There Arose Another Generation: Learning from Atheistic and Agnostic Nones Who Have Left the Church

Cory L. Seibel

Central Baptist Church/Sioux Falls Seminary

First Published 17th February 2017


The second chapter of Judges describes a significant generational transition within the life of the Hebrew community. Under the leadership of Moses, this fledgling nation had covenanted together to impart to their children a vital awareness of what God had done for Israel and a commitment to live in obedience to God’s law. Moses charged them, in Deuteronomy 6:12, to “take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” However, by the moment in the nation’s history depicted in Judges chapter two, something had gone seriously awry and the intergenerational transmission of this legacy had been disrupted. This is captured poignantly in Judges 2:10: “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.”

In recent years, some observers have expressed fears that our society may be journeying through a period reminiscent of that critical moment in the history of the Hebrew people. A major factor that has enflamed these anxieties has been the widespread media attention given to the growing number of Nones within North American society. The category of Nones is comprised of those individuals who have chosen to respond to the religious affiliation questions on census forms and other demographic surveys by answering “none of the above.” When the Pew Forum released the results of its multi-year study of religious life in the United States in 2012, many were shocked to discover that nearly 20 percent of the population chose to identify as belonging to this category.[1] This percentage reflected a pronounced increase from 7 percent in 1990 and 15 percent in 2008.[2]

What was the greatest cause of alarm for many, however, was the discovery that, among members of the emerging Millennial generation, the growth of the None phenomenon was considerably more pronounced. In the 2012 Pew Forum study, nearly a full third (31 percent, to be precise) of eighteen to twenty-nine year olds described themselves as “unaffiliated” with any religion. The number of Millennial Nones in the US has since been reported as being closer to 35 percent.[3] This stands in stark contrast to the 11 percent of American senior adults who identify as belonging to this category.  As Cathy Lynn Grossman summarized in her July 2012 Religion News Service article, Nones are “disproportionately young, often single, and highly educated.”[4] While the rise of the Nones is not merely a generation-specific phenomenon, there is clearly a discernable generational trend afoot.

As we turn our attention to the Canadian context, we find that a similar picture emerges. Studies examining the religious identity of young Canadians reveal that, in 2008, 32 percent of teens identified as Nones, a dramatic increase from 12 percent in 1984. By 2012, this figure had shown little change, with 33 percent of teens identifying themselves as Nones. Thus, despite perceptions that Canadian society is in a more advanced state of post-Christendom than the US, the numbers of young people who identify as Nones in both countries are nearly identical.[5]

A considerable amount of confusion and debate has surrounded the rise of the Nones. Within the Christian blogosphere, many commentators have struck an alarmist tone. Other observers suggest that this phenomenon is really nothing about which to be worried. This sentiment is reflected clearly in the title of Kaya Oakes’ recent book, The Nones Are Alright.[6] While a growing body of sociological analyses has helped to provide us with a clearer understanding of this segment of the population, for many of us significant questions remain. Who are these Nones, really? Where do they stand on matters of belief? Have significant numbers of the emerging generation simply chosen to turn their back on God, walk away from faith, and become atheistic or agnostic “nonbelievers”? Has the church somehow failed in transmitting a vital embrace of faith to the members of this generation? Some fear that we are, in essence, witnessing the repeat of Judges 2:10, the rise of “another generation who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done.” But are these anxieties warranted? Do they reflect reality?

A Closer Look at the Numbers

In his recent book, Generational IQ, Haydn Shaw suggests it is understandable that people of faith are prone to react strongly when they learn of troublesome trends among rising generations. The percentages reported in studies like those referenced above are not merely abstract figures. As Shaw expresses, they actually represent “our children, our friends,” and those who have been raised within our churches.[7] Nonetheless, notes Shaw, it will be helpful for us “to find a more accurate picture” to determine whether things are truly “as bad as we have heard.”[8]

If we pause to consider the emergence of the Nones in light of its historical development, we can appreciate how this category has come to be understood as being synonymous with atheism and agnosticism. Looking back to the 1930s and 1940s, an era in which there was considerable social pressure to conform to traditional patterns of religious affiliation, we can see that a mere five percent of the American population claimed to be Nones. At that time, this group was in fact composed predominantly of atheists and agnostics, those who were committed enough to their posture of non-belief to be willing to buck the conventional expectations of the day.[9] So, yes, at one point in history it would have been fairly accurate to conflate this term with “atheist” and “agnostic.”

