The Continuing, Staggering Rise of the Nones

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Continuing, Staggering Rise of the Nones

In my latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, I charted the meteoric rise of this religious classification in the United States.

And it has been meteoric.

If you’re new to the conversation, here’s a précis:

A “none” is someone who says that they are religiously unaffiliated. When asked about their religion, they did not answer “Baptist” or “Catholic” or any other defined faith. They picked a different category:  “none.”

The number of “nones” in the 1930’s and 1940’s hovered around 5 percent. By 1990, that number had only risen to 8 percent, a mere 3% rise in over half-a-century. Between 1990 and 2008 – just 18 years – the number of “nones” leaped from 8.1 percent to 15 percent. Then, in just four short years, it climbed to 20 percent, representing one of every five Americans. 

Even more telling was the discovery in the National Study of Youth and Religion that a third of U.S. adults under the age of 30 don’t identify with a religion. 

All to say, the “nones” are currently the second-largest and fastest growing religious group in the United States and the only true national religious trend in our nation.

Caught up?

Get ready to buckle your seat belt.

According to the latest data from the first stage of the 2015 British Election Study, a survey of more than 20,000 people by a team of academics from Manchester, Oxford and Nottingham universities, the “nones” in the U.K. have risen from just 3% in 1963 to 44.7% today. 

Read that again:

Religious “nones” in the U.K. have gone from 3% to 44.7% in just five decades.

Among adults age 25 and under, it climbed to nearly two-thirds.

This. Is. A. Crisis.

Please, if you haven’t already, wake up. Understand the “nones,” and what it takes to reach them. If you haven’t already, get the book and read it. If you are a pastor of a church and genuinely can’t afford it, we’ll send you a copy for free.

Because this isn’t about royalties.

It’s about the future of the church.

And keep on the lookout for information on the Church and Culture Conferences debuting in the spring of 2015 in the U.S. and the U.K., designed to help the church answer the call to the evangelization and transformation of culture through the primacy of the church.

It’s time.

James Emery White



James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker).

“Exclusive: New figures reveal massive decline in religious affiliation,” Ruth Gledhill, Christian Today, Friday, October 17, 2014, read online.

“Religion Among American Hits Low Point, As More People Say They Have No Religious Affiliation: Report”, Katherine Bindley, The Huffington Post, March 13, 2012, read online; see also “Americans and religion increasingly parting ways, new survey shows,” Yasmin Anwar, March 12, 2013, UC Berkeley News Center, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Continuing, Staggering Rise of the Nones