The fastest growing religious group of our time is the group of young people who check “none” or “none of the above” on religious survey questions. Social scientists therefore refer to them as “the nones.” A few years ago, I did some commentaries about the “nones” but wanted to revisit this topic because we now have more survey statistics that illustrate their growth.
From the 1930s to the 1990s, the percentage of “nones” in America was less than 8 percent. By 2012, the percentage had grown to 20 percent and is still increasing. Even more dramatic has been the increase in the percentage of “nones” among the millennial generation, especially the group called emerging adults (18-29 year olds).
The Pew Religious Landscape survey estimated that about 35 percent of these emerging adults could be identified as “nones.” When you add in everyone who does not identify as either Protestant or Catholic (in other words, adding in Islam and Hinduism) the percentage of emerging adults who do not identify as Christian increased to 43 percent of the population. If this growth continues, we will see over half of American emerging adults will not identify as Christians by 2020.
Some commentators have suggested that perhaps some of the “nones” are actually Christians who simply don’t want to identify with a particular religious tradition. If you look at the surveys, it is difficult to justify that suggestion. If you separate out the “nones” and see if they hold orthodox beliefs (believe in God, believe the Bible is the inspired word of God) and also attend church at least once a month, you find that only 1 out of a hundred emerging adults could be identified as a practicing Christian.
The challenge we face today is how to reach a generation that is quickly becoming post-Christian. These young people embrace a secular view not so much because they are rejecting religion but because they rarely if ever think about religion and Christianity.