However, over the last several decades, North American society has journeyed through the progressive disestablishment of civil religion and has become increasingly post-Christian in character. As a result, we have witnessed the removal of the singular “sacred canopy,” something which Peter Berger predicted in 1967.[10] In turn, suggests Joel Thiessen, the “widespread pluralism and diversity found in many late modern democratic societies, especially in Canada,” has helped to foster a growing acceptance of those who choose not to affiliate with traditional religious labels.[11] Because of these changes, the cultural milieu in which the members of the Millennial generation have been raised afford them greater freedom to identify as Nones, if they choose to do so, for a host of reasons other than being avowed atheists or uncertain agnostics. As Shaw notes, “Today more people feel comfortable saying they aren’t Christian,” or anything else for that matter.[12]

That being said, we have not yet tackled the central questions that were raised above and, thus, we must return to them now. Does all of this data about the growth of the Nones mean that significant numbers of the emerging generation have simply chosen to turn their backs on God and become atheistic or agnostic “nonbelievers”? Thiessen offers a straightforward answer to this question: “[I]dentifying as a religious none does not mean that one is an atheist or agnostic.”[13] As Christian Smith explains, “The category ‘not religious’ can include a variety of kinds of people.”[14] Thus, in the National Study on Youth and Religion that Smith conducted among American Millennials a decade ago, he sought to explore these differences by asking “teens who identified themselves as not religious whether they considered themselves atheists, agnostics, just not religious, or something else.”[15] This study revealed that only eight percent of nonreligious American teens (1.4 percent of all teens) considered themselves atheists. A virtually identical number considered themselves agnostics. This was a slightly higher proportion than the number of American adults (about 2 percent) who identified explicitly as atheist or agnostic.

A few years later, Smith returned to an examination of the religious identity of American Millennials during their young adult years. He chose to describe some of these young people as “irreligious.” According to Smith, those belonging to this category “were raised in nonreligious families or are ex-believers of some faith in which they were raised; emerging adults who identify as atheists or agnostics generally fall into this type.”[16] Smith notes that this category remains quite modest in size. As he expresses, “Irreligious emerging adults are small in number, comprising no more than 10 percent of the whole.”[17]

Based on his analysis of the evidence, Thiessen concludes that roughly one-fifth of American Nones are atheists. However, he reports that, in the Canadian context, roughly half of all adults and teens who claim to have no religious affiliation identify as atheists.[18] This assertion is consistent with the findings of Reginald Bibby. According to Bibby, while adult levels of belief have remained fairly steady, the proportion of teenagers who said they “definitely” believe in God dropped from 54 percent in the 1980s to 41 percent among Millennial youth in 2008. [19] Bibby concludes that there has been a discernable, “ongoing intergenerational shift” taking place, one that entails a progression “from tentatitiveness to agnosticism, and from agnosticism to atheism” among Canadian young people.

In reality, gaining an accurate picture of the number of Nones within the ranks of the Millennial generation is not an altogether simple or straightforward task. Kaya Oakes confesses that, when she set out to interview Millennial Nones across the US, she “expected that atheists would appear en masse.”[20] With time she came to discover that self-described atheists “were in the minority of those who responded to [her] queries.” However, she notes, the data does not tell the whole story. “In fact,” she says, “more people described themselves as not believing in God or a ‘universal spirit’ than describe themselves as atheists.”

