Don’t Be Afraid of Nones, Churches Told

With pews increasingly empty in churches across the U.S., churches must be creative with their ministries, experts say. (Creative Commons photo by khrawlings)
With pews increasingly empty in churches across the U.S., churches must be creative with their ministries, experts say. (Creative Commons photo by khrawlings)

A new suvery of American values shows the religiously unaffiliated now as one of the top three faith groups in the United States along with Catholics and white evangelicals.

New research shows that the religiously unaffiliated are gaining on Christian traditions across much of the United States.

The Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Atlas, released earlier this month, finds that Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated make up 22 percent each of the American religious landscape. White evangelical Protestants trail at 18 percent.

But some experts, including those in states long dominated by non-Christian groups, say traditional churches, evangelical and otherwise, should look at such data as positive instead of negative.

“This presents a great opportunity for a more robust form of Christianity than we saw in the 20th century,” church leadership consultant and Baptist Mark Tidsworth said about PRRI’s findings.

While church memberships exploded during the middle part of that century and the church dominated the culture for decades, many people joined to further political career and social aspirations. The PRRI research and numerous other polls prove that just doesn’t work anymore, said Tidsworth, president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates in Chapin, S.C.

The positive is that those who continue as Christians or join churches from this point forward are doing it for solid spiritual reasons, he said.

“It’s becoming more counter-cultural” to be a Christian and to join the church “is more of a conscious choice,” he said.

Unaffilated gaining ground
Even so, those who self-identify as having no church or other faith affiliation are holding an increasingly important place in the nation, according to the PRRI research.

While not in the lead overall, the demographic holds sway in 13 states and is in second place in nearly every other state.

While PRRI identifies the group as a religious tradition, it ackowledges that diversity of belief, makes the group more difficult to define than others, said Dan Cox, PRRI director of research.

The overall leader in the PRRI research is Catholicism, followed by white evangelicals and then the religiously unaffiliated.

The state-by-state breakdowns are largely unsurprising. Catholics are strong mostly in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest, and evangelicals own most of the Southeast. The religiously unaffiliated are strongest in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast.

Catholicism rules the most number of states with 17, including Rhode Island and Connecticut but also Texas, Florida and Louisiana.

Tennessee leads the group of 15 white evangelical states, with others in that group including Alabama, Kentucky, the Carolinas and Georgia.

The 13 states dominated by the religiously unaffiliated are led by Oregon and followed by New Hampshire, Washington, Vermont and rounded out by Michigan.

PRRI noted that there are only five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Nebraska, and the Dakotas — where the religiously unaffiliated are not in the top three.

Black Protestants, meanwhile, are in the top three in eight states and white mainline Protestants are the dominant group in two states —Iowa and North Dakota.

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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Jeff Brumley

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