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New Pew Research study reports on “Changing Religious Landscape” in America

New Pew Research study reports on “Changing Religious Landscape” in America

A major new Pew Research report released today finds that the number of Americans identifying as Christian has shrunk since its last big survey in 2007, as the “rise of the nones” continues. While generational replacement account for some of the decline in Christian affiliations counted,

it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

The US is still home to more Christians than any other country, with around 70% of the population claiming some Christian affiliation; but that is a drop of nearly 8% from the last large Pew study in 2007. In the same period, the group claiming no religion rose by more than 6%, and those claiming other religious identities by 1.2%.

The Pew press release gives a summary of some key findings. The front page of the full report gives a fuller overview, and all of the details, including the questionnaires used to collect the data, and interactive tables for exploring the findings, are available here. Among the key conclusions offered in the press release:

  • Christians probably have lost ground not only in their relative share of the U.S. population but also in absolute numbers.
  • American Christians – like the U.S. population as a whole – are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.
  • Religious intermarriage appears to be on the rise.
  • While many U.S. religious groups are aging, the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time.
  • Switching religion is a common occurrence in the United States.
  • Christianity – and especially Catholicism – has been losing more adherents through religious switching than it has been gaining.
  • The evangelical Protestant tradition is the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching.
  • The Christian share of the population is declining and the religiously unaffiliated share is growing in all four major geographic regions of the country.
  • Whites continue to be more likely than both blacks and Hispanics to identify as religiously unaffiliated.

The findings came from telephone interviews with 35,071 adults across the United States conducted in 2014.

Were you one of them? What has your experience been of the changing religious landscape where you live?

Posted by Rosalind Hughes


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Marshall Scott

A little over two years ago we had several articles here at the Café that looked at this (try here and here). There is research noting that in that 70% of the unaffiliated who are neither atheist nor agnostic, people do declare the values and practices that inform their lives, and declare them in terms we would likely call “religious.” I also have the concern that “spiritual but not religious” is weak in expression, but it seems to be about institutions and not about whether people believe in something larger than themselves.

M.G. Yelram

By digging further down into the Pew Poll, one finds that the “Unaffiliated” (those with the greatest increase) still consist of about one-third atheists/agnostics across the board. The remaining two-thirds would include many with whom I associate, e.g., “I’m spiritual but not religious” or “I’m fed up with all organized religion” or “I accept a Prime Mover”. Those are the facts. Time to deal with them.

Ann Fontaine

M.G. Yelram – please sign your full name when you comment – thanks.

JC Fisher

I trust I’m grandfathered in here, re the signing-name thing!

“At church they call me JayCee” 😉


On-topic: “The (esp. Mainline/most esp. Episcopal) Church is dead, long live the Church!”

I want the Gospel to spread for the sake the people Christ redeemed (for the sake of God’s Reign in the Here&Now), not for the sake of TEC, no matter HOW MUCH I love it.

Yes, I want to have the sacraments available to me when in extremis (a year from now, or 50. Actually, I want the sacraments at least once/week, while, God willing, I’m not in extremis, also!). I want to keep singing in my church choir, in person (not via YouTube, or Spotify, or whatever multi-player streaming service comes next). I want to immerse myself in the sacred space of catholic liturgical worship (again, in person—and not a long drive away. Of course, many Episcopalians don’t have that option now).

But none of these things really REQUIRE the continued existence of “The Episcopal Church”, per se. Like the seed of grain, it must be planted and “die”, in order to become the life-giving plant it was intended to be (“We flourish in order to perish”, as is the motto of the Irish School of Ecumenics—where I once considered attending).

I plan to—and encourage—we keep on keepin’ on. No running around like “a head w/ a chicken cut-off” just because of this survey or that. God’s in God’s Heaven, and we have a Beloved Community, rooted in the GOOD News, to build. Haters gonna hate, numbers gonna count, but we just need to be On About It. Maranatha!

Randall Stewart

PS. I am sorry I sound like a cranky old man. (Firmly in Gen X at the age of 41!) I have been teaching since 1998 and while I agree with Rachel Held Evans that “Millenials” are adept at recognizing B.S., that does not always hold true for the nonsense they themselves utter. No cohort or generation is monolithic, but the ease with which “spiritual not religious” comes from the mouth makes me suspect it is often… B.S.

Randall Stewart

Some churches are intolerant. A lot aren’t. If we are faulted in that respect it is probably liberal intolerance.

We have to find a way to voice a meaningful, evangelical catholic witness for younger people. At the same time, it may be time to lovingly call “spiritual not religious” what it is, which is a cop-out and an excuse for sleeping in or spending time doing something else.

David Murray

From everything I can see, Pew is correctly pointing a major change (s) occurring within American society. The facts are rather plain, and to the point; namely Americans (especially younger Americans) are questioning the whole point of religion as to membership within religious structures. The fact remains simple – the assumption that one has a membership is disappearing from an increasingly section of the American population. Actual fact hidden is that the assumption that one needs a membership is more of the middle of the 20th century. Before the 20th century many Americans did not have a formal sense of religion as including membership in a church. Perhaps, we are seeing a return of a older assumption. And perhaps they are right… Clearly, the divides with American Christianity and the problems seen is indeed causing more and more people to question any involvement with religion.

From what I have learnt from interaction with younger Americans – the first thing said is that they see church as in-tolerant. Perhaps, they are right.

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