Religion News Service published a piece today exploring the implications of a new study out from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) – the religious nones are growing (not unexpected):
The number of unaffiliated young people has jumped fourfold since 1986 — from 10 to 39 percent. And overall 1 in 4 Americans call themselves unaffiliated, up from 1 in 5 in 2012.
“Wow, it does seem like a big jump,” and it speaks to the nearly universal struggle to keep people in the pews, said Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest who chairs Dartmouth College’s religion department.
“It is for many almost axiomatic how difficult it is to pass religious passions from one generation to the next.”
…but religious nones who vote are shrinking:
In 2004 the nones comprised 14 percent of the public but only 10 percent of voters. In the last presidential election they jumped to 20 percent of the public, but inched up only to 12 percent of voters.
“For me the big question is ‘will this group come out in November and really throw their weight around?’” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director and a co-author of the study. “They could have considerable impact on the political direction of the country but have so far chosen not to do so.”
Young people are becoming less and less religious, and fewer of them are returning to church as they get older. The article includes the perspective of former Christianity Today editor Roxanne Stone, now with the nonprofit Barna Group:
She sees it in her own number crunching on young peoples’ spiritual lives, but also in her life as a millennial Christian. Her stated intention to attend church on Sunday, she said, has been met by members of her age cohort asking: “People still do that?”
Young people are generally not joiners, she said. “There’s a growing sense of disillusionment with institutions and this plays into why they don’t want to vote.” Many, she said, admire neither of the major party’s presidential nominees, and have little faith that government or other institutions can make any difference.
Stone traces this apathy to the dwindling importance for many young people of community groups and other institutions — including churches — in this increasingly mobile society. Less religious affiliation doesn’t necessarily mean that people are less likely to be believers than they used to be, she added.
“They weren’t going to church necessarily out of belief — but for community. But there are millions of apps for finding friends now.”