Why do we continue to see a rise in the numbers of those who identify as having no religious affiliation—or the “nones”, as they are referred to? A new survey offers some insight into a very complicated issue.
“Nones are the largest religious group in the United States. But, as anyone who studies this stuff knows, it’s way more complicated than that,” says Ryan P. Burge who teaches at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.
A growth map covering the last 10 years put out by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) shows that forty-six states, including Washington, D.C. saw “nones” as the fastest-growing religious group. According to Burge, this category grew the most in Hawaii (22.9%), in Wisconsin (19.5%), in West Virginia (18.6%), and in Rhode Island (17.4%). The states where the nones grew the slowest, by 5.3% or less, were Arkansas, Kansas, and Florida. Overall, nones were 22.2% in 2008, and 29.5% now, making them the largest share.
How did other religions fare? From 2008–2018, Catholics saw the greatest decline as a share of the population in 24 states, though they increased their share of the population in Washington, D.C. Evangelicals saw their numbers drop in the same way in 11 states. Mainline churches decreased by the greatest percentage in eight states. In Arizona, Florida, and Maryland, black Protestants declined the most. In Utah, Jews saw the greatest decrease in 10 years.
South Dakota is an interesting study as that state saw no decline in religion over the last 10 years. It is also one of three states, along with Alaska and Wyoming where the evangelical population grew. Vermont is a standout as it is the only state where the mainline churches grew in the last 10 years.
Burge dug deeper into trends and noted that in states with historically strong evangelical numbers, there were some significant changes. Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi sustained some losses. In Georgia, the evangelical share is down 2.7%, while the nones are up 10.5%. The same pattern is evident in South Carolina: evangelicals down 3.3%, nones up 8.2%.
None of this is good news for Bible-believing Christians who understand the mandate to “go and tell” the Good News of the Gospel. Are we failing to understand how to deliver a changeless message? Have hearts grown cold to the absolute Truth of God’s word or have people grown incapable of recognizing His love for us? Has hypocrisy in the Church driven people away from God?
Burge offered a sobering word of caution. He stated, "The one question that I am often asked that I can’t answer is: how large will the nones get? I think that they will plateau. I don’t know if that’s in five years or 15 years, but even if they stopped growing this year, it will still be the most dramatic unbroken streak of growth we have seen in the last five decades. And the United States will be altered forever, both socially and politically, because of it."
May we respond with feet swift to share the Gospel, and hearts filled with compassion for those who don’t yet know the Savior.
That’s my opinion. I’m Janet Parshall.
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Janet Parshall has been broadcasting from the nation's capital for over two decades. Her passion is to "equip the saints" through intelligent conversation based on biblical truth. When she is not behind her microphone, Janet is speaking across the country on issues impacting Christians. She has authored several books, including her latest, Buyer Beware: Finding Truth in the Marketplace of Ideas. Parshall and her husband, Craig, live in Virginia, and have four children and six grandchildren.
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