7.5 million people left religion since 2012: Three graphs from latest General Social Survey

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This graphic is not offered for republication.

A new survey shows that the Great Decline of religion in America continues. Since 2012, the U.S. has about 7.5 million Americans who are no longer active in religion.

Last week, the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) was released. The GSS is the gold standard for sociological surveys. Funded by the National Science Foundation this multi-million dollar study gives us the most accurate data on American society — including religion.

Here are three measures that show that the percentage of Americans who left religion increased between 2012 and 2014, reaching its highest level in decades. (Next week, I’ll present an the 2014 update of my annual index of religiosity that goes back to the 1940s). An important point to remember as you see the data: each percentage point increase represents a growth of 2.5 million adults.

For the three graphs, we see between a one and three point rise in secularity since 2012, with 7.5 million more people never entering a church or other worship service than just two years earlier.

1. The “nones’ are growing

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This graphic is not offered for republication.

When asked their “religious preference”, nearly one-in-four Americans now says “none.”Up until the 1990s, this group of so-called “nones” hovered in the single digits.  The 2014 GSS showed that the so-called nones are 21 percent. How large is this group of nones? There are nearly as many Americans who claim no religion as there are Catholics (24 percent). If this growth continues, in a few years the largest “religion” in the U.S. may be no religion at all.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

The number of Americans who never darken a church door is also at a new high. Over a third of Americans (34 percent) never attend a worship service (other than weddings and other ceremonies). This is a 3.4 point increase from just a few years earlier. Put differently, the group of Americans who don’t attend church grew by a rate of over ten percent in two years.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

Is this just a departure from organized religion? Even with people no longer identifying with religion or attending worship services, they still pray. But the percentage who never pray is also up slightly. Nearly one-in-six Americans never prays.

Bottom line:  The number of Americans who are no longer active in religion reached a new high in 2014. Since 2012, about 7.5 million Americans more Americans don’t attend attend church. Millions also stopped identifying with any religion or praying.

Correction: An earlier version of this post included estimates that were calculated without the proper sampling weights. The figures and reported percentages have been corrected. The revised post makes clear that the 7.5 million figure is among those who no longer attend church, which has increased 3.4 percentage points; estimates of those with no religion and those who never pray are higher than in 2012 but not three points higher as previously reported.

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  • Susan Canning

    ahh, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics… let me guess, they called a few
    thousand people who didn’t want to bother answering their questions and
    from this minute segment – they extrapolate 7.5 million people leaving “religion” in the US !
    did you know this “General Social Survey” is ONLY conducted IN PERSON
    at the University of Chicago ? yes, that’s right, so we’re only talking about Chicagoans.
    Oh, and we’re only talking about 1,967 participants. Who want to bother spending 90 minutes to fill these forms out. yay ! how valid ! obviously !
    The article may say “multi-million dollar”, to make it look valid, but that’s just
    government waste ! The NSF which funds it receives 7 Billion per year and is
    a treasured PORK BARREL of kickbacks and special deals !!
    *Mistrust and meddling unsettles US science agency : Nature News
    *National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope

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  • Doug S

    So…….apparently, 7.5 million people have grown brains and learned to think for themselves, learned that THERE IS NO GOD!!!

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  • Dan the Mormon

    I wonder why people keep on reporting about this. It’s not news that people are leaving some mainstream churches and that non-belief is growing in the USA. It almost feels like the media is trying to hype up non-belief. Why not talk about the growth of some more conservative religions as well like Mormons, Adventists, and Muslims in the USA? Why push the narrative that America is becoming less religious when the story should really be that America is becoming more religiously polarized with more people embracing conservative religion as well as more people rejecting organized religion?

  • Vancouver

    Susan Canning, please site the source for your claims.

  • Steve

    Susan – the fact that the National Opinion Research Center is at the U of Chicago does not mean that they only conducted interviews in Chicago. Nobody who knows anything about polls and statistics would give them a second glance if that were the case.


  • carrie

    While I will concede that there might be some sampling bias (which I’m not sure there is a good way around that), 1967 is a large enough sample size for the specified margin of error.

