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Pew Forum survey out

Well, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has released its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey and it's bound to generate a lot of talk on blogs and amongst church organizations and religious entities. I heard about it on NPR yesterday while I was cooking dinner, and it's all over the mainstream media this morning. The findings aren't all that surprising or unexpected, but they provide some solid material to work from. I couldn't find a lot out there in the Christian media yet; I'm particularly interested in more extensive responses from evangelical folks (like Rick Warren and the folks at Willow Creek), outlets like Christianity Today and BeliefNet, as well as emerging and simple church folks.

In the meantime, here are some highlights of the massive survey (you can get the whole report here):
Based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey finds that religious affiliation in the U.S. is both very diverse and extremely fluid.

More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion -- or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, roughly 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion. . . .

The Landscape Survey confirms that the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country; the number of Americans who report that they are members of Protestant denominations now stands at barely 51%. Moreover, the Protestant population is characterized by significant internal diversity and fragmentation, encompassing hundreds of different denominations loosely grouped around three fairly distinct religious traditions -- evangelical Protestant churches (26.3% of the overall adult population), mainline Protestant churches (18.1%) and historically black Protestant churches (6.9%).

While those Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular religion have seen the greatest growth in numbers as a result of changes in affiliation, Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes. While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. . . .

Like the other major groups, people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (16.1%) also exhibit remarkable internal diversity. Although one-quarter of this group consists of those who describe themselves as either atheist or agnostic (1.6% and 2.4% of the adult population overall, respectively), the majority of the unaffiliated population (12.1% of the adult population overall) is made up of people who simply describe their religion as "nothing in particular." This group, in turn, is fairly evenly divided between the "secular unaffiliated," that is, those who say that religion is not important in their lives (6.3% of the adult population), and the "religious unaffiliated," that is, those who say that religion is either somewhat important or very important in their lives (5.8% of the overall adult population). . . .
And then there's this:
The survey finds that constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace, as every major religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing adherents. Those that are growing as a result of religious change are simply gaining new members at a faster rate than they are losing members. Conversely, those that are declining in number because of religious change simply are not attracting enough new members to offset the number of adherents who are leaving those particular faiths.

To illustrate this point, one need only look at the biggest gainer in this religious competition -- the unaffiliated group. People moving into the unaffiliated category outnumber those moving out of the unaffiliated group by more than a three-to-one margin. At the same time, however, a substantial number of people (nearly 4% of the overall adult population) say that as children they were unaffiliated with any particular religion but have since come to identify with a religious group. This means that more than half of people who were unaffiliated with any particular religion as a child now say that they are associated with a religious group. In short, the Landscape Survey shows that the unaffiliated population has grown despite having one of the lowest retention rates of all "religious" groups.
Lots more out there, so check it out. Or wait for other folks to sift through it for you, heh.

(Image: from Pew Forum)


Anonymous said…
When I saw that 16.1% unaffiliated rate, I immediately thought it looked low compared to other statistics I had seen before. Curiosity had me digging down deep into the details of the survey and I found that that they only had a 35% participation rate for the survey. This means that 65% of the people they contacted, said they did not want to participate. I then started thinking, how many atheists or agnostics, when asked, “Would you like to participate in a survey on religion in America?” are going to say yes? I would bet that 16% should really be 35%!
Carmen Andres said…
your comment made me curious, so i did some digging on my own, heh. interestingly, i found that the Pew Forum's results of 16% falls pretty much in line with a lot of other research which is compiled at a wikipedia site which looks at the demographics of atheism and agnosticism. if you come this way again and have the time, let me know which research are you looking at - i'm really interested.