Shifts in American Religious Behavior

The Barna Group recently published a list of changes in American religious behavior over the last twenty years based on data collected via their annual OmniPollSM survey conducted each January.

  • Bible reading undertaken during the course of a typical week, other than passages read while attending church events, has declined by five percentage points (to 40%);
  • Church volunteerism has dropped by eight percentage points (to 19% who do so during a typical week);
  • Adult Sunday school attendance has also diminished by eight percentage points (to about 15%);
  • Attendance has receded by nine percentage points (to 40%);
  • Percentage of unchurched (all adults who have not attended any religious events at a church, other than special ceremonies such as a wedding or funeral, during the prior six month period) has increased by thirteen percentage points (to 37%).

So What?

More and more attention is being given to a group that Barna calls unchurched.  Other researchers use a slightly different term, “nones,” and focus on those who no longer belong to any religious tradition rather than just those not actively involved in a Christian community of faith.  In short, being religiously unaffiliated is the fastest growing religion in America.

  • What factors do you believe have contributed to the nearly 50% increase in the number of unchurched American adults over the last two decades?  Do you believe this trend will continue? Why or why not?
  • Of the five decreases in religious behavior, which do you find most surprising and why?


  1. For me my tendency to not make it to church on Sundays started in my 20’s, and largely was due to feeling like I could just walk in and out of church with no one noticing I was (or wasn’t) there. There needs to be a more active living out of our faith on a weekly/daily basis. Groups meeting for lunch after church, adult Bible studies, etc. I feel like so many churches simply deliver a sermon and call it good, without encouraging member interaction &/or pastor/member interaction. Feeling like nobody knows I’m there is the number one reason why I will leave a church. On the other hand, if the church feels like a family, whose members actively engage with each other as people and not just church-goers, I’m much more likely to go back week after week.

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