In this article, Thom Rainer writes about the religious “nones” who have continued to grow in size throughout the years.
What is a “none”? Simply put, a “none” is someone who would select “no religion” in response to the following question:
“What is your religious preference? Is it Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion?”
How big are they?
From the inception of the study in 1972 to 1990, people who self identified as nones stayed consistent in the 5% to 8% range. From 1990 to today, the number has increased significantly. The nones now represent 17% of all of our population, nearly one in five Americans. That statistical trend may be one of the most significant changes in the religious and moral landscape of our nation.
What does it mean to be a religious “none” vs a “regular none”?
The nones are not all atheists or agnostic, but they are a large part of the category. Nearly one-fourth of the nones believe in the existence of God, so we could surmise that the rest have doubts about the reality of God. So, to a great extent, the nones represent a growing shift away from a belief in God.
Why do some of them believe in God, but still define themselves as a “none”?
…it also appears that the nones have rejected institutional religion as much as they have rejected God. That would be consistent with the research by Jess Rainer and me on the Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000). We found that not only is this generation a minority Christian (15% by our estimates), they have even more rejected religious institutions. Deborah was one of the 1,200 Millennials we interviewed. Her comment was representative of her generation: “Why would I want to associate with a church? All those people ever do is fight with each other.” Indeed the advent of the Millennial generation, the largest generation in America’s history, is one key reason for the rather dramatic increase in the nones.
How can the church change things?
Maybe that’s the lesson we should learn. Maybe that’s what we need to learn from the rise of the religious nones. While we must be ever ready to share the message of the gospel verbally, that message will have a much more receptive audience if we just act a little more Christian toward each other and toward the world.