This reflects the reality that, just as some Nones espouse belief but choose to avoid being defined by traditional religious labels, others have embraced unbelief, but are equally averse to being labeled. Smith’s research validates this claim. As he notes in his study of Millennial teens, “More than half (54 percent) of nonreligious teens do not accept those labels, but consider themselves ‘just not religious.’”[21] Along these same lines, Gallup has found that, when alternatives to yes or no are provided for the question “Do you believe in God,” the proportion of those who identify as non-believers increases.[22]

Oakes proposes that this resistance to the “atheist” label is attributable, in part, to the fact that “atheism today has a public image problem,” the result of a “new and particularly zealous form of fundamentalism—an atheist fundamentalism” that has been championed by prominent figures like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.[23] Similarly, Thiessen suggests that some people choose not to self-identify as atheists because they are reluctant to be associated with these “fundamentalist atheists (or ‘new atheists’).”[24] As a result, many such individuals describe themselves as “humanist or secular or skeptical or agnostic.” In summary, notes Thiessen, due to the lingering social stigma attached to the term “‘atheist,’ the actual atheist population could be slightly larger than the survey figures suggest,” but “not as large as the religious none population as a whole.”[25]

Prominent American Atheist Dan Barker has sought to seize upon the growing number of Nones in the United States as evidence that “nonbelievers” are now the second largest “denomination” in the country.[26] In truth, as we have just seen, the data simply does not support this claim. Studies have consistently demonstrated that a significant percentage of Nones “are either ‘fairly certain’ or ‘absolutely certain’ that God exists.”[27] Many of these describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious,” but also believe “that belonging to an organized religion is ‘not at all important.’” Meanwhile, only a modest percentage—Thiessen places this number at 12 percent—“Strongly disagree that God exists.”[28]

Is This a Real Issue?

Based upon the evidence, in answer to the question of whether our moment in history bears any meaningful similarity to the generational shift we see described in Judges 2:10, we must conclude that this is obviously an exaggerated comparison. At the same time, there is evidence to suggest that the numbers of atheists and agnostics has grown within the ranks of the Millennial generation, especially in the Canadian context—an intergenerational shift, as Bibby has expressed.[29] As he characterizes it, growing numbers of Canadians are living life “beyond the gods.”[30] But where does the church factor into this trend? To what extent do these young atheists and agnostics represent the church’s failure to transmit a vital faith to the next generation?

The Longitudinal Study of Generations conducted by Vern Bengston and his colleagues at the University of Southern California revealed that “nearly 6 out of 10 unaffiliated young adults come from families where their parents were also unaffiliated,” which he sees as indicating that many Millennial non-believers are in fact the products of the transmission of nonreligion “from one generation to the next.”[31] In other words, the parents of these young adults were themselves “nonbelievers.” If this is so, does it mean that the church is largely off the hook?

As several different studies reveal, a number of Millennials who have chosen to identify as Nones were in fact raised within Christian churches, but have chosen to leave the faith of their childhood behind. In fact, according to Pew’s research, the chief way the category of Nones has grown is by “switchers,” those who were raised within a religious tradition, yet who have chosen to “switch” to religiously unaffiliated.[32] Larry Alex Taunton reports that, in a nationwide study of atheists on American college campuses, most interviewees “had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity.”[33] Their background is in the church.

In his book, You Lost Me, David Kinneman suggests that many among today’s young “drop-outs” are journeying through a period of spiritual-but-not-religious “nomadism.”[34] In fact, suggests Kinneman, these “nomads” are far more common than atheistic or agnostic “prodigals,” as he calls them—roughly four times more common.[35]  As he expresses,  “Only 11 percent of young adults say that they grew up as a Christian but have deconverted entirely or converted to another faith…All things considered, a young Christian has about 1:9 odds of losing his or her faith entirely.”

With this group constituting such a small proportion of the overall None population, perhaps we might be tempted to conclude that they are mere statistical outliers, more deserving of being dismissed than discussed. Perhaps there is no story here, no true reason for concern. Reflecting upon the American context, however, Kinneman suggests that, “While this is a rare outcome, it is a very high number when you think about the estimated five million eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-old ex-Christians encompassed by this statistic.”[36] Thus, observes Kinneman, “From the perspective of many Christians, prodigals are the more acute problem—and in one sense, that’s true.”

Indeed, not unlike the Hebrew people of old, Christian congregations desire to see the children and youth who grow up under their care have a vital encounter with faith, to choose to embrace this faith as their own, and to develop a sense of personal identity that becomes rooted deeply in this faith. Many churches invest considerable resources and energy in striving to encourage these sorts of outcomes in the lives of their children and youth.

