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The Religious 'Nones' and the Curious Case of Millennials

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OnFaith, publication of FaithStreet, has just released a quick report featuring the latest data on religious “nones” – people who select “none” when asked about their religious affiliations. The surprise? They aren’t who you think they are. While many of the “nones” (36 percent) are atheist/agnostic, a whopping 62 percent are either “not religious” or “unattached believers.”

Basically, most of the “nones,” rather than being non-believers, are religious sheep without a flock. Some more highlights:

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*A February survey by the Public Religion Research Institute of Americans found:* > > - *21 percent are “unaffiliated” (PRRI’s umbrella term for a diverse group including atheists, seculars and people who still say they believe in God).* > - *20 percent are Catholic.* > >
- *19 percent are white evangelical.* > >

Later, Pew chimes in with similar figures:

*Pew Research Center’s cumulative findings, based on 16,000 interviews in numerous 2013 surveys, found a slightly different split:*
  • 22 percent Catholic
- *20 percent nones (a mix of people who say they believe “nothing in particular,” unaffiliated believers and unbelievers)*
- *18 percent white evangelicals*

It’s admittedly a little spurious to lump atheists in with “unaffiliated” believers and general agnostics, but it proves a point: There are fewer mainline believers in America now than ever before. Part of that has to do with reluctance among the millennial generation to become affiliated:

> *Today’s young adults are starting out more unaffiliated than any prior generation of 20-year-olds. So, even if some millennials do find a faith, Jones said, “they will still be the most unaffiliated generation in history.”*
You can read the **[full report here](http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/03/13/behind-the-numbers-religious-nones-may-not-be-who-you-think-they-are/31285)**.

The millennial issue is an interesting one, and the report doesn’t offer any explanations. One possibility is that millennials, having come of age in a time where specialized information is at their fingertips, are more interested in an “a la carte” approach to religion rather than a single affiliation’s one-size-fits-all appearance. It’s also been shown that millennials have “rebelled” against older generations very quietly, if they rebel at all. Eschewing your parents’ traditional affiliation (while maintaining a unique sense of faith) is a conveniently passive way to assert yourself.

Regardless of who or why it’s happening, people turning their backs on the church might be fine with them, but it’s decidedly bad for churches. Without a congregation, a church ceases to exist. If you’re a religious leader, this growing population of ambiguous “nones” may be cause for concern. It’s not to say that people can’t have personal relationships with God, but humanity has looked to our religious communities and leaders for guidance and education for most of history. That can’t happen if those communities disperse.

It’s as important as ever for religious communities to stay connected with one another and encourage dialogue within them. There’s no reason for someone to fall through the cracks because they simply had questions that no one was willing to answer. Online tools, like FaithStreet’s church directory and giving platform, make it easier than ever for leaders and community members to form a network, but the work ultimately starts at home – in the pulpit, in the pews and in the faith community.

The Religious 'Nones' and the Curious Case of Millennials
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