People leaving religion behind

The number of adults who identify as “none” has increased by more than double since the 1990s. It’s now at 56 million, and looks to continue climbing.


Watch out, organized religion! A new faith demographic is taking America by storm. But it’s not their holiness that’s attracting so much attention – it’s their unholiness.

A recent Pew Research poll found that 36 percent of younger adults now identify as either atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” That’s a striking jump from just a few decades ago. The so-called “no-affiliation” generation has eclipsed their previous Generation X and Baby Boomer cohorts, whose own rejection rates of organized religion stood at just 23 and 17 percent, respectively.

Often dubbed religious “nones,” this group is becoming more and more influential. In fact, according to Pew, these “nones” are the fastest growing religious group in America. And while young people are the catalyst for this trend, they’re not the only ones jumping ship on traditional religion. The number of adults who identify as “none” has increased by more than double since the 1990s. It’s now at 56 million, and looks to continue climbing. Here are the numbers broken down by age, as well as other factors:

Religious nones graph

In a detailed report on this phenomenon, the Minnesota Star Tribune interviewed a number of ex-churchgoers to learn their reasons for leaving. A common theme: the “our way or the highway” message just isn’t as convincing as it used to be. “I can’t imagine that only one religion has access to the pearly gates,” said one former Catholic. “I realized there are all kinds of different paths to being a good person.”

A Worldwide Phenomenon

In many ways, the U.S. is simply catching up to other parts of the world. The National Geographic noted in its own 2016 report that in much of North America and Europe, religious “nones” have overtaken some major faith groups in size. For example, they now outnumber both Catholics and mainline Protestants, as well as all other non-Christian denominations present in those countries. France and New Zealand will soon boast more secular citizens than religious ones, while the United Kingdom and Australia are on the brink of surrendering their own Christian majorities.

This surprising trend has religious leaders scrambling to figure out how to get people – especially youngsters – back into houses of worship. One thing’s for sure: whatever they’re doing right now, it’s not working.

What’s Pushing People Away from Religion?

It’s hard to say. There are likely a number of competing factors at play, but one important element cited by the Pew Research report was the rise of the internet. Thanks to the power of the information age, people are now discovering and forging their own paths of spiritual discovery via information found online – whether through YouTube, podcasts, popular forums, or another of the seemingly-infinite outlets for content now available via the web. And it’s all happening at younger ages, too. For example, the average Catholic is now leaving the church at 13 years old – a shocking number that would have seemed impossible a generation ago.

ULC minister performing wedding

More and more couples are eschewing traditional priests and encouraging friends or family to get ordained and officiate their wedding.

Where Are They Going?

To be sure, some are rejecting religion entirely. But others are simply fed up with the confines of traditional religion, and instead choose to join organizations like the ULC that offer a hands-off approach to faith.

Nowhere is this trend more visible than in the wedding industry. According to data tracking company The Wedding Report, nearly 25 percent of couples asked a close friend or family member to perform their wedding last year. And that number is on the rise, up from 16.4 percent back in 2010.

Couples are finding that not only is it more cost effective to have a loved one get ordained to perform their wedding, it also makes for a far more meaningful ceremony. Many religious “nones” are uncomfortable with a traditional priest or minister officiating their wedding – and who can blame them? If you’re not religious, why hire somebody that doesn’t share your views to conduct the most important ceremony of your life?

And if religious “nones” keep growing at the current pace, this alternative option is likely to become even more common.

27 comments

  1. Dr. J Pace says:

    Fastest growing religion…heathen…

    1. T'Keren Valmaz says:

      Because thats how you encourage people to be open minded to spirituality and faith, by calling them things meant to belittle them for not believing as you do.

  2. Rev. Brien says:

    Is anyone really surprised by this? I have said before and I will say it again, you can either advance with the times, or stagnate. People just do not want some 2000+ year old ridgid set of beliefs running thier lives . If organized religion truly behaved as they claim to, than they would be more inclusive to other ideas. Instead, they chose to set themselves apart from everyone else. And now you are surprised that organized religion is circling the drain. I keep my faith, and my rules of conduct in my heart. I sure as hell do not need some mide vile organization to keep it for me.
    In closing, please excuse any typos as I am typing this without my glasses.
    And Dr. J, your comment is the number one reason why organized religion is losing…JUDGEMENTS.

