"Nones" are those individuals (28% of all U.S. adults) who say they are "religiously unaffiliated," despite most them being raised in a religion. According to Pew's findings released last week, 20% of that group say they're agnostic and question the existence of God, while another 17% say they're atheist and deny God's existence. The remaining 63% – when asked what they believe – surprisingly responded: "Nothing in particular."
Pew reports that 13% of all nones say they believe in the God described in the Bible, while another 56% believe in a "higher power." Yet 90% say they "seldom" or "never" attend a religious service.
For the Church, this is a problem that has been decades in the making. That's according to David Closson, director of the Family Research Council's Center for Biblical Worldview.
"Let's go back 60 years. The largest denomination in the United States was mainline Protestantism," he explained on Washington Watch Friday. "From the 1950s onward, we saw these mainline denominations get infected with theological liberalism – denying the resurrection, denying the Bible is the Word of God, denying miracles, denying the virgin birth.
"Then they quickly shifted on other issues. First it was the ordination of women, then allowing LGBTQ, redefining marriage, things like that. So quickly, all those churches had nothing distinctive [from the secular world] to offer their people."
Closson cited the United Methodist Church. He pointed out that over the last four years more than 7,000 UMC congregations have withdrawn from the denomination over various social issues, LGBTQ, same-sex marriage and the like.
"I would imagine hundreds of thousands of Christians, if not millions of Christians, have gotten disillusioned with churches and religious leaders who are clearly abandoning the Bible," Closson told show host Jody Hice.
Pew's numbers not only about churches
Pew's findings reflect a staggering withdrawal from church life, but there's more beneath the surface, Pew Research Center vice president Neha Sahgal told Hice.
"This is part of a larger trend in American society where people seem to be opting out of civic engagement or engaging with traditional institutions. At The Pew Research Center, we have found that fewer people say that they're following the news closely. We know that Americans are volunteering less than they used to – so, it could be part of a larger trend with Americans kind of disengaging or disaffiliating from civic life, civic institutions or traditional institutions," she said.
Sahgal said religious nones tend to be less educated than agnostics and atheists and tend to be frustrated with life around them. "They are less likely to be satisfied with their communities," she added.
Kyle Campbell, creator and host of the "Politically Basic" podcast, says it's important to take a strong look at Generation Z in these numbers.
"They are a fascinating generation, and I don't think too many people are paying close attention to them because we think they sound so young. Well, they're not that young, actually. Gen Z is ages 11 to 26. They're actually going to make up 12 million voters in this election this fall. That's a huge voting demographic and bloc that could easily sway a presidential election, especially when there is so much at stake," she told Washington Watch on Monday.
Show host Tony Perkins said this group of growing influence feels disconnected from the church partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Campbell said Millennials, ages 28-43, fit this description as well.
"We're seeing a disconnect from this generation [Gen Z], and I'll say Millennials too, feeling disconnected from what's being taught in the church, what's being preached, and it's really tracking alongside how they're trending politically as well.
"They're not ready, [they're] not willing to pick a side. Fifty-two percent of Gen Z voters say they're independent right now. It's a generation that doesn't necessarily want to reject spirituality, God or Christianity. They're saying, 'We want more information. Give us the truth,'" Campbell said.
Closson told Hice the survey shows that society is living in a "post-Christian religiously confused age."
Forty-seven percent of nones said they don't like religious organizations, and another 30% said they previously had a bad experience with religious people.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for the Church to teach all that Jesus has commanded. People, especially from younger generations, are dying for authenticity. They're dying for something distinct; they're craving that," Closson shared.
Clarity with compassion is important
While the Church has an opportunity to teach, the FRC spokesman says it must do so with clarity but also with compassion.
"One verse, Ephesians 4:15. Paul says while writing to a group of Christians at the Church at Ephesus that they should speak the truth in love. Especially Gen Z, the younger generations have told pollsters that they're turned off by perceptions of the Church as mean-spirited and angry," Closson observed. "We know the gospel message itself is already offensive. We don't want to be offensive as we teach the gospel.
"Let's speak the truth in love. I think as we do that faithfully, we'll be able to welcome many people back into our churches who do have some sort of [religious] background. These people do have the foundation.
"This is an opportunity for the body of Christ to step out with the gospel in love and grace and reach these people," he concluded.