From Sunday Stalwarts to the Solidly Secular, the strange mix of American religious groups
Acton Institute Powerblog

From Sunday Stalwarts to the Solidly Secular, the strange mix of American religious groups

In America, we have a problem with religious labels: they no longer fit.

As a devout evangelical, I always cringe when I hear the label used—mostly for political purposes—to include a range of heretics, political grifters, and nominal Christians who haven’t been to church in decades. But I also tire of hearing the term “nones” used as a synonym for atheists. The reality is that most people in Western Europe consider themselves to be “Christians,” they are less religious than “nones” are in America.

We need new terms to describe our various religious groupings. Fortunately, the Pew Research Center has attempted to create just such a labeling structure.

A new Pew Research analysis looks at beliefs and behaviors that cut across many denominations producing a new and revealing classification, or typology, of religion in America. The new typology sorts Americans into seven groups based on the religious and spiritual beliefs they share, how actively they practice their faith, the value they place on their religion, and the other sources of meaning and fulfillment in their lives.

The groupings, from most to least religious, are:

Sunday Stalwarts — This is the most religious of the seven typology groups. Sunday Stalwarts attend religious services weekly (82 percent), pray daily (84 percent), and participate in church groups (100 percent). They are also the most likely to believe in God as described in the Bible (94 percent) and believe in heaven and hell (97 and 91 percent, respectively). They are mostly Republicans (59 percent).

God-and-Country ­­­— This group is comprised of believers who are less active in church groups or other religious organizations, but still hold many traditional religious beliefs and tilt right on social and political issues. About a quarter attend religious service (27 percent) but almost none participate in church groups (less than 1 percent). They mostly believe in God as described in the Bible (91 percent) and say that believing in God is necessary to be moral. They aren’t as likely as Sunday Stalwarts to find much meaning and fulfillment in their religious faith (only 67 percent say it provides them a “great deal” compared to 87 percent of Stalwarts). Oddly, almost 3 in 10 (29 percent) also hold some New Age beliefs. They are also mostly Republicans (59 percent).

Diversely Devout — This group is diverse both in demographics (a relatively large share are racial and ethnic minorities) and in their beliefs. This is the only group in which most people say they believe in God as described in the Bible (87 percent) and that they believe in psychics, reincarnation, and that spiritual energy can be located in physical things like mountains, trees, or crystals (95 percent). Only 12 percent of this group attend religious services weekly. They are split between Republicans (43 percent) and Democrats (49 percent).

Relaxed Religious — This group says they believe in the God of the Bible (68 percent), and almost four-in-ten (39 percent) pray daily. But relatively few attend religious services (17 percent) or participate in church groups (2 percent). Politically, they come the closest to being evenly split between Republicans (45 percent) and Democrats (52 percent).

Spiritually Awake — Almost all hold at least some New Age beliefs (99 percent) and believe in heaven (98 percent). But only half (50 percent) believe in God as described in the Bible and relatively few attend religious services on a weekly basis (8 percent). They are mostly Democrats (59 percent).

Religion Resisters — This group largely considers itself spiritual (68 percent) but not religious (3 percent). They don’t go to church (only 2 percent attend weekly) or participate in religious groups (2 percent). But they almost all hold at least some New Age beliefs (98 percent) and are the most likely group to find meaning and fulfillment in being outdoors and experiencing nature (64 percent). They are overwhelmingly Democrats (78 percent).

Solidly Secular — This is the least religious of the seven groups. These relatively affluent, highly educated U.S. adults—almost all white (79 percent) and male (65 percent)—tend to describe themselves as neither religious (3 percent) nor spiritual (22 percent). They don’t believe in either the God as described in the Bible (1 percent) or hold New Age beliefs (less than 1 percent). They are predominantly Democrats (71 percent).

Take the religious typology quiz to learn which of the types is your best match.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).