Last year, the Barna Group and the Pew Research Center conducted separate, in-depth studies into the state of belief in America. Specifically, belief in God.
For research and reporting purposes they combined people that categorize themselves as “atheist” or “agnostic” or “non-believers” together in a group called “skeptics” or just plain “Nones” – presumably in reference to that last check box on the list that asks what your religious affiliation and beliefs are.
Belief in God is on the decline. Non-belief is on the rise. Most drastically among Millennials.
Nones are currently the second largest religious group in North America. In the United States, Nones make up almost a quarter of the population. In the past decade, Nones have overtaken Catholics, mainline Protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths.
25% of Americans born after 1980 (a.k.a. Millennials) identify as being not religious, compared with 11% of baby boomers and 7% of the generation born between 1928 and 1945.
The numbers of Nones are growing more quickly than anyone expected 20 years ago.
The profile of a typical None has changed from a decade or two ago.
Nones are younger — Twenty years ago, 18% of Nones were under 30 years old. Today that proportion has nearly doubled.
Nones are more educated — Two decades ago, one-third of Nones were college graduates, but today half of the group has a college degree.
More Nones are women — In 1993 only 16% of atheists and agnostics were women. By 2013 that figure had nearly tripled to 43%.
Nones are more racially diverse — 20 years ago, whites represented 80% of all Nones, that figure dropped to 74% by 2013. This is largely a reflection of the increasing number of Hispanic and Asian adults who identify as Nones. Asian Americans, the least-Christian ethnic demographic in the United States, especially tend to embrace skepticism. Blacks, however, are less likely than other ethnic groups to accept the idea of that God does not exist.
The three aspects of non-belief.
According to the research, there seem to be three main components that lead to disbelief in God:
Rejection of the Bible — Nones dismiss the idea that the Bible is holy in any way. Two-thirds contend that it is simply a book of well-known stories and advice, written by humans and lacking any true authority or wisdom. They contend that it has no more relevance than any other self-help book.
The remaining one-third are divided between those who believe the Bible is a historical document that contains the unique but not God-inspired accounts of events that happened in the past, and those who do not know what to make of the Bible but have decided it deserves no special consideration.
Even though they may reject the Bible as holy, six out of 10 Nones own at least one copy. Most have read it in the past, have some firsthand experience with it, or had some regular exposure to it during their youth.
Lack of trust in the local church — More than two-thirds of Nones have attended Christian churches in the past. Their dismissal of God, the Bible, and church is not theoretical, it’s based on personal experience. Most Nones think of Christian churches as organizations that add little, if any, value to their communities and that often stand for the wrong things. They believe churches are led by people who are not particularly deserving of their trust.
Cultural reinforcement – Secularism is promoted in the media more than ever before. It’s reinforced by the popularity of anti-religion celebrities such as Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Bill Nye, Ricky Gervais, and others. Efforts to be politically correct and non-offensive in our observance of religious holidays and practices is pervasive in the media. Atheism, more than ever before in history, has shifted from something looked down upon to something that is increasingly socially popular.
Bearing fruit in a cold climate.
The Barna Group study concluded with the following food for thought and guidance for the future when it comes to reaching the growing ranks of Nones and hopefully turning the tide back towards belief in God:
“In spite of clear trends and obvious needs, our research suggests that most of the efforts of Christian ministries fail to reach much beyond the core of ‘Christianized’ America. It’s much easier to work with this already-sympathetic audience than to focus on the so-called ‘nones.’ And it’s no mystery why: Figuring out how to effectively engage skeptics is difficult. One of the unexpected results we uncovered is the limited influence of personal relationships on skeptics. They are considerably less relational and less engaged in social activities than the average American. Christians for whom ‘ministry is about relationships’ may be disappointed when they find that many skeptics are not as enamored of relational bonds as are those who are already a part of church life.
“In giving his followers the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t mention anything about doing what is easy. New levels of courage and clarity will be required to connect beyond the Christianized majority.”