Megachurch pastor Craig Groeschel says he thinks the increase in the percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans, or "nones," over the last few decades has more to do with a growing resistance to certain religious labels than it does with a growing disbelief in God.
"Interestingly enough, though the number of those religiously unaffiliated is increasing, there is little to no trend in the number of those who express atheist or agnostic beliefs," he wrote in a recent article for FoxNews.com. "People aren't saying they don't believe in God. They're saying they don't believe in religion. They are not rejecting Christ. They are rejecting the church."
As the pastor of LifeChurch.tv, Groeschel says he is trying to push back against the negative connotations associated with certain labels.
For example, some people think churches are "all about money" and just want to take from those who attend. But LifeChurch.tv not only helps the poor and invests in local communities, but it has also given away more than 85 million YouVersion Bible Apps. The church also gave away more than three million other products (which were downloaded by more than 100,000 pastors and other leaders) at no cost last year.
"Peeling off the labels that cling to our reputation brings great freedom for us as individuals and as the global body of believers known as the Church," said Groeschel. "Only when we push past those artificial constraints can we truly become who God created us to be."
He also said religion can "only take a person so far," while true inner transformation is the result of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
"In order to become a new person, we need Christ," he wrote. "Only through an active ongoing relationship with Jesus can we become transformed and overcome the labels that bind us."
Groeschel's article refers to a report from University of California, Berkeley and Duke University sociologists that shows religious affiliation in the U.S. in 2012 was at its lowest point since the 1930s, when the statistic first began to be tracked.
"The decline in affiliation invites speculation that religious belief is also declining. The [General Social Survey] data on religious beliefs suggests otherwise," the report, which is based on a survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, states.
While 20 percent of Americans said they had no religious preference at all in 2012 (as compared to the eight percent who said the same in 1990), only three percent said they did not believe in God (as compared to the two percent who said the same in 1991).