According to a recent report from the General Social Survey, “Nones” are now the largest religious demographic in the US. Those claiming ‘no religion’ now outnumber those who claim to be Catholic and those who claim to be Evangelical. This is a marked departure of where our nation has been throughout its history.
We have historically been a nation where most people are at least loosely affiliated with a faith institution of some type, and a Judeo-Christian ethic influenced most of culture. Has that changed? And if so, what does it mean?
First off, who are these Nones?
The Nones are your neighbors, your co-workers, and maybe even your kids. There is no age or political demographic attached to these numbers. But that allows us to make our own conclusions as to what is driving the rise of non-religion.
The first thing to remember is that everyone believes in something. Even the staunchest atheist has some kind of value system based on what they have learned or what they have experienced. It is even safe to guess that some of these ‘Nones’ may even believe in God or believe in an afterlife. They have just given up on gathering with other believers in a church setting, and have decided to ‘go it alone’.
What can we learn from this trend?
First, it appears that the Nones are predominantly moving away from the Catholic church and the Mainline denominations. As Nones go up, those groups seem to go go down. The faith practices that are built on traditional expressions of worship seem to be losing their luster. This is disconcerting, but not necessarily a shocking thing. For the last few decades, we have seen many people affiliate with an established church, but weren’t really engaged or active. Many of those folks are now simply admitting it.
Secondly, it is an indication of a younger generation that doesn’t trust what came before. We as a Church have failed our young people and our society by failing to disciple them or plainly teach Christian essentials. We have given young people feel-good messages and a social agenda that has a little bit of ‘Gospel-speak’ thrown in to keep it Christian.
Or, to the other extreme, we have focused so much on ‘doing what is right’ that we have neglected to teach them what is Godly. They have concluded that if this is all we have to offer, then it is not worth getting up early on Sundays to hear about, and not worth engaging in during the week.
Third, we have forgotten how to engage with culture. We have allowed various forms of media to define the conversation, and we are caught in a cycle of debating politics, hot button issues and celebrity opinions instead of talking about what matters: how the truth of Jesus has meaning for us personally, for our neighborhood and the people that we interact with daily. We have come to be seen as a voting bloc instead of a family of faith.
What Can We Do?
To start with, we can pray. The Nones are not the enemy of Christianity, Satan is, has been, and will continue to be our enemy. People of all beliefs are just….people. People that God loves and people that generally want the same kind of things those of us in the Church want – safe neighborhoods, a home to live in, a good job, etc. Most of the Nones are kind, generous, wonderful folks.
Yet in each of us is a hole that only faith can fill. We must remember that it is up to us to not just share our faith, but to simply live it out in plain sight.
It is up to us to teach our children the truth, but they also have to see that we believe it ourselves.
In times of trial and times of ease, they must see a faith that doesn’t change. They must see that we look to Christ as our help in time of need, and as our provider in times of plenty. And we can’t fake it. They’ll know.
Everyone believes in something. Even those who claim no religion. If our desire is for others around us to accept the truth and grace found in Christ, it begins with a true compassion for people in our communities, as exemplified by simply living out our faith in a a real way.
That, after all, is how Jesus did things.