Carol Lytch observes that, in the face of congregations’ efforts, the stances taken by individuals toward the faith traditions in which they were raised can fall into one of three camps:

  1. Those who wholly adopt their religious tradition, some of whom do so only after wrestling deeply with this tradition or following a period of rejecting it.
  2. Those who participate in their religious tradition, yet for whom it does not constitute an important part of their lives.
  3. Those who have rejected their religious tradition or who were not well enough socialized into it to have a basis on which to accept or reject it.[37]

So, what has happened in the cases of those who were raised within the church, but who have chosen to reject its faith? Or, as someone from within the church might phrase the question, what “went wrong” in these cases?

What Can We Learn?

Within the church, we might deem those who have categorically rejected faith (or suspended it, in the case of some agnostics) to be “extreme” cases. How could individuals who were brought up within the nurturing environment of the church choose to disavow theistic belief altogether? In truth, if we are open to their stories, we will surely find their experiences very informative. Their insights might even influence the way that we seek to form rising generations in the faith in the present and the future. Though space does not permit us to explore this fully, we will devote this final section to briefly considering a few key things that the church can learn from their varied experiences.

As was mentioned above, Kinneman describes agnostic and atheistic Nones who have left the faith as “prodigals.” He provides the following summary of those whom he sees as fitting into this category:

Prodigals’ views of Christians and churches are all over the map, largely dependent on how positive or negative their experiences were. Many prodigals are quite nuanced and logical in their reasons for disengagement. Most are more defined by and committed to their distance from Christianity than they are to their current spiritual perspectives. In other words, one of the identity-shaping characteristics of prodigals is that they say they are no longer Christian.[38]

What so many of these prodigals have in common, notes Kinneman, is that their “negative experiences with Christianity run deep.”

In his research, Kinneman identified two primary types of prodigals, which he categorizes as “head-driven prodigals” and “heart-driven prodigals.” Kinneman describes “head-driven prodigals” as

those who come to a point where Christianity is intellectually untenable. We might call them ‘head-driven prodigals,’ because their reasons for abandoning the faith are rational and, many times, well-reasoned—even if many of them also feel hurt by their church experiences. The ‘heart-driven prodigal,’ on the other hand,….are young people whose faith burns out in an extreme fashion, usually as a result of deep wounds, frustration, or anger, or of their own desire to live life outside the bounds of the Christian faith. They express their rejection of childhood Christianity in emotionally strong terms and may feel bitterness or resentment for many years after leaving the fold. Frequently head-driven prodigals define themselves by their new faith choices, while heart-driven prodigals focus on their denunciation of Christianity.[39]

Of course, “head-driven” and “heart-driven” prodigals are not pure categories. Says Kinneman, “As you might expect, may prodigals maintain a mix of head- and hear-driven factors that led them away from faith.”[40] Similarly, Taunton notes that, among the students he was involved in interviewing, the decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one: “With few exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons. But as we listened it because clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well.”[41]

This being said, many of those who have chosen to leave the faith were clearly motivated to do so, in part, for what they see as intellectual reasons. Indeed, three of the six reasons the Barna Group gives in their book Churchless for why Millennial Christians are leaving their churches are intellectual: Christianity is too shallow for them, churches seem antagonistic to science, and the exclusivity of Christianity is off-putting.[42]

Drew Dyck, author of Generation Ex-Christian, suggests that some Millennials who have left the church “love linear thinking, objective truth, and the Western tradition of rational thought.”[43] Many of these bright-minded young adults, he notes, “have been turned off by people with poor answers to their most vexing questions.”[44] He continues,

One study on deconversion found that ‘the most frequently mentioned role of Christians in deconversion was in amplifying doubt.’ How did Christians manage to ‘amplify existing doubt’? The study found that deconverts reported ‘sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers.’ The outcome was predictable. ‘These answers, in turn, moved them further away from Christianity.’[45]

One lesson that we can learn from the experience of those who have walked away from the faith is that one’s doubts can either be “exacerbated,” as Oates suggests, “or soothed by community, listening, an honest response to questions, and care.”[46] Sadly, too many of the young adults being described here did not experience the church as a safe or helpful place in which they could process their questions and doubts sincerely. Ultimately, they walked away in disillusionment.

