Religious affiliation in the United States is at its lowest point since it began to be tracked in the 1930s, according to analysis of newly released survey data by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University. Last year, one in five Americans claimed they had no religious preference, more than double the number reported in 1990.
As a nonbeliever, it's something that I find heartening. The interesting bit is that the "nones" are larger than every other religious group, including Southern Baptists and Methodists except for Catholics in the USA.
More worrying for churches is that about 33% of 18-24yo's identified themselves as "nones." Thus, the trend is likely to continue.
Why is this? I have a number of theories, mostly having to do with the fact that the things that churches have been preaching have gotten so absurd that it turns people off (especially educated people). Whether it's creationism, an obsession with sex, or gay-bashing, a lot of young people are sick of hearing it and walking out.
This article has some more commentary:
The above article makes the point that not only is gay-bashing partially to blame, but that the actual number of unaffiliated is actually higher than 20%. A lot of people will check off "Catholic" on a form even when they haven't been to Church in 20 years.
As a nonbeliever (I've stopped calling myself an "atheist" ever since "atheists" co-opted it into a quasi-religion), I find this heartening and I'm quite happy to see everyone stop believing. But I also know that won't happen.
The churches, especially the Protestant ones, are going to have to have a little "Come to Jesus" moment as it were. If they are going to win back the hearts of the young and keep the hearts of the old, they need to switch their tune from one of condemnation to one of welcome and acceptance. "You are loved by God and by this church, no matter who or what you are." And they are going to have to show it in deed, not just in words. They are going to have to back out of social issues like contraception and abortion that matter to young people. They are going to have to re-model themselves not as indoctrination centers that control culture and education, but as community organizations that unite people.
Otherwise, they are going to run into a problem as the donation plate runs dry.
What do you think the future holds? I think many churches will not change and that such ultra-conservative institutions as the Southern Baptist Church is doomed to obscurity.
[Edited 2013-07-01 20:54:19]