  • James

    Susan Canning, you seem extremely invested in denouncing and decrying a bit of evidence that says something that you don’t want to believe. Sticking your head in the sand won’t solve anything. Why don’t you just take this data point and use it to inform your opinion? Maybe do a little more study on the observed fact that churches are declining in attendance? Pro or con, you can’t do anything about an issue you flat out refuse to face.

  • James

    Why not? Because the biggest trend is an unprecedented decline. That’s the biggest news. It’s unparalleled in American history. That’s why

  • While church people stick their heads in the sand, claiming unreliable numbers, and atheists gloat over the same numbers, reliable or not, the fact remains that people won’t be left adrift without some kind of group to identify with. Some of the Nones and Dones may be happy to count themselves as a-somethings, but until they find a new in-group, they’re ready prey for whatever on-line cult can catch their attention and get hold of their money.

    I have this theory that some proportion of people with no interest in church may still be receptive to the Gospel. So I wrote a discussion to try to make the distinction between churchianity and Christianity as clear as possible. Start here: http://personal.inet.fi/private/walkabout/Walkabout-gg.html#persecution-is-necessary

  • Tim

    Made my day knowing a graph actually pissed someone off HAHAHAHA

  • Michael Tiffany

    First of all the quote is “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Second, capitalization counts. Third, the NSF receives “7 Billion per year” — receives seven billion what per year? Angry, unhinged, emails from 9/11 truthers and vaccine-autism linkers?

    If this study hit a nerve or cut a little too close to the bone for you — so close that you let loose with an angry, poorly written, USING CAPS TO GET YOUR BLUNT POINT ACROSS screed, in reaction to news that other people do not believe as you do — try prayer. I hear there are NSF funded studies which show that among peope who believe in a god, prayer can enhance healing and speed recovery. Or perhaps that may not be comforting to you, since these studies tend to find that it is belief in the healing power of prayer in general, and not a particular belief in one specific diety, which is effective. So people who pray to a different god than you get just as much benefit from praying to it. That will probably make you just as angry as people who don’t believe at all.

    But you know what they say: the world has too be this big to accomodate all the small-minded people in it.

  • Fran

    If they DO go to Church, it’s probably only twice a year, for Christmas and Easter services.

  • Fran

    Doug S,

    They just probably got tired of all the false lies and false hopes promulgated by false religion as well as their evident hypocracies! It’s no wonder they would feel compelled to leave.

    However, it is encouraging to know that God will soon put an end to all false religion on the planet, and humans will finally be able to know and appreciate our Creator, God, as well as be wonderfully blessed by him (Revelation 21:1-4).

  • Saving Christianity “for Dummies”
    Church is dying; Gallop says less than 20% go. The problem is not insurmountable and can be fixed.
    Gotquestions.org says the crisis is that “few young adults believe in Satan or that Christianity is the only true religion.” It’s a church killer. Young adults now live in a diverse culture with diverse friends. The church condemns their religions, so to avoid offending, the young just quit church. The saddest part, is that Christ never condemned other religions…it’s just a church policy. Bishop John Spong says “Christianity must change or die.” So it’s decision time.
    Here’s the fix: Even though the church refuses, when hurting the religion, their dubious policies can be corrected if not the teaching of Jesus Christ.

    “When Constantine became Emperor of Rome, he nominally became a ‘Christian,’ but he sought to… merge Paganism with the Roman Church.”* (325 AD)
    Young adults are educated, so they know Satan, hell, Easter and Yuletide were all Pagan religion. Because of the Romans, there were two separate and opposing Christianities in the second century…Jewish vs. Roman. The religion is in crisis today because of the double standard of that time.

    The controversy is senseless, because judgment and control were never the message of Jesus Christ anyway. Christianity can thrive again, but we need to refocus on “the religion of love Christ came to announce to the world.”
    Brad O’Donnell odonbrad@gmail.com
    Author: “Where to Now Saint Paul?”

  • Chris

    You should study up on statistical sampling methods so you can learn what goes into making a valid statistical inference based on a random, representative sample.

