The Largest Religion in America in 2037

2037The rise of the “nones” (those claiming no religious affiliation) has been well documented in general, and also here on this blog.  Assuming the shift away from religious affiliation continues, when might the largest “religious group” in America become those without a religious affiliation?

Rise of the Nones

Allen Downey, Professor of Computer Science at Olin College, recently shared on his blog an extended version of an article he initially published in Scientific American titled “The Retreat from Religion is Accelerating.”

In this article, Downey uses historical data from the General Social Survey (GSS) to make predictions about the future of religious affiliation and religious belief in America. With regard to religious affiliation he predicts:

  • The fraction of people with no religious affiliation has increased from less than 10% in the 1990s to more than 20% now.  This increase will accelerate, overtaking Catholicism in the next few years, and probably replacing Protestantism as the largest religious affiliation within 20 years.
  • Protestantism has been in decline since the 1980s.  Its population share dropped below 50% in 2012, and will fall below 40% within 20 years.
  • Catholicism peaked in the 1980s and will decline slowly over the next 20 years, from 24% to 20%.
  • The share of other religions increased from 4% in the 1970s to 6% now, but will be essentially unchanged in the next 20 years.

So What?

I am a lifelong Protestant. It was a big deal for me when Protestants were officially no longer the majority of Americans in 2012.  The dip below 50% did not come as a surprise as the decline had been steady and relatively consistent for some time.  It will, however, be an even bigger deal when in 20 years it dips below 40% while at the same time religious non-affiliation reaches that level.

In short, the data suggests that unless things change those without religious affiliation will become the largest group in American in about 20 years.

Mainline Protestantism (my tradition) moved to the sidelines years ago.  Increasingly, Protestantism as a whole is moving in that direction in America.

  • Register your guess. In what year do you think the “nones” will become America’s largest “religious” group?  Bonus points for explaining why your date is earlier or later than the one proposed by Allen Downey.
  • What does this shift mean to you? to your church?
  • Share some of the ways moving from the largest to not being the largest religious group is helpful and some ways it is challenging.

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