Meet the unaffiliated. An increasing number of Americans identify with no church, denomination, or religious tradition, and this development represents a truly significant shift in the nation’s pattern of belief.

America’s religious landscape is changing, and the contours of that change will determine the shape of the church’s challenge for decades to come. An important study recently released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life points to several developments worthy of our attention — and some of these deserve rather urgent analysis.

The Continued Rise of the Nones

The Pew report reveals an increasing number of Americans who identify with no church or religious commitment. At present, one of five Americans is now “unaffiliated” and disconnected from any church or organized faith. More shocking is the fact that fully one in three Americans under age 30 report themselves as unaffiliated. “In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults,” the report reveals.

Of the unaffiliated, about 13 million Americans (about 6%) identify as atheists or agnostics, with another 33 million (14%) simply claiming no affiliation. The unaffiliated are not church shopping, according to the researchers. Instead, these Americans say they are very comfortable being disconnected from any church or organized faith….

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