A recent Pew study asked 2973 adults nationwide: “What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular?” The answers are telling…but what are they telling?
Number of unaffiliated American on the rise
The results of the Pew study discovered 20 percent of Americans say they are not affiliated with any religion. This is a five percent rise over the last five years. The survey also unearthed the fact that almost six percent of Americans claim to be atheists or agnostics. The unaffiliated category is also on the rise. This group is also being called the “nones.” Pew claims the climb in unaffiliated numbers is propelled by generational replacement. This conclusion is based on a breakdown of the numbers by age. Thirty-three percent of those polled under age 30 are not associated with a specific religion. For those over age 65 only 9 percent said they were unaffiliated.
“The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.” –Pew
Reason for the rise in unaffiliated
An interesting fact highlighted by the Pew study shows that the rise in unaffiliated numbers is unique to Caucasian Americans. The number of black and Hispanic “nones” has remained almost unchanged. This leads to the question, “why?” Why are these people choosing to be unaffiliated? Most attributed their choice to:
“Religious organizations are too concerned with money, power, politics, and rules.”
Unaffiliated does not mean unbelief
While the media spin these latest findings in various ways, unaffiliated often is interpreted as a growing unbelief in God, but that is not necessarily the case for everyone. When you look back at the beginnings of the church, there were no denominations. No Catholics or Protestants. The church was one. It was not concerned with money, power, politics, or man-made rules or tradition. Believers met from house to house instead of church buildings. Money given went to meet people’s needs rather than to pay for programs, mortgages, and salaries. The very reasons given for leaving organized denominations did not exist in the biblical church. Could it be that some of those “nones” have turned back to bibilical ways because of their zeal to follow God?
Biblically, church is not something you do, but who you are in Christ. The early believers were accused of turning the world upside down in Acts 17:6 and they did it without affiliation to a religious institution, asking for money, politics, or man-made traditions. Instead, they were part of the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, believers are to be united—one body with Christ as the head.
“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NASB)
In closing, think about the underground church in China. These unregistered churches don’t officially count, but they do exist. Perhaps, some of the “nones” polled by Pew don’t officially count when studied with today’s bias of what defines a church or Christianity. It’s not supposed to be a religious organization.