  3. Rev. Rene says:

    This seems like a natural progression, people adopted religions as a shield and guide to get through a life full of unknown dangers. Unfortunately, it is also a great ethical guide for most of us who are not yet self-actualized, meaning with a self-directed moral compass. ( I cannot steal, I’ll get caught, external policing v.s. internal guidance) Missing that guide we are now looking at a civilization who is increasingly losing their ethics and morality. Is there a God??? We say it is a belief, never a proven certainty; this in a world where everything is science and proven. Calling them “heathens” will not solve this, it will alienate a fellow human.

  4. Lionheart says:

    The article asks, what is pushing people away from religion. The answer in my opinion is religion itself, along with education. We now have at our fingertips, (or should I say, keystrokes,) information like never before. Gone are the days when you had to go to just your local library, school, or college,(when they were open) to get knowledge. Information exists on the web like has never been known before 24 hours of the day. With it, has come sexual diversities, social changes, and many questions answered, especially with regards to religion.

    I foresee, that radical religions, and even mainstream national religions here in the U.S. will rapidly fall as people seek for more and more information, and question dogma and the indoctrination’s of the past. Women in Iran are already starting to have a voice, and rightly so. Hijabs are being removed as more and more women are seeking for their right of freedom to question logic and reason. No wonder Islam wants to prevent women from having equality. I think the men of that religion secretly fear them.

    1. The Rev. Robert Barker says:

      Lionheart: You can find men seeking and sometimes succeeding to control women in conservative, fundamentalist religions in the good old U.S.A. These fundi- denominations teach that an unmarried girl/women should be controlled and obedient to her father until she marries and then her husband takes up that control and obedience. These denominations also command their woman what to wear and forbid them to use make-up. They also want to control how they use their reproductive powers by forbidding abortion and the use of birth-control. This is part of the patriarchal control of women that still exists in fundamentalist religions. These men have been successful in using the power of government, violating the separation of church and state, to enforce their religious paternalism. It is their form of sharia law. This patriarchal system must be dismantled in religion for women to have genuine freedom.

      “GOP candidate preaches that wives should ‘submit’ to husbands” BY JOHN BOWDEN https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/400733-gop-candidate-preached-that-wives-should-submit-to-husbands

      “The Five Reasons Why Men Should Control Women’s Reproduction”
      http://michaelkaufman.com/2012/02/the-five-reasons-why-men-should-control-womens-reproduction/

    2. The Rev. Robert Barker says:

      Lionheart: This conservative, fundi paternalism is WHY so many are turning their back on the so-called orthodox, conservative religion in the U.S. and calling themselves “Nones”, or “Spiritual but Not Religious.”

    3. The Rev. Robert Barker says:

      Lionheart: You can find men seeking and sometimes succeeding to control women in conservative, fundamentalist religions in the good old U.S.A. These fundi- denominations teach that an unmarried girl/women should be controlled and obedient to her father until she marries and then her husband takes up that control and obedience. These denominations also command their woman what to wear and forbid them to use make-up. They also want to control how they use their reproductive powers by forbidding abortion and the use of birth-control. This is part of the patriarchal control of women that still exists in fundamentalist religions. These men have been successful in using the power of government, violating the separation of church and state, to enforce their religious paternalism. It is their form of sharia law. This patriarchal system must be dismantled in religion for women to have genuine freedom.

      “GOP candidate preaches that wives should ‘submit’ to husbands” BY JOHN BOWDEN https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/400733-gop-candidate-preached-that-wives-should-submit-to-husbands

      “The Five Reasons Why Men Should Control Women’s Reproduction”
      http://michaelkaufman.com/2012/02/the-five-reasons-why-men-should-control-womens-reproduction/

      Read more at https://www.themonastery.org/blog/2018/11/americas-fastest-growing-religion-none/#qtI7KCXyVLbiHlqY.99

    4. Tom says:

      Lionheart…i agree with you…and as long as people do their own, independent investigation into spirituality, this is an excellent trend…the real issue, to me, is whether this will lead to more compassion, understanding and love for everyone…Peace…Tom

