A lot has been written recently about the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd, or the “religious nones”–people who have no particular religious affiliation–and how their numbers are rapidly growing in the U.S. Recent reports place “nones” between just under 20 percent to as much as 23 percent of American adults. The largest segment of the population that claims no religious affiliation are young people under 30 years of age (32 percent), with the next-least-affiliated group those between 30 and 49 (21 percent).
Closer analysis of these trends reveal that the majority of the “nones” are interested in spirituality, and many are still drawn toward certain religious practices. But regardless of how this development is described or measured, the upshot is that people are going to religious services less frequently than in previous generations, and our traditional definitions of religion and religious institutions are mattering less in the daily lives of younger Americans. In our view, however, this does not mean that we are entering a new age of atheism or irreligion, but instead signals what we would describe as a coming wave of religious indifference.
Among the many reasons for the increasing numbers of “nones” and the decreasing ability of religious organizations to successfully appeal to people who otherwise have some religious affinity, we suggest the following five are the most important: