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Here is a cool graph Michael Bell put together. I’ll let you look at it, then explain what’s going on.

This information comes from a 2008 Pew study. The top bar shows the percentage of Americans in the 2008 survey who indicated they were raised in the given religion. As you can see, a lot of people indicated that grew up Catholic or Evangelical. The Mainline bar is a bit smaller and None, Black Protestant, and Other are quite a bit smaller.

On the bottom you get the percentage of Americans who said they presently belong to each religion. So if you look from top to bottom you can see how well each group has retained its young. Evangelical and Mainline get a little bit smaller, Catholic a lot smaller. The only group to get much bigger is the None.

What makes this graph really interesting is that it also shows the transfer among different groups. Take a minute to study the colors and see who is going where. As for Evangelicals, they gain a good deal from Catholics and some from None and Mainline. But on the other hand they lose more to None than the gain.

You can find a clearer view of the graph here and a fuller explanation here.

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16 thoughts on “Where Have all the Children Gone?”

  1. G. Kyle Essary says:

    I had forgot about this chart that Michael Bell put together. He did a great job.

    The “nones” are an interesting group, because they are spiritual, but not religious. They seem to believe in God (only 4% in this survey claim atheism or agnosticism), but they do not self-identify with any religious group. Only 20% claim that they left their religion because “they do not believe in former religion” or “any religion.” Furthermore, something like 40% claim that they just haven’t found the right religion yet. They are the group that grows the most in terms of total percentage, but they also lose the highest percentage of their initial group (54% of those raised non-religious are now religious). I think I have a theory for part of this movement.

    “Nones” are the group that would have the fewest incorrect self-categorizers. For instance, its not common for someone who was raised as an active evangelical to self-identify their upbringing as “none.” On the other hand, it’s somewhat common for someone to say they grew up Catholic even if their family went to mass only two or three times during their entire upbringing and had no “spirituality” at home. They were in reality “nones,” but self-identified as Catholic.

    I think therefore that some of the movement might be people who were in reality raised as “nones,” now self-identifying as nones whereas they previously self-identified as something else.

    Their being the smallest and most ambiguous of the groups also causes issues with analyzing the data. For instance, some atheists and “spiritual, but not religious” have claimed that at this pace the US will be “nones” by 2050 or similar. Of course, this isn’t what’s happening because the data is confusing. For instance, about 3.5% of Americans moved from Evangelical to None, about twice the percentage that moved from None to Evangelical. BUT, the percentage of the initial group that moved from the initial group of Protestants to Nones was 13% of the Protestant whole, whereas the percentage of those raised none who became evangelical was 22%, and 39% of those raised as “nones” are now tied to some strand of Protestantism.

  2. Bobby says:

    I don’t see how Evangelicals lose more to “none” than they gain. If you total up the total number of those entering Evangelicalism (coming from other groups), isn’t that combined width greater than the width of the bar representing Evangelicals who went to “none”?

  3. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Bobby, I meant Evangelicals lose more to None than they gain from None (not more than they gain from all groups combined). Sorry for the ambiguity.

  4. bob says:

    ok so I am an accountant and that is one great chart. static info and movement all in one. So black protestants lose none to “none”, “Catholics”, or “mainline”. Interesting.

  5. Sean says:

    @Bob: I noticed that, too. What upbringing techniques are the “Black Protestant” group using? They seem to be pretty effective! (Although their evangelism numbers don’t look so good, according to the chart.)

    And, am I the only person who has never heard of black protestantism before? What is it, exactly?

  6. Randy Buist says:


    We’ve known this reality has existed for several decades, and yet it does nothing to help us rethink how we are being church. We continue to do the same thing and get the same results year after year after year.

    Yet, when Rob Bell and Doug Pagitt, Tony Campolo, among plenty of others, create the capacity to invoke the imaginations of young people for the sake of the kingdom, then there are plenty of dissidents among the evangelical pastoral ranks.

    Ironic, but plenty of missional minds didn’t need this study to know that the evangelical boat has a problem…

  7. renee says:

    Black protestantism, is our way of relating to protestantism as it was presented to us in slavery. We have different preaching styles, music, ways of dressing and celebrating some holidays and other rites of passage. Black protestantism is more like judism, because it is wholistic. Everyone grows up with some form of it that binds us together disallowing fro atheism, agnosticim etc. as an acceptable form of religous belief. So the answer to your question, is that blacks are discouraged from leaving black protestantism and there is generally no mechanism for us to become part of the none category.

  8. Skeeter says:

    Why stick around if ones faith is only superficial? If a person does not understand that they have broken God’s Commandments and that God’s wrath abides upon them they will not have a need to be saved. Their self-righteousness will be their Ticket to heaven. If we don’t minister with a redemptive purpose in mind the church will flounder with lack of conversion and flip-flop all over the place.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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