as a follower of Jesus Christ. I agree with James about Jesus' message and feel that Christians need to get back to putting Jesus' message first not a political or social agenda.

Christians need a bottom up approach to spreading the gospel. Trying to influence government and society from the top down is doomed to failure and will never work. If we look at Jesus' example he went to the lowest rungs of society not the top. Paul is another example where the gospel was not spread from the top down.

Anonymous said...

I hear the fervor and intensity of your feelings for the lost of our world and that is commendable. And I am sorry if I misread your meaning here, but it sounds like you are focused more on ‘where’ and ‘how’ we teach, than ‘what’ we teach. I got that from your references to the ‘structure’ of the church and training our members in other faiths and responding to cultural changes and discounting emphasis on ‘doctrinal issues’.

If you will read only through a few books...Acts, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, and Colossians, you will find 35 or so references to ‘preaching’...preaching the word, preaching the good news about the kingdom, preaching Jesus Christ, preaching the gospel, preaching the word of the Lord, etc, etc. We are not told to respond to the culture, we are told to preach Jesus and in doing so, we can CHANGE the culture. I believe this is what you call “missional”; it is the Christian’s mission spoken of in Matthew 28...”Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you."

Read through Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus and see how many times ‘doctrine’ is mentioned...sound doctrine, pure doctrine, doctrine conforming to Godliness. Doctrine is important according to these scriptures. If doctrine is being discounted or altered in any way, then our fellowship should be consumed with ‘doctrinal issues’ until the doctrine we teach is sound, being taken only from God's word and not distorted by popular opinion or by personal preferences or by trends in culture. If we teach anything else, we are false teachers. It is essential to be teaching/preaching sound doctrine, even if it is unpopular or even if it is rejected. But it is of primary concern that what we teach is from God only, regardless of what our culture prefers to hear.

I am sure that you believe what these scriptures teach too, but it concerns me that so many today seem to be distracted by the trappings of culture and the new emphasis on our place in the timeline. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has always been its very nature, it is counter-culture. Culture has changed many times and there are many cultures existing simultaneously around the world at any given time....but the Gospel was and is and always will be relevant to the people living in any culture and at any time. I think we handicap our efforts when we dwell on “problems” of culture.

Just as in the first century when the Church was new, some will follow Him and some will not; some will become angry and some will repent. We need to focus on teaching the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ....His love for ALL people, that He gave Himself to be the perfect sacrifice for our sin, that he arose in victory over Satan and sin and death, and that he has provided a very simple way for us to be forgiven, to be saved and to live with Him in Heaven forever. Salvation is available to everyone because of the great love God has for us. He doesn’t force it on us, we must accept it willingly, and obey the things that He requires of us as well. So we preach and we teach wherever we are and at every opportunity...we simply teach the word, the gospel...we teach about Jesus and the love He showed for us and live our lives as He lived obedience and submission to God's will...and show His love in our words and actions to all we come into contact with.

So I guess my “short” answers to your questions are 1) these findings are cause for concern and 2) we respond by preaching Jesus...the Gospel...anywhere/everywhere (where), in love (how), pure doctrine (what).

Love and Peace.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is that unreligios people see that religious people don't act any different than they do. So what's the point to join a church?

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Mormonism and Islam are two of the fastest growing religious groups. Both are strong in their beliefs and require a lot from their followers.

Seems like I've read that the Church of Christ was the fastest growing group back in the 40's & 50's, back when they preached fire and brimstone sermons. You try that today and people say you are hateful.

Those fiery sermons had a purpose. They make you think about your life and realize you need to be saved. You have to know you're lost before you can want to be saved.

It doesn’t guarantee truth or rightness with God, but looks like that kind of teaching doesn't turn people away. The stuff we hear today is just the feel-good stuff. "just preach love" Well isn't it an act of love to tell somebody he is in danger and you know a way to escape?

Problem is, the BEST good feeling is the kind you feel AFTER you've been snatched from the jaws of death. Not the kind you feel while you sit in ignorance right before you are snatched.