Dyck insists that, when young people raise questions or express uncertainties, “We don’t have to have all the answers.” Instead, what matters is that we take care to “validate the questions” young people are asking and that we model a concern for truth.[47] Shaw echoes this perspective. He notes that, when our children and youth express doubts, our first inclination is to attempt “to fix them—to find some technique that can pry their brains open while we shove our faith in.”[48] However, he urges us to relax and provide opportunities for young people to “think out loud” together with us.[49] Furthermore, he encourages us “to be vulnerable about [our] own struggles in faith.”[50] As Shaw suggests, “We don’t protect our young people’s faith by thinking they can’t handle difficult intellectual challenges. We protect them by helping them think through the challenges.”[51]

Doubt, asserts Kaya Oakes, is an issue with which every believer will grapple at some point: “For some, it will last decades. For others, it will cycle through their lives like a chronic illness.”[52] Indeed, she insists, some questions “will last a lifetime and will never be answered in a language that makes sense. One learns to negotiate them enough to stay in the church….or is just going…going…gone.”[53] Available adults have a role to play in helping young people learn to negotiate their doubts and to stay connected to their faith. What would it take for the church to become a place where youth could be afforded the sort of safe space that they truly need to wrestle honestly with their questions and doubts?

A second observation that can be made from the experience of these young prodigals is that their encounter with superficiality within the church contributed to their movement away from God. Taunton notes several themes that were voiced by the college-aged atheists that were interviewed in his study: 1) the mission and message of their churches was vague and 2) their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions. These same students expressed respect for those ministers who had taken the Bible seriously.[54] Clearly, these young people desired something more substantive from their church experience, but saw those desires go unmet.

Reflecting upon the concept of Moralistic Theistic Deism, the term coined by Christian Smith to describe the version of Christian belief he found among many Millennial youth and young adults, Shaw suggests that many Millennials have essentially rejected a version of Christianity that’s been “hacked—it’s not the real thing.”[55] What is troubling, however, is that they overwhelmingly claim to have learned this version of Christianity from their parents and other key adults. “What they think of as Christianity is lame,” he says.[56] This raises significant questions about how we envision what it means to form young people in the faith.[57] What are we modeling for them? What are we striving to impart to them? How do we provide for those who are ready to engage with the faith on a more substantive level?

A third brief insight we can gain is that the faith community has a powerful role to play in the lives of young people. This is evidenced in the way that hurt and disappointment experienced by some young people in the context of the Christian community has contributed to their loss of faith. However, it also is demonstrated by the accounts of many young atheists who have left the faith. Kaya Oakes notes that, “Even after departing organized religion, many nonbelievers miss what was good about it….community was foremost, followed by ritual or some sort of repeated set of actions, and often a sense of social engagement.”[58] This is a profoundly significant point. It raises big questions about how we envision the role of the faith community in nurturing and supporting young people during their crucial adolescent years. Recently, there has been a growing chorus of authors emphasizing the crucial role of the whole church in forming young people in the faith.[59] How can we move beyond the all-too-common “siloed” approaches to youth ministry and provide young people with the opportunity to participate more holistically in the life of the local church?

One final observation to be noted here is that faith formation is a time-sensitive matter. Taunton reports that the formative years of ages of fourteen-to-seventeen were decisive in the lives of the college-aged atheists that were interviewed in his study.[60] It was during these years that they decided to embrace unbelief. Similarly, Thom and Sam Rainer found that most dropouts “leave the church between the ages of seventeen and nineteen.”[61] Interestingly, this aligns closely with what John H. Westerhoff III says in his classic book, Will Our Children Have Faith?[62] According to Westerhoff, during the adolescent years, faith development occurs through affiliation (having the opportunity to participate and develop a sense of belonging) and searching (having the opportunity to grapple with one’s questions and uncertainties). These are the very issues that come to the forefront in the experiences of the atheistic and agnostic young adults being considered here: how their posture toward belief has been influenced through their experience of affiliation with the church and the sort of space they were given for their searching. This invites us to consider the intentionality with which we are attending to these developmental dynamics in the lives of adolescents. When we consider what is at stake, can we afford to be less-than-intentional in how we walk with young people through their crucial adolescent years?



