Barna Group has released its 2015 study on the state of atheism in America, and has revealed that one in four unchurched adults in the country now identify as atheists or agnostics. The study also found that rejection of the Bible and lack of trust in the church are two main reasons why people are turning away from faith.
The study was focused on those who have not attended church within the past six months, and found that the majority of such people identify as non-practicing Christians. One in four, or 25 percent, however, were classed as skeptics, which Barna defines as people who "either do not believe God exists (atheists) or are not sure God exists, but are open to the possibility (agnostics)."
Of that number, nearly one-third said that they have never attended a Christian church service in their lives.
Barna found that the three main reasons people decide not to believe in God stem from rejection of the Bible; lack of trust in the local church; and the "cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview."
"Skeptics dismiss the idea that the Bible is Holy or supernatural in any way. Two-thirds contend that it is simply a book of well-known stories and advice, written by humans and containing the same degree of authority and wisdom as any other self-help book," the report said.
It added that the other one-third believe that the Bible is either a historical document that contains "the unique but not God-inspired accounts of events that happened in the past," or do not really know what to make of the Bible.
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, said: "The data show that some cities — and younger generations — are more Gospel-resistant than others. It is increasingly common among millennials to dismiss religion, God, churches, authority and tradition. For years, some observers have claimed colleges and universities are a breeding ground for anti-God sentiment. The data does lend support to the notion that college campuses are comfortable places for young people to abandon God and assume control of their own lives."
The group explained that today's skeptics, much like their counterparts two decades ago, are defined by their denial and doubts about God's existence. Their demographics have been changing considerably, however.
As other studies have also found, younger people are more likely to be skeptics than older people. Barna says that today, 34 percent of all skeptics are younger than 30.
The statistics also showed that half of all skeptics have a college degree, and that many more women today are joining their ranks — only 16 percent of skeptics in 1993 were women, but by 2013 that number grew to 43 percent.
Kinnaman added in his statement: "Figuring out how to effectively engage skeptics is difficult. One of the unexpected results we uncovered is the limited influence of personal relationships on skeptics. They are considerably less relational and less engaged in social activities than the average American. Christians for whom 'ministry is about relationships' may be disappointed when they find that many skeptics are not as enamored of relational bonds as are those who are already a part of church life."
"But in giving his followers the Great Commission, Jesus didn't mention anything about doing what is easy. New levels of courage and clarity will be required to connect beyond the Christianized majority."
Barna reached out to 23,000 churched and unchurched adults for the study, and found that for each survey of 1,000 people, the estimated maximum sampling error was plus or minus 3.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
Other polls, such as the 2014 General Social Survey conducted by NORC and the University of Chicago, which was released in March, also found that the number of Americans leaving organized religion is at a record high, at 21 percent.
The survey reported, however, that only 3 percent of the respondents to its poll are atheist, while 5 percent identified as agnostic, which is a notably lower number than Barna's statistics.