Is the Glass Half Full?

By Mary Frances
FaithX Senior Associate Consultant

Some recent survey results suggest that the landscape of the church is still shifting in less than positive ways.  New findings from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 24% of people say they have switched religions in their lifetime – a 50% jump from 2021 when only 16% of people said they make a jump.  Reasons for changing religions or denominations vary from no longer believing the teachings to disagreements over LGBTQ teachings or feeling their church became too political.  Another big player in public research, the Pew Research Center projects that, if trends continue, America will become a non-majority Christian nation by 2070.  More and more people claim themselves to be unaffiliated with any religion at all.  Not to be confused with atheist, these folks may still consider themselves to hold or practice Christian beliefs, but they don’t participate in organized religion right now.  With all of this new data in the news, it seems like a good time to dig into the newer piece of data FaithX provides through MapDash and our Neighborhood Insight Report on Religiously Unaffiliated Persons.


Last year, the data point Religiously Unaffiliated was added to the Neighborhood Insight Report and it can also be accessed as a map layer in MapDash.  It’s interesting to note that the national average for unaffiliated is 60% and most communities seem to hover between 56% and 62% which could mean that the Pew prediction is coming sooner than we thought.  Even in communities thought to be heavily religious such as cities and towns in Utah, we are finding 60+% of people to be unaffiliated.  


What exactly do we mean by Religiously Unaffiliated and where does this data come from? The source of this data is Esri’s Living Atlas and MRI-Simmons who has conducted what is considered to be the most comprehensive study on American consumers.  The data itself for Religiously Unaffiliated is reported by census block group.  The Religiously Unaffiliated Score uses a 0 to 10 scale, with higher scoring areas considered to have a higher religiously unaffiliated population. The religiously unaffiliated population is calculated by combining the variables of (1) Percent of Pop. Age 18+ who Disagree Completely with the “Attend Religious Services Regularly” survey question, and (2) Percent of Pop. Aged 18+ who Disagree Somewhat with the “Attend Religious Services Regularly” survey question, with a double weight given to “(1).”  What this means is that many people admit they do not attend religious services but that does not mean they haven’t attended in the past.  It doesn’t mean they won’t attend in the future.  It doesn’t even mean they no longer believe.  It just means they aren’t attending or participating in communal worship right now.


Why does this mean the glass is half full?  Well, we could look at this data, wring our hands and think that all is lost.  That is certainly an option.  Or we can look at this data and consider what we could do to widen the circle of our faith communities to include those who no longer consider themselves to be affiliated with a religious community.  I think this data shows us that the potential to grow our faith communities is huge.  Now, how will we live into that opportunity?



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