The Pew Study Shows that Demography Is Destiny (or, Why UUism Must Change or Die)

So I’ve been listening to all of the talk about the Pew Religion Survey results with bemused exasperation. Because, as usual, the discussion misses the real news.

The real news….the growth of the “unaffiliated”/”nones” is racially/ethnically/culturally connected.

Yes…white Christianity (of all stripes) is on the decline. But so is the white proportion of the general population. Why is this news?

The Pew report shows that while there is a marked (statistically significant) decline in religious affiliation amongst white millennials and a corresponding rise in the number of nones/unaffiliated, there is not the same corresponding decline and rise amongst millennials of color.


If religious organizations that have been primarily white want to have any relevance going forward, those organizations must face the reality that demography is destiny. In other words, they must change or die.

UUism is not alone in this need for change, but it might be the most resistant to it.


4 thoughts on “The Pew Study Shows that Demography Is Destiny (or, Why UUism Must Change or Die)

  1. I’m pretty sure this will be perceived as a reason not to change. This comment about the Pew study turned up on an open Facebook group a few days ago: “I see this trend as good news for Unitarian Universalism, which offers a fact-based view of reality and an appreciation of diversity, as opposed to the faith-based beliefs and fear-based bigotries embraced by some versions of Christianity.”

    The levels of irony in that comment are far too deep for me to stare into without falling into despair.

  2. From the more detailed data available online, it’s pretty clear that the increase in the “none” demographic isn’t just due to whites leaving Christianity and other religions.

    Overall, the percentage of “nones” in the population went from 16.1% to 22.8%.

    However, this statistic doesn’t reflect changing demographics of the “none” group.

    Within the “none” group, whites declined from 73% in 2007 to 68% in 2014.

    Blacks went from 8% to 9% during the same time frame. Asians went from 4% to 5%. Other/mixed stayed the same at 4%. Latino went from 11% to 13%.

    This suggests that the same trend (whites declining in the general population) is also happening in the “none” group as well. There are several interactive tools to examine the “none” demographic online here:

    • I think you and I had this conversation the last time there was a Pew release.

      As I said then, I did not say that there was NO rise in PoC “nones”/”unaffiliated”, but even Pew points out that the change in PoC is not considered statistically significant.

      But as I said then, and I’ll say again now, the reason that so much anxiety has been attached to these numbers is because white churches are worried that little Johnny and little Emma are calling themselves “nones”, yet not paying attention to the fact that little Jamal and little Tasha and little Javier and little Marisol are saying that at a much lesser rate.

      If liberal religion wants to stay relevant, it’s time to actually deal with the reality on the ground instead of keeping heads in the sand.

  3. That isn’t what the full report says:

    Whites continue to be more likely than both blacks and Hispanics to identify as religiously unaffiliated; 24% of whites say they have no religion, compared with 20% of Hispanics and 18% of blacks. But the religiously unaffiliated have grown (and Christians have declined) as a
    share of the population within all three of these racial and ethnic groups.

    Source — America’s Changing Religious Landscape (page 14)

    The future problem for Unitarian Universalism is how does it market itself in a culture where the “none” group is growing in nearly every demographic group.

    If this trend continues in all demographic groups, the problem will be how to market religion in a society that sees no need for religion in the future.

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