The religious landscape of America is growing increasingly non-religious, and it is doing so with startling speed. According to a Pew Research Center religious landscape study in June of 2015, which surveyed 35,000 Americans, “nones”—those who claim no affiliation with organized religion—now constitute the second largest slice of the overall U.S. religious marketplace, at 22.8 percent. They trail only evangelicals, at 25.4 percent, and leave Catholics in third place, at 20.8 percent. The ranks of nones grew nearly 7 percentage points since the first Pew religious landscape survey was taken in 2007. This survey indicates that for the past eight years, the number of those claiming no religious affiliation has been growing by about one percent of the total population each year.
There may be a number of reasons for this striking development. Secularized education, where the existence of God is disputed and Darwinian evolutionism is upheld as being a very reliable theory (or as fact), surely has had a large impact. Also, many denominations have watered down their doctrines so much that it may be difficult for new generations to see anything special about the churches of their parents that deserves their commitment. Finally, the home and traditional family in America have been devalued, leading new generations to feel isolated from the religious principles that once were taught in the home. Each of these phenomena could help explain why people are leaving organized religion.
The American exodus from organized religion surely has many tragic results, but it also may have a silver lining. Look again at those statistics from the Pew Research Center. As America gets more non-religious, it is jettisoning the confusion of religious denominationalism. Those who are committed to denominations generally believe that as long as one claims allegiance to Jesus Christ, it really doesn’t matter what else one believes or practices. Perhaps one church teaches this and another teaches the opposite, but such differences make no difference. The apostle Paul objected to this denominational thinking (long before anyone was denominational) when he wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10, emp. added). The “nones” are, by and large, leaving organizations that are opposed to what Paul taught! True, nones are trading the darkness of religious confusion for the darkness of non-religious error. But in this latter darkness the light of the pure, unadulterated light of the gospel of Christ may shine even brighter and be even more perceptible (2 Timothy 1:10). In other words, the nones may actually be more more receptive to the gospel than our denominational friends and neighbors! Let us pray for the salvation of the nones, and for all the lost.