At this point, it is hard to say what will become of today’s Millennial atheists and agnostics who no longer identify with the Christian faith. Kinneman’s choice to describe them as “prodigals,” a term rooted in biblical imagery, reflects his hope that they will one day return home.[63] Similarly, Oakes suggests that though “many of us walk away….faith is a tidal motion, an ebb and surge a push and a pull.”[64] So, we can hold out hope that, in the lives of these individuals, the story of belief and unbelief is still being written.

However, the story of future generations certainly has yet to be written. In Deuteronomy 6:20, Moses charges the people of the Hebrew community to be prepared when, in the future, their children would ask them about the meaning of what “the Lord our God has commanded you.” As we listen closely to the experiences of young atheists and agnostics today, we are provided an opportunity to learn some truly important things that may enable us to become more prepared to entertain the difficult questions raised by future generations with appropriate sincerity and care. And we can hope that they will choose to embrace the faith we endeavour to impart to them as their own, to be generations that truly knows the Lord and what the Lord has done for us.



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[1] Pew Research Center, “Nones on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, October 9, 2012), 9-10.

[2] Pew Research Center, “Event Transcript: Religion Trends in the US,” last modified August 19, 2013,

[3] Pew Research Center. America’s Changing Religious Landscape: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, May 12, 2015), 12-13.

[4] Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Survey finds record 19 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans,” Religion News Service, July 20, 2012.

 [5] These figures, drawn from several different studies, were reported by Reginald Bibby during his Youth, Religion, and Identity workshop, entitled “So You Think You Are Religious, Or Spiritual But Not Religious: So What?,” (Presented at the University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, October 18-20, 2014). Bibby reports that, surprisingly, here in Alberta, nearly half of teens in 2012 (49%) placed themselves in this category.

[6] Kaya Oakes, The Nones Are Alright: A New Generation of Believers, Seekers, and Those in Between (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015). In her book, Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), Linda A. Mercadate also adopts an appreciative posture toward the religious lives of Nones. Conversely, Lillian Daniel provides insight into her perspective toward Nones in entitling her book on the subject, When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church (Nashville: Jericho Books, 2014).

[7] Haydn Shaw, Generational IQ (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), 6.

[8] Shaw, Generational IQ, 179.

[9] Katherine Bindley, “Religion among Americans Hits Low Point, as ore People Say They Have No Religious Affiliation: Report,” Huffington Post Religion, March 13, 2013,

[10] Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City, NY: Doubleday).

[11] Joel Thiessen, The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015), 97.

[12] Shaw, Generational IQ, 185.

[13][13] Thiessen, The Meaning of Sunday, 96. Similarly, Shaw asserts that “most Nones are not atheists, although I’ve seen blogs misrepresent them that way” (Generational IQ, 185).

[14] Christian Smith & Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 86.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Christian Smith & Patricia Snell, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 168.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Thiessen, The Meaning of Sunday, 96. In reflecting upon the Canadian situation, Thiessen draws upon data reported by Reginald Bibby in his 2011 report, Beyond the God’s and Back: Religion’s Demise and Rise and Why It Matters (Lethbridge, AB: Project Canada Books).

[19] Reginald W. Bibby, The Emerging Millennials: How Canada’s Newest Generation is Responding to Change and Choice (Lethbridge, AB: Project Canada Books, 2009), 169.

[20] Oakes, The Nones are Alright, 17.

[21] Smith & Denton, Soul Searching, 86.

[22] Frank Newport, “More than 9 in 10 Americans Continue to Believe in God,” Gallup, June 3, 2011,

[23] Oakes, The Nones are Alright, 17-18.

[24] Ibid., 97.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Freedom From Religion Foundation, “Nonbelievers Second Largest ‘Denonination’ in Nation: ‘Nones’ climb to 19%,” last updated July 20, 2012,

[27] Oakes, The Nones are Alright, 4; cf. Thiessen, The Meaning of Sunday, 96.

[28] Thiessen, The meaning of Sunday, 96.

