Rise of Religious ‘Nones’ Hits a Plateau

June 28, 2024
Hope for America | FLI Insider

Logan Tantibanchachai – 5 minutes

When scanning headlines, we may be led to believe that religious liberty and religious expression in America are in decline.

But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of media narratives. When we dig a little deeper, there are many reasons to be hopeful about the future of faith and religious freedom in America.

You’ve probably come across news stories about a Pew Research Report which found 8-out-of-10 Americans believe religion in the U.S. is in decline.

That top-line statistic only tells part of the story. The same report actually shows some hopeful results. In fact, most Americans believe religion has a positive influence on public life. And nearly half think the decline of religious influence in our country is a bad thing.

What’s more, take a look at The American Council on Education’s recent conference about religious education.

Presidents of prominent religious universities, such as Pepperdine, Baylor, Brigham Young, Georgetown, and Yeshiva recently gathered for the inaugural conference of the newly established Commission on Faith-based Colleges and Universities. According to Deseret News, one goal was take down the widely held belief that faith is fading away in young people.

Contrary to what we commonly hear, the data shows that younger generations are surprisingly religious. One area where that’s being reflected is in the enrollment numbers of religious colleges.

“Religious schools are growing,” said Clark G. Gilbert, a co-chair for the commission. “This is counter to the narrative a lot of people have. From 1980 through today… the national average in university enrollments grew at 57% and religious schools have grown at 82%.”

According to the General Social Survey, in 2000, 27% of people ages 18-34 were Protestant or Orthodox Christians. In 2022, that number remained nearly the same at 28%. This remarkable stability over 20 years reveals that even if some data indicates Christianity is declining in the U.S., religiosity among our youth still remains high in many faith traditions.

Religion’s comeback is not just limited to Gen Z and Millennials, though. There’s something happening more broadly in our country right now when it comes to religious expression. There’s data coming out suggesting the overall sharp decline of religion in America could be coming to an end.

Ryan Burge, an associate professor at Eastern Illinois University and a leading expert on religion in America, recently released statistics based on Harvard’s Cooperative Election Study. He argues the share of non-religious Americans has hit a plateau.

In addition to the Cooperative Election Study, Burge also cross compared data from the General Social Survey and Pew Research Center, adding to the credibility of his findings.

“I made a graph that tracked the rise of the nones over time. And, it has become crystal clear to me now: the share of non-religious Americans has stopped rising in any meaningful way,” Burge said. “From a pure statistical standpoint, I don’t know if we can say with any certainty whether there’s a larger share of nones in the United States today than there was in 2019.”

We have seen a decline in religion for many decades. Those statistics can’t be ignored. Still, Burge agrees that this is a special moment in history and possibly the beginning of a turnaround for faith.

“I don’t want to be too hyperbolic. But I am a preacher and it runs through my blood. This really may be the end of an era in American religious demography,” Burge added. “The trend lines might have reached an inflection point, and we can demarcate religious history around this time period.”

You may ask, why the recent revival in faith?

We think it may have something to do with the seismic shift in favor of religious freedom that’s taking place in the law and the courts. First Liberty’s many recent Supreme Court victories have led to increased religious freedom for all Americans, more than they’ve had in over 50 years. There’s no denying our First Freedom is on a winning streak, and this momentum—as the numbers show—may be changing the broader culture.

There’s still a lot of work to make sure America remains a nation committed to the ideals of religious expression and the free exercise of faith. But we can see the results of the legal and cultural battles we’re fighting, and how much our victories in the courtroom can impact the direction of our country.

Learn More:

Desert News: The ‘rise of the nones’ hits a plateau

Graphs About Religion: The Nones Have Hit a Ceiling

Religion Unplugged: Keeping The Faith: Is The Rise Of Religious ‘Nones’ Stalling?

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