A new poll released today shows that fewer Americans consider themselves to be Protestant, making those that do a religious minority for the first time in history.
The survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, looked at statistics on religion in America and the religious shifts that are taking place in the United States. Of the 2,973 Americans age 18 and older who took part in the survey, one-fifth of them stated they are "religiously unaffiliated". Two-thirds, or 68 percent, say they believe in God, 37 percent consider themselves to be “spiritual” but not “religious” and 21% say they pray on a daily basis.
Most of those who categorize themselves as "religiously unaffiliated" say they believe today's churches and religious institutions do benefit society through a strengthening of community bonds and conducting outreach to the poor and needy.
According to an Associated Press report, the survey shows the number of adults who currently consider themselves to be Protestant stands at 48 percent, the first time the survey has ever shown Protestants below 50 percent. In 2007, the number of people surveyed who self identified as Protestant stood at 53 percent. That number dropped to 52 percent in 2008. In 2009 and 2010, 51 percent of Americans considered themselves Protestant, but that number dropped to 50 percent in 2011.
While the number of Americans who consider themselves to be Protestant has continued to decline over the last few years, the number of those who are "unaffiliated", also known as "nons", has seen a steady increase. In 2007, 15.3 percent of American's said they were not affiliated with a particular religion. That figure rose to 16.0 percent in 2008, 16.8 percent in 2009 and 17.4 percent in 2010. Last year the number rose to 18.6 percent and the Pew survey released today shows 19.6 percent of U.S. adults now consider themselves as unaffiliated.
Senior Pew research adviser, John Green, categorizes the "religiously unaffiliated" into three groups. The first group are those who were raised outside organized religion, and the second group are those who were not satisfied with the religions and left for another religion. The third group are those who have never considered themselves to be religious despite being raised in religious homes.
Green told CNN the last group used to be considered those that were only minimally associated with religion. “In the past, we would describe those people as nominally affiliated. "They might say, 'I am Catholic; I am a Baptist,' but they never went to services. Now, they feel a lot more comfortable just saying, ‘You know, I am really nothing.’ ”
Green went on to tell CNN: “There is much less of a stigma attached to not being religious. Part of what is fueling this growth is that a lot of people who were never very religious now feel comfortable saying that they don't have an affiliation.”
An Adventist Today article published in May of this year said a 2010 Census of Religion by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) showed 4 percent of Americans now belong to nondenominational congregations. The census showed that nondenominational churches ranked second, behind only the Southern Baptist Convention, in membership among Independent churches (churches outside particular denominations such as United Methodist or Episcopal Church).
These "nons" are typically made up of individuals who have left their traditional religious affiliation in favor of a nondenominational church.
The rise of nondenominational churches is not the only reason for the decline in the number of Protestants however. The Pew survey showed that in 2007, 38 percent of U.S. adults reported attending religious services weekly. Today, the figure is 37%. Although that is a modest decline, the survey says it is a contributing factor in the decline of those who identify themselves as being Protestant.