Monday, October 15, 2012

'Unaffiliated' people may be churches' opportunity, local clergy says

Everyone chuckled when they thought the speaker had said something about "nuns on the rise."
But when they realized he had said "nones," instead of "nuns," the tone changed. "Nones" on the rise refers to the number of people in the United States who identify themselves as "religiously unaffiliated" or who check "none" on a survey about religion.
That number has risen significantly in the past five years, reaching a historic high of 1 in 5 adults. Even more telling, the "unaffiliated" group includes 1 in 3 adults under age 30.
Those are among the major findings of a new survey from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, in conjunction with the PBS program, "Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly."
An embargoed copy of the survey was made available to reporters attending the annual conference of the Religion Newswriters Association on Oct. 4-6 in Bethesda, Md. The report was released nationally last week.
Before church leaders start to panic, the survey did contain some promising news. Of those "unaffiliated" responders, 68 percent expressed a belief in God and 37 percent say they are "spiritual but not religious."
And, institutional religion got high marks when it came to questions about the role of religious institutions in society. More than 75 percent agreed that religious organizations strengthen community bonds and play an important role in helping the needy.
A summary of the study explained that the large jump in the percentage of "unaffiliated" is "largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones."
The study showed that although 32 percent of adults younger than 30 have no religious affiliation, only 9 percent of those 65 and older fall into the "unaffiliated" category.
The survey's results were not surprising to local people who interact daily with both the "affiliated" and the "unaffiliated."
As chaplain at Baptist-affiliated Hardin-Simmons University, Kelly Pigott said he has noticed similar trends among students over the years.
"They're uncomfortable with labels," he said. "Denominational loyalty is pretty much out the window."


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