Many Americans Are Saying Goodbye to Religion, but Not Faith

Polls show the unaffiliated are much less antagonistic toward religion than once thought.

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But the Trinity survey found that just over 2 percent of Americans say there is no God. And one of the most surprising findings of the Pew survey is that the retention levels for the unaffiliated are remarkably low. Fifty-four percent of Americans raised in religiously unaffiliated families now belong to a religious tradition. Most report deeply personal reasons for doing so, having little to do with life-cycle events such as getting married or moving to a new community.

Half of the formerly unaffiliated told Pew that they felt called by God to join a religious tradition. Three quarters said they were attracted by a church's worship style. The Rev. David Ireland, the founding pastor of Christ Church, a nondenominational megachurch in northern New Jersey, says that matches up with his observations. "More people who are coming to us now have had no contact with religion or the Bible," he says. "But they recognize that there's something missing in their lives."

Sure, the growing ranks of unchurched Americans provide significant recruitment opportunities for secular groups like the American Humanist Association. But it appears more likely that those people will join a church instead.