  5. The Rev. Robert Barker says:

    I am an ex-evangelical Lutheran pastor. I was a 30 year pastor in a conservative fundi Lutheran denomination, Missouri (Misery) Synod. I joined LC-MS as a young man out of the Army where I had “found Jeeesus.” I got caught up in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, a collegiate, conservative organization when I was finishing my undergrad degree. I went on the LC-MS seminary and was ordained after graduation. I served three congregations. During my 30 years I became increasingly uncomfortable with my decision. I found the dogma and practice more and more constricting and very unloving. What also added to the discomfort was I was a gay man in a church closet. During much of that time I was in denial about being gay. In my last parish I finally left the LC-MS behind, with my pension intact which I am drawing now. I am disillusioned with the organized church and especially the fundi, conservative Christian brand. The more progressive churches like United Church of Christ I have some respect for. I do NOT attend church services, except for the Church of the Holy Comforter with Deacon Sheets and Pastor Pillow. Sometimes I attend the Church of St. Mattress. I consider myself SPIRITUAL but NOT RELIGIOUS. I am a student of Metaphysical spirituality as you would find in the Unity Church body, but am not a member of that church either. I take part in the PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS. I am ordained in the Universal Life Church and the Spiritual Humanist Church.

    1. Catherine Ohrin-Greipp, MSW, ADS, OM says:

      Rev. Baker, How wonderful that you became true and authentic to who you are and freed yourself from brainwashing. The days of patriarchal, misogynistic, homophobic, divisive religious organizations are becoming a thing of the past, thank goodness and the younger generation has more courage to stand up against this sickness. Religion is a bridge to Spirituality and many get stuck on the bridge. What have these religious institutions done for humankind? Absolutely nothing except cause splitting, fear, divisiveness and hatred against those who don’t believe in their myths. The Roman Catholic Church showed itself for what it truly is – a haven for pedophiles and many have stood up against this very sick patriarchal, misogynist, wealthy corporation. I survived years of indoctrination and brainwashing and follow the path of being a humanist and spiritual being caring for those less fortunate. I am thankful for all the indigenous Elders I have met along my 70 year life path, who awakened me to the dangers of organized religious institutions, helped me get back on the spiritual path and am thankful for people in our world like you.

    2. Catherine Ohrin-Greipp, MSW, ADS, OM says:

      Rev. Barker, how wonderful that you found your way out of a difficult and untenable situation. I have my own experiences of being raised Roman Catholic and forced to attend Catholic School with very abusive nuns with absolutely crazy ideas. Since the Roman Catholic Church became a haven for pedophile priests, I have never and will never, step inside of one of those churches again. Two nuns in my family were a bit bonkers too. “Evil and sin” the most famous words to make people live in fear and separate from one another. It is too bad that organized religion and those rabid extremists are so divisive and fearful of those who are different and do not believe in their myths. They do nothing to improve the human condition. Patriarchy, misogyny, racism and homophobia are not accepted by many of the younger generation, thank goodness. They are more spiritual than “religious” and know about religion being a bridge to spirituality with many getting stuck on the bridge. Rev. Barker, your post shows true authenticity and for that alone, you are a gift to humanity. Thank you for your words.

      1. The Rev. Robert Barker says:

        Catherine Ohrin-Greipp, MSW, ADS, OM: Thank you for your kind words and thoughts. I believe we have had similar journeys in our path away from religion to genuine spirituality. I’m not even sure, though, that I’d say “religion is a bridge.” I see it more as a hindrance, but we can agree to disagree agreeably on that point. The important thing is you escaped the straitjacket of Roman Catholicism even as I escaped the straitjacket of fundamentalist, conservative Lutheranism. We are also about the same age, I am 70. With age, hopefully, comes wisdom and genuine spirituality.

        1. Catherine Ohrin-Greipp, MSW, ADS, OM says:

          Oh yes, religious dogma can certainly be a hindrance. However, in my case, I studied as many religions as I could, attended various services and ceremonies from Jehovah Witnesses, Latter Day Saints, Pentecostal, Tibetan Buddhism, attended synagogues, and returned to traditional Native Traditions(which was more in line with my beliefs.) These all led me to the spiritual writings of Dr Ernest Holmes (The Science of Mind) and Rev Howard Thurman, who was an inspiration for Dr King and Pres. Obama. The New Thought Movement was a powerful one and helped to inspire folks away from fear based religions to spirituality. Now my work has moved away from western traditional psychiatry and clinical work to spiritual and metaphysical work. It is wonderful to be free!

  6. Tell me the truth says:

    Growing up the nuns at my Catholic school told us every one who was not Catholic was going to burn in hell. I left the Cstholic Church and joined the Assemblies of God. They told me the Catholics and every one else would burn in hell. Now I’m 64 and not so sure either of them told me the truth. They say God is love but tell us he would allow someone to burn in hell, that’s love? I don’t think they can speak for God and know WHAT God would or would not do.
    So Rev. Baker I can see why you feel the way you do.
    I have un answered questions and don’t know that I have not been lied to all these years.
    I mean let’s be real, there is no such thing as Holy water. And you will not find Thou Shalt not eat meat on Friday in ANY Bible.
    And no where does it say a little white waffer is the actual body of Jesus. All made up. So what should we trust as the truth?
    What is the one true faith? I don’t have that answer.