[29] Smith and Denton note that, in the NSYR, they “asked the 3 percent of U.S. teens who reported that they do not believe in God whether they ever once in their lives had believed in God. Sixty-six percent of them said that at one time they had believed in God; 31 percent (fewer than one-half of 1 percent of all American teens) say they never in their lives believed in God. Most of the very few teenage atheists thus at one point in their lives lost a previous faith they had held in God” (Soul Searching, 87).

[30] Reginald W. Bibby, Beyond the Gods and Back: Religion’s Demise and Rise and Why It Matters (Lethbridge, AB: Prospect Canada Books, 2011), 51-52. Bibby says that the emerging trend within the Canadian context is less one of secularization or revitalization, and more one of “polarization.” He suggests that the size of the “ambivalent middle” is shrinking as an increasing polarization develops between weekly attenders and “nevers,” affiliates and non-affiliates, theists and atheists.

[31] Vern. L. Bengston, Norella M. Putney & Susan Harris, Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 152.

[32] Grossman, “Survey finds record 19 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans.”

[33] Larry Alex Taunton, “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 6, 2013,

[34] David Kinnaman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 68. Shaw notes that, “at some point in their lives, one in three Americans leaves Christianity” (Generational IQ, 139); he also observes that this pattern “has existed during emerging adulthood for forty years” (143).

[35] Kinneman defines prodigals as “young people who leave their childhood or teen faith entirely. This includes those who deconvert (including atheists, agnostics, and ‘nones,’ those who say they have no religious affiliation) and those who switch to another faith. For the sake of simplicity, I refer to both as prodigals” (You Lost Me, 66).

[36] Kinneman, You Lost Me, 68.

[37] Carol Lytch, Choosing Church: What Makes a Difference for Teens (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 10-11.

[38] Kinneman, You Lost Me, 66. In his analysis of the Millennials who fit into this category, Kinneman offers a summary of the “the prodigal mindset,” which includes the following characteristics: They feel varying levels of resentment toward Christians and Christianity. Many still have positive things to say about specific people (e.g., their parents), but the overall tenor of their perceptions is negative. They have disavowed returning to the church. They feel deeply wounded by their church experience and do not plan to ever go back. They have moved on from Christianity. Prodigals describe themselves as ‘over’ Christianity. In leaving faith behind, they feel as if they have broken out of constraints (68-69).

[39] Kinneman, You Lost Me, 67.

[40] Ibid., 68.

[41] Taunton, Listening to Young Atheists.

[42] George Barna & David Kinneman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2014).

[43] Drew Dyck, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith…And How to Bring Them Back (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010), 74.

[44] Ibid., 101.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Oakes, The Nones are Alright, 104.

[47] Dyck, Generation Ex-Christian, 101.

[48] Shaw, Generational IQ, 144.

[49] Ibid., 150.

[50] Ibid., 149.

[51] Ibid., 214.

[52] Oakes, The Nones are Alright, 104.

[53] Ibid., 106.

[54] Taunton, Listening to Young Atheists.

[55] Shaw, Generational IQ, 107.

[56] Ibid., 109. Interestingly, according to Reginald Bibby, the atheistic apple apparently does not fall far from the tree. To describe the version of unbelief that he sees many Millennials espousing, he has adopted the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Atheism” (The Emerging Millennials, 183).

[57] I would recommend Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) as a helpful resources to explore to this question further.

[58] Oakes, The Nones are Alright, 34.

[59] For the reader desiring to explore this point further, I would recommend Kara E. Powell, Brad M. Griffin, & Cheryl A. Crawford, Sticky Faith: Youth Worker Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011) as a good place to start. Some other resources that would be helpful include the following: Mel Walker, Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church (Traverse City, MI: Overboard Ministries, 2013); Jeff Baxter, Together: Adults and Teenagers Transforming the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010); Thomas E. Bergler, From Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014); Charles R. Foster, From Generation to Generation: The Adaptive Challenge of Mainline Protestant Education in Forming Faith (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012).

[60] Taunton, Listening to Young Atheists.

[61] Thom Rainer & Sam S. Rainer III, Essential Church? Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2008), 15.

[62] John H. Westerhoff III, Will Our Children Have Faith? Third Revised Edition (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2012), 94-97.

[63] Kinneman, You Lost Me, 66-67.

[64] Oates, The Nones are Alright, 4.