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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -
A new study from the Pew Forum found about one-in-six people around the world have no religious affiliation. That's about 1.1 billion people.
"People who have a deep robust faith are not giving up on faith. They're not the ones in the study who are running from Church" says Dr. James Howell of Myers Park United Methodist Church, who believes the number is under-reported. "It's the people who dabble. They're the ones who are exiting".
The new findings make those who are unaffiliated part of the third-largest religious group, just behind Christians and Muslims. Or, about equal to the size of the world's Catholic population.
Results from the survey did show many who are unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs - they simply do not identify with a particular faith.
WBTV asked religious leaders why? Why is church becoming less appealing to more and more people?
Dr. Howell says "our media culture doesn't exactly foster a humble belief in God. Our consumer society doesn't exactly say you should make sacrifices and serve".
Bishop Martin Wilson of Unity Fellowship Alliance says "to me it really says the leadership of Church is doing a poor job".
Bishop Wilson, who works with Pastors, believes people are drifting away because "they're looking for a spiritual experience but when they come to Church they're actually just finding a program. They're finding something that just very program. I can sit at home and know what they're doing."
At St. Gabriel Catholic Church, as Father Frank O'Rourke prepared for Christmas Eve Masses, he said the "lack of credibility of believers. At times the lack of credibility of the Church in living the message. I think that creates an environment for people to disengage from Church."
Father O'Rourke adds the study shows "there's opportunity for us to invite them into exploring and discovering faith as we understand it and we too might be able to learn from them".
Bishop Wilson says Pastors can learn from the study and should pay attention to the results.
"They're people who are outside and they're not coming to your church. What is it you can do to reach out to them?"
Religious leaders say there is a purpose for Church in people's lives.
"If you're spiritual out there on your own who's going to challenge you to grow and to stretch, to be better than you were. Who's going to challenge your biases?" says Dr. Howell.
For Father O'Rourke, reaching the unaffiliated means living a life of example. "St Matthew's Gospel says as Jesus speaking says "let your light shine so that others may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father".
Dr Howell agrees. "When people see other people and it really matters to them, and it really helps them in a crisis - it gives them purpose in their lives. It gives them joy in their lives and they're able to weather a crisis. They're able to be good, able to be kind. When they see other people like that, then they're like hey - what's that about".
Despite the study, Dr. Howell says he "still sees people with a lot of deep faith".