Religiously Unaffiliated “Nones” Swell
to 1.1 Billion Worldwide, Study Says

Third-largest group behind Christians, Muslims, represents missional challenge, observers say.
(Posted January 17, 2013)

BY MARK A. KELLNER, news editor

Of the 7 billion people living on earth, an estimated 1.1 billion—or 16 percent of the total—are not religiously affiliated, a December 2012 study finds.

Relating the Christian gospel—and the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s message—to that population may become a missiological challenge. The “nones,” those without formal religious affiliation, may or may not know about such concepts as God and would require additional effort to evangelize.

MAN OF MISSION: Rick McEdward is director of the Global Mission Religious Study Centers for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He hopes to empower church members with resources to reach out to friends of other faiths and beliefs. [PHOTO: ANN]
The religious affiliation data comes from a demographic study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life of more than 230 countries and territories. The study finds more than eight in 10 people worldwide identify with a religious group. The report estimates there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84 percent of the world population.

Based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys, and population registers, the Pew study finds 2.2 billion Christians (32 percent of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23 percent), 1 billion Hindus (15 percent), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7 percent), and 14 million Jews (0.2 percent) around the world as of 2010. In addition, more than 400 million people, or 6 percent, practice various folk or traditional religions, including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions, and Australian aboriginal religions. An estimated 58 million people—slightly less than 1 percent of the global population—belong to other religions, including the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, and Zoroastrianism, to mention just a few.

At the same time, the new study also finds that roughly one in six people around the globe have no religious affiliation. This makes the unaffiliated the third-largest religious group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims, and about equal in size to the world’s Catholic population. Surveys indicate that many of the unaffiliated hold some religious or spiritual beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit) even though they do not identify with a particular faith.

The findings were contained in “The Global Religious Landscape: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010,” Pew said. This effort is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. n

                                                    —with information from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life

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