Religiously Unaffiliated Is the Fastest Growing Religious Category

According to a new national survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), U.S. adults who identify as religiously unaffiliated are the fastest-growing religious category. It is also the only category experiencing growth.

About one in four Americans surveyed (26%) identify as religiously unaffiliated, a five-point increase from 21% in 2013. 

Of those who left a religious tradition and are now religiously unaffiliated (18%), more than one-third were formerly Catholic (35%) or mainline/non-evangelical Protestant (35%). Most respondents say the reason for leaving their faith tradition is they stopped believing their religion’s teachings (67%).

Most who identify as religiously unaffiliated are European Americans (65%). This is followed by Hispanics (16%), Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders (8%), and African Americans (7%). Also, persons who identify as atheists or agnostics are more likely to be European Americans compared to those who identify as “nothing in particular” (75% and 72% vs. 61%).

The survey also found membership retention rates for both Catholics and “White mainline/non-evangelical Protestants” continue to decline. Both groups continue to lose more members than they gain with the latter experiencing a noticeable decline since 2016. On other hand, African American Protestants (82%) and Jewish Americans (77%) have the highest retention rates of all religious groups.

“After observing the growth of unaffiliated Americans for decades, our survey confirms that this trend is not slowing,” Melissa Deckman, CEO of PRRI, said. “While most Americans are still religious, the ranks of the unaffiliated will continue to swell with both Americans who leave their religion — increasingly because of religious teachings about LGBTQ people — as well as those who are now being raised in religiously unaffiliated households.”

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