The most rapidly growing religiously identifiable group in the United States, according to Gallup Polls, is not the pentecostal or evangelical sects but the non-affiliated. Those who claim "no religious affiliation" have grown from 2% of the population in the early 1950s to 9% in 1990 and to 11% in just two more years. Studies conducted by sociologist Wade Clark Roof, indicate that only 12% of the mainline church dropouts have joined more conservative protestant churches while 44% percent of them now have no religious affiliation.
The conservative churches do not have a much better record than the mainline churches when it comes to holding the loyalty of their young people. In Roof’s survey, 36% percent of the people who grew up in conservative churches currently have no religious affiliation.
According to Roof, these people who have dropped out of church "are perhaps better described as privately religious than as irreligious or anti-religious." In other words, this rapidly growing secular constituency is made up of people who have religious interests and longings but who cannot accept the demands and dogmas they associate with Christianity.
The people the Center’s programs will target include those who think of themselves as agnostic or skeptical or dubious — questioning people who cannot accept church doctrines when it is presented as absolute, beyond discussion, or exempt from multiple interpretations and cannot accept miracles as historical events. Many are like the person U.S. Representative Amory Houghton described as one "who recoils at churchy gibberish, uses the Bible as a bookend, gags at the sanctimonious, squirms during the Creed–in other words thinks the church is a waste of time."
The Center’s work also targets those who are repelled by claims of Christian exclusivity. Dean Hoge, Benton Johnson, and Donald Luidens, in their book Vanishing Boundaries: The Religion of Mainline Protestant Baby Boomers, concluded that a majority of the baby boomers who have left the church "do not think that Christianity is more true than other religions."
The Center’s work may also meet the religious interests of those who:
- have met rejection, betrayal, or abuse at the hands of the church,
- have favored individualistic routines over false community,
- live unexamined lives, or
- have not previously made a meaningful connection between the church and their daily lives.