Christianity is currently the majority religion in the United States, but it's not on track to stay that way. CBS News reports on a new study by Pew Research Center and the General Social Survey that examines various scenarios of religious "switching" over the next few decades, and in all cases, it's not good news for the Christian faith: Depending on which switching scenario plays out, "people who identify as atheist, agnostic or 'nothing in particular' could become America's largest (non)religious group within our lifetime," driven by young people defecting from their faith, per Pew researcher Stephanie Kramer. The report notes that in 1990, 90% or so of Americans identified as Christian—a number that dropped to 64% by 2020. On the flip side, those who don't consider themselves affiliated with any religion saw their percentage rise from 16% in 2007 to 30% in 2020.
The researchers looked at four scenarios of switching, with that switching either staying the same compared to current rates, speeding up, or stopping entirely. In all four scenarios, the number of those who don't consider themselves part of any religion will approach or surpass those who identify as Christian by 2070, according to Pew researchers. The report stresses that these are just some of the possibilities, and none is a definite. It also doesn't examine the reasons for a shift away from Christianity, but NPR looks at a couple of theories. "Some scholars say that it's just an inevitable consequence of development for societies to secularize," Kramer tells the outlet. "Once there are strong secular institutions, once people's basic needs are met, there's less need for religion." Others point to a conflict between their church's teachings and their own beliefs or identity.
"For me, especially, when I started to come out as queer, it became impossible for me to reconcile this church that was basically admitting that they wanted kids like me dead or suicidal," says Eliza Campbell, who two years ago left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "I decided I had to choose myself and choose my well-being." There's also the possibility that Christianity could end up on the rise if major events take place—such as with the rise of authoritarianism, climate change, migration, or war—but current switching patterns don't bear out such a scenario. As for how these changes will affect the country overall, Pew doesn't get into specific speculation, but it notes "the decline of Christianity and the rise of the 'nones' may have complex causes and far-reaching consequences for politics, family life, and civil society." (Read more Christianity stories.)