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Millennials leaving church in droves, study finds

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(CNN)Atrn its core, Christian life is set of sacred traditions linking rngenerations of sacraments and Sunday school lessons, youth ministry rnmorals and family gatherings sanctified by prayer. An unbroken circle, rnin the words of an old hymn.

In rnmodern America, that circle may not be completely shot, but it is wobblyrn and badly bent, according to a new landmark study conducted by the Pew rnResearch Center.

Released Tuesday, the survey of 35,000 American adultsrn shows the Christian percentage of the population dropping rnprecipitously, to 70.6%. In 2007, the last time Pew conducted a similar rnsurvey, 78.4% of American adults called themselves Christian.

Inrn the meantime, almost every major branch of Christianity in the United rnStates has lost a significant number of members, Pew found, mainly rnbecause millennials are leaving the fold. More than one-third of rnmillennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 rnpercentage points since 2007.

The alacrity of their exodus surprises even seasoned experts.

"We'vern known that the religiously unaffiliated has been growing for decades," rnsaid Greg Smith, Pew's associate director of religion research and the rnlead researcher on the new study. "But the pace at which they've rncontinued to grow is really astounding."

It'srn not just millennials leaving the church. Whether married or single, rnrich or poor, young or old, living in the West or the Bible Belt, almostrn every demographic group has seen a significant drop in people who call rnthemselves Christians, Pew found.