3 Surprising Characteristics That Make Up the Religiously Unaffiliated

March 4, 2016

This weekend, many people will be headed to church as is their custom. Every year, though, there are fewer and fewer people joining them.

This week, the Southern Union Ministerial Department sponsored a group of pastors to attend the Church and Culture Conference in Charlotte, NC. This was a one-day conference (and the only one on U.S. soil; the other three will be in U.K.) that focused exclusively on the intersection of faith in the ever-growing secular West. Here are few quick lessons that I learned.


From left to right: Henry Johnson, Matt Smith, John Nixon II, Howard Coston, Matt Stockdale, Nelson Fernandez Jr., Austin Humphreys, and Justin Yang, pastors in the Southern Union who represent the South Atlantic, Carolina, and Georgia-Cumberland Conferences, that attended the Church and Culture Conference in Charlotte, NC.

1. The “nones” are increasing.

Statistics show that the “nones” (those who identify themselves as having no religious affiliation whatsoever) are growing with each passing year. The number of people who identify as Christians is quickly declining, both as a share of the U.S. population and in total number. Among the facts that were shared were the following:

  • They make up the largest religious group in the U.S.
  • 62% of “nones” never pray (yes, you can claim no faith and still pray. However, the number of those who don’t pray is growing).
  • 33% don’t believe in God (and even among those who do believe in God, only 63% are certain of it).
  • Two-thirds feel religion is of little importance.

2. Younger generations are increasingly becoming those who make up the “nones”.

It used to be that younger generations would become more religious when they got older and had kids. Not anymore. More are leaving church and staying out.

This is especially true of children born to immigrant families. Statistics are showing that the grandchildren of those who came to the U.S. are quickly abandoning the faith of their parents.Immigrant_status_among_the_Unaffiliated


3. The latest emerging generational cohort, Generation Z, is poised to become the most secular generation yet.

Many churches are still trying to figure out and market to Millennials (those born roughly between 1980-2000). However, many sociologists are starting to discover an overlapping group that they’ve labeled Generation Z. These are those born 1995-2010.

Some of you are thinking, “Wait, another generational to understand? What’s the difference?” Actually, quite a lot. Consider that this year’s incoming class of college freshman (born in 1997) share this in common:

  • They don’t remember a world where Princess Diana, Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa were alive.
  • They were born after the last time the Dallas Cowboys won a Super Bowl.
  • The Sega Genesis was the most advanced gaming system available.
  • They don’t remember sound of dial-up internet on AOL (is AOL still a thing?).
  • They’ve never lived in a world where people routinely used payphones.
  • They’ve never lived in a world where the entire breadth of world information wasn’t readily available through the Internet.

This cohort is the last generation that many sociologists believe we’ll be able to accurately define with uniting characteristics. This is rather sobering because, unlike other generations that were marked by collective moments that the entire generation shared, this last generation is marked by an ever-changing world.

Because the fast-paced and ever changing world that they’re growing up with, some sociologists believe that we simply won’t be able to keep up with the patterns of belief and behavior that this group shares past Generation Z. One thing that’s for sure, however, is this Generation Z is growing up in a marked post-Christian world and reflecting it.

Notice the ever increasing pink line of the religious unaffiliated.

There other defining characteristics that this group seems to share, but those will be posted next time!