  • I am always amazed at how religious fanatics from all religions will attack anyone or anything that questions the existence of an invisible man in the sky able to do, see and affect everything. You’d think that if there was such an omnipresent entity it would simple put to rest any doubt by making its presence know.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Gregory,
    Separating Christianity from institutions would be a radical change, dismembering (pun intended) the Church as it has been understood for most of its history. It would moot authoritative theology, and the notion of orthodoxy. Good riddance, I would say, but radical nonetheless. One result would be massive new unemployment claims.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Brad,
    You Say: “The controversy is senseless, because judgment and control were never the message of Jesus Christ anyway. “.

    “If Jesus spoke to the multitude in Aramaic, then his words are lost to us forever.”
    Even more seriously, we cannot prove, or be certain what Jesus’ message(s) was/were. We have no tools other than tradition, rumor, and speculation to “reconstruct” a version of what Jesus taught or did. That is why the Church has always relied on magic (“the holy spirit”, the resurrection. etc.) to support its claims. As for the “Christ”, we have no idea what views Jesus had on that idea.

    “Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom, and what arrived was the Church” (“Jésus annonçait le Royaume et c’est l’Église qui est venue”: Alfred Loisy 1902

  • jesse porter

    As someone who was saved at an early age, six, and was raised in the home of a pastor, and graduated from a Bible school, Appalachian Bible Institute (now a four year college), who left the church two years late, not to darken a church door for nearly twenty years, but now a regular attender of church, I have both experienced living a Christian life and a non-Christian life and have lived to tell the tale. I know that it is common for high school graduates to leave the church, and for thirty-somethings to return, sort of a prodigal son experience. Yes, there is a certain rebellious part of, almost necessary, growing from childhood into adulthood. But, besides that, these is a sort of arrogance of leadership that is also common among church ‘elders’, and especially among pastors, that clashes with the arrogance of adolescents. The church thus drives away those who are most prone to leave.
    There is another thing that I am increasingly more aware of, the tendency of church leaders to go off in odd and counter-intuitive directions, in both doctrine and practice. Wrong teaching and believing is a constant and ever-present tendency of human beings. “There is a war that seems right to man, but the way thereof leads to perdition.” And, “Pride goeth before a fall.” I have seen so much pride in churches, and it has seldom been acknowledged by leaders or by laity. The same is common in every profession. How many times have we seen it bring down politicians and business leaders. It is commonly hidden in educationists, because so much of academic ‘knowledge’ is built of sand. In spite of scientists vaunted reliance on ‘reason’ and ‘proof,’ the have often, and continue to, attack dissenters from ‘accepted truth’ visciously, sometimes physically.
    Back to religious leaders and elders. Often today ‘worship’ services have more in common with rock concerts and even heathen celebrations around campfires, with drums and chanting inciting gatherings to sexual or violent orgies. Inciteful music and chanting have a long, inglorious, history among both group leadership and organized thieves and charlatans to motivate people to behavior they would otherwise avoid. To use these tactics within churches is reprehensive. It is no wonder that increasing numbers of people avoid religion.

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  • Ann

    Just put a time frame on that “soon” for us, Fran, so we can point out when your god fails to show.

  • Steven

    Why do you keep claiming censorship, Stephen?
    You are clearly NOT being “censored.”

  • Brian

    Hey, Dan. If you look at current numbers, the growth of your church is not keeping pace with the general population growth. Growing, yes. Dramatically, less than before and fortunately for Mormons, procreation is the funnest type of missionary work. But you better keep that up because that is the only way your church is growing these days, esp in the US.

  • John

    The point to note from these statistics is that assuming their sampling method has remained consistent across time that what they reveal is a trend of falling religiosity in the US. That trend is the key point to grasp.
    Someone made a point on the contrast between religious quantity and intensity.
    It would be interesting to know if any research has been carried out to assess the degree of intensity of religiosity among the falling numbers of religionists.
    Has it?

  • Joseph

    This relatively short term trend is not at all unprecedented. There have been waves of increase and waves of decline in American religious history. Only faith could conclude that religion will continue to decline 40 years from now. But of course, many secularists are consumed by their faith.

  • All surveys contain bias. But if this survey showed a rise in interest in “god” I bet you and others would be linking to it claiming it as evidence that “god” is real. That being said, you have grossly undermined what actually goes on in a survey.

  • So what you’re saying is that you would be much happier if they pushed some good ole fashion Mormon propaganda. There’s plenty of that in the form LDS branded pay per click on sites like youtube.

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