A recent Gallup report suggests that the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans, or "nones," may not be growing as quickly as widely thought. The "nones," who today represent almost 18 percent of U.S. adults, grew by only 0.3 percent in 2012—the smallest increase Gallup has seen since 2008 (when they numbered 14.6 percent).
"We're getting bent out of shape over nothing. Institutional affiliation is not a spiritual issue—it's a generational one. Nearly every membership-based organization is losing members. Most people still come to faith through a relationship—regardless of generation."
Charles Arn, visiting professor, Wesley Seminary
"Pew doesn't show the same plateau, so I'm taking it with a grain of salt. I definitely think there's a ceiling, though. The increase is a generational effect rooted in the 1960s and '70s; there is little reason to think that the United States is on a direct path to secularism."
Laura Olson, professor of political science, Clemson University
"It is not a true sea change from seriously religious to unbelieving. It might actually helpfully clarify where people really stand. Still, behind all of this is a longer-term distancing of some from any association with religious faith and practice, which is significant."
Christian Smith, sociologist, University of Notre Dame
"It's an important shift, but it's also important not to jump to conclusions about the meaning of this change. Even over the past five years, when the 'nones' have been going up—albeit at a slowing rate—there has been no change in Gallup's measure of church attendance or importance of religion."
Frank Newport, editor in chief, Gallup
"This is a big story. Usually young people are a little less religiously observant, but this is a pretty substantial departure from the past. It's not catastrophic, and religious institutions can adapt and think about what it means. But it's not insignificant."
Clyde Wilcox, professor of government, Georgetown University
"This is a major trend in American religion. Millions of young adults are still devout Christians. But as one of the few areas of 'growth' in the realm of religion—most measures are down—we have to pay attention to what it means and why it's happening."
David Kinnaman, president, Barna Group
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