    1. The Rev. Robert Barker says:

      Tell me the truth: Your screen name would imply to me that you are looking for others to tell you what the truth is. For years in my life I too wanted others, those I saw with authority, to “tell me what was true and what was false.” My conservative Lutheran seminary said it was doing just that. However, their “truth” didn’t fit my inner, most spiritual thoughts and feelings and gave me no spiritual satisfaction. I found it to be rather loveless, controlling, and manipulative. I finally figured out that I had to find truth myself and stop relying on others, so-called religious authorities, to tell me what they determined the truth to be for they only told me what they had come to find to be the truth. I began to read non-conservative authors and explore other “truths” outside of the conservative fundamentalist strait-jacket I had bound myself in when I joined the Lutheran Church-Missouri (Misery)Synod. I began to find my truth and also learned that this is an ongoing discovery. I found a whole new way of looking at spirituality and God in the books of Neale Donald Walsch, “Conversations with God” a set of three volumes, very challenging reading and something you just don’t skim through but must read and re-read. It is meta-physical spirituality and it takes mental work to read and understand for it will challenge every thought you ever have been taught by so-called religious authorities. Seek your own spiritual truth rather than letting others tell you what spiritual truth is. Get rid of the notions of a God of judgement and punishment and the existence of a devil who is in hell. These are but dogmas that fundamentalist Christianity uses to control and manipulate its sheeple. One thing I found is that I had to shed religious fear of hell and punishment that had been taught me for that only holds one back from discovering true spirituality.

  7. flugo says:

    ‘barfer’: What do you mean, you ‘found Jeeesus’/

    1. T'Keren Valmaz says:

      BobLF is that you? Sure sounds like it. What did you need to change your name because I kept calling you out for admitting you repressed a deep seated desire to rape your sister for years?

      1. Catherine Ohrin-Greipp, MSW, ADS, OM says:

        T’Keren, that would be a strange turn of events for a troll to take on another identity just to continue nastiness here. Good for you for calling him out. Maybe he will get help.

        1. Carl Elfstrom says:

          And before BobLF we often heard from Bob Fleutsh. Little Flugo seems to be the nastiest one of his personalities yet.

          1. T'Keren Valmaz says:

            Oh good so I am not the only one that noticed this Flugo’s appearance coincides with BobLFs going MIA after my constant calling out of his degenerate nature for a few months.

    2. The Rev. Robert Barker says:

      flugo: I don’t respond to persons who insult me by abusing my name. You’re like your idol, Trump, who turned Rep. Adam Schiff’s name into an obscenity to insult him. https://patch.com/california/studiocity/trump-turns-la-congressmans-name-curse-word

    3. Catherine Ohrin-Greipp, MSW, ADS, OM says:

      Why such nastiness? Do you actually believe that anyone could be impressed by your disrespect toward a minister? You are free to leave here unless you are willing to be respectful. Obviously you are not ordained by the ULC and made a mistake by coming here.

  8. flugo says:

    Who is this? What’s you problem? Obviously a kinky, distorted mind!

    1. Catherine Ohrin-Greipp, MSW, ADS, OM says:

      “flugo” your disrespect toward ministers is not acceptable. We try to be civil toward each other even when there is disagreement. If you have good, intentions and kind words to share, that would be nice. Otherwise, I say go away, grow up and then come back later. If you don’t like what I express, too bad. If you don’t like what other ministers express, too bad. This is a blog for ULC ministers, not trolls.

  9. Greg says:

    Some close friends asked me to officiate their wedding a couple of years ago. I was surprised, flattered and confused. I put my Catholicism aside years ago and am a “None” when asked. I considered joining Universal Life Church as a means to an end but decided against it. Even that felt hypocritical, because despite the acceptance of a wide range of beliefs or lack thereof; it felt “organized” My study, leading up to that led me to conclude that I was closest to being a Pantheist, There are organizations there too. So I remain a spiritual but not religious none.

    1. The Rev. Robert Barker says:

      Thank you Greg for sharing your spiritual journey. You Houdinied your way out of the religious strait-jacket of Roman Catholicism, like I did out of fundamental, conservative Lutheranism. Continue to explore your own spirituality.

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