". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


As Rise of Religious ‘Nones’ Stalls, Christians Need to ‘Plant Seeds’ of Faith, Say Experts

May 22, 2024

In January, the Pew Research Center released a report that highlighted how different worldviews see “God, religion, morality, science and more.” Of these perspectives, atheists, religious affiliated, and non-religious affiliated were represented — the latter group commonly referred to now as the religious “nones.” Pew sought to find out who they are and what they believe.

According to the survey data, “Most ‘nones’ believe in God or another higher power, but very few go to religious services regularly. Most say religion does some harm, but many also think it does some good. They are not uniformly anti-religious. Most ‘nones’ reject the idea that science can explain everything. But they express more positive views of science than religiously affiliated Americans do.” In other words, religious “nones” could be properly described as agnostics, or more accurately, as “nothing in particular,” Pew emphasized. The survey also found that “‘nones’ tend to vote less often, do less volunteer work in their communities and follow public affairs at lower rates than religiously affiliated people do.”

Also in January, Pew posed the question: “Has the rise of religious ‘nones’ come to an end in the U.S.?” It appears, “at the risk of sounding wishy-washy,” they wrote, “we think it’s too early to tell.” However, Ryan Burge, an American political scientist, statistician, and Baptist pastor, believes “the share of non-religious Americans has stopped rising in any meaningful way.”

“Consider this,” Burge wrote. “In 2008, the share of Americans who were non-religious in the Cooperative Election Study was 21%. Five years later, it had increased to 30%. That’s a massive shift in such a short window of time — really stunning for anyone who studies demographics. Between 2013 and 2018, the nones rose from 30% to 32%. Just two points in five years. Then, there was a significant bump in 2019 to 35%. That’s notable and shouldn’t be overlooked.” He highlighted that the last few years saw relatively similar rates, with the percent of religious “nones” in America being 34% in 2020, 36% in 2021, 35% in 2022, and 36% in 2023.

According to Burge, a rational conclusion is that “the rise of the nones may be largely over now. At least it won’t be increasing in the same way that it did in the prior thirty years.” And what is behind this? He believes “the easiest explanation is that a lot of marginally attached people switched to ‘no religion’ on surveys over the last decade or two.” However, there eventually “weren’t that many marginally attached folks anymore. All you had left were the very committed religious people who likely won’t become nones for any reason. The loose top soil has been scooped off and hauled away, leaving nothing but hard bedrock underneath.”

To elaborate on the religious “nones” — where they come from and why they may be decreasing in society — Joseph Backholm, Family Research Council’s senior fellow for Strategic Engagement and Biblical Worldview, commented to The Washington Stand, “Though we are embracing secular values, we are less a culture that demands atheism and more of a culture that lets people create their own religion,” which is largely what leads to someone claiming to be “nothing in particular.” As Backholm suggested, they do this “by rejecting the parts of religion they find problematic and embracing what they like.” But “as a practical matter,” he added, “these are the same thing.” Backholm explained this is the case “because both the atheist and the person who invents their own version of Christianity gets to be the one who determines what is right and wrong.”

As such, today, “There remain a lot of people who claim some form of religious faith, but they are submitted to nothing other than themselves.” And this worldview, Backholm says, is the same as them being “functionally atheists, even if they attend church” or have some slight grasp on religion.

“Christians need to recognize that in all cultural contexts, there is good soil and there is bad soil,” Backholm explained. As Christians, he continued, “Our job is to plant seeds,” and “ultimately, God is the one who draws people to Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we want to be instruments of that.” But it still stands, Backholm concluded, that “every culture has had its own ‘doctrine of demons’ that discourages people from surrendering to Jesus,” and “we can’t let that discourage us. God is always at work, and even though some hearts will be hard, there will always be people who are ready” to hear the gospel. He concluded by emphasizing that believers need to make sure to be prepared with seeds when encountering the opportunity to plant some.

Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.