Religious participation in the U.S. among those who affiliate with a faith tradition has remained steady.
Yet, overall religious engagement has declined due to an increase in the number of people not affiliated with any faith tradition (“nones”) who are less likely to engage in religious practices.
A newly released Pew Research Center survey found “a great deal of stability in the U.S. religious landscape,” noting that “there has been no discernible drop in most measures of religious commitment” among the 77 percent of the population who claim a faith tradition.
Certain observances among the religiously affiliated have increased slightly since 2007.
“The portion of religiously affiliated adults who say they regularly read Scripture, share their faith with others and participate in small prayer groups or Scripture study groups all have increased modestly since 2007,” the report noted. “And roughly four-in-10 religiously affiliated adults (41 percent) now say they rely mainly on their religious beliefs for guidance on questions about right and wrong, up 7 percentage points in seven years.”
Yet, an overall decline in religious participation has been observed due to an increase in the religiously unaffiliated – a population that has grown from 16 percent of the U.S. in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014.
While 61 percent of the religiously unaffiliated believe in God (a nine-point decline from 2007), this group is far less active in expressing their religious beliefs.
Only 20 percent pray daily, 13 percent say their faith is important to them, and 9 percent attend worship at least once a month.
By contrast, among the religiously affiliated, 66 percent pray daily and affirm faith’s importance in their lives, and 62 percent attend services at least monthly.
“The growth of the ‘nones’ as a share of the population, coupled with their declining levels of religious observance, is tugging down the nation’s overall rates of religious belief and practice,” Pew explained.
The shift is taking place along generational lines, as younger generations are less committed to the faith traditions of older generations.
A steady decline in religious engagement was noted from the “Silent Generation” (born 1928-1945) to the “Younger Millennials” (born 1990-1996).
For example, when asked about attendance at religious services, 51 percent of the “Silent Generation” said they went weekly, compared to 38 percent of “Baby Boomers” (1946-1964), 34 percent of “Generation X” (1965-1980), 27 percent of “Older Millennials” (1981-1989) and 28 percent of “Younger Millennials.”
A similar trend was found when respondents were asked about other topics.
“While stability is perhaps the best single word to sum up the … findings about the religious beliefs and practices of religiously affiliated Americans, the trends among the religiously unaffiliated segment of the population look more like secularization,” Pew commented. “Not only have the unaffiliated grown in size, they also have become less religious over time.”