How do you solve a problem like the “Nones”? This growing segment of the American population with no religious affiliation has become something of the topic de jour among Christian researchers, including Barna and Lifeway. And now Thom Shultz, founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café, has taken up the issue:
Most people don’t want to go to church. But why? And what might interest them in joining a community of faith?
Those questions have sent us across the country looking for answers. After years of research and countless interviews, my wife Joani and I have finally collected our findings. They’re in a new book titled, no surprise, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, with a subtitle of “And How 4 Acts of Love Will Make Your Church Irresistible.”
During the interviews, Nones gave four main reasons for ditching church:
1. “I feel judged.” (They cited judgmental attitudes about appearance, behavior, and lifestyle.)
2. “I don’t want to be lectured.” (They didn’t like the idea of only hearing a sermon and not sharing their own thoughts.)
3. “Church people are a bunch of hypocrites.” (They don’t like that church leaders act as if they have all the answers.)
4. “Your God is irrelevant to my life. But I’d like to know there is a God and he cares about me.” (They see churches as being dead spiritually.)
Accurate or not, the perception of church is keeping many Nones away. In fact, nearly one-fifth of them don’t know a Christian who could dispel some of these misconceptions. They’re simply left with bad past experiences and/or stereotypes. Even still, younger Nones have expressed greater interest in God than their parents.
So, what can we do? Shultz promises to address this in an upcoming blog and in his book. However, Ed Stetzer wonders if many of the older Nones especially are simply former “cultural Christians,” who no longer have to play the part:
You see, many in the U.S. who identify as Christian do so only superficially. These cultural Christians use the term but do not practice the faith. Now it seems many of them are giving up the Christian label, and those cultural or nominal Christians are becoming "nones," people with no religious label.
Christian nominalism is nothing new. As soon as any belief system is broadly held, people are motivated to adopt it, even with a low level of connection. Yet, much of the change in our religious identification is in nominal Christians no longer using the term and, instead, not identifying with any religion.
In other words, the nominals are becoming the nones.
I've seen this in my own family. Growing up in an Irish Catholic community outside New York City, the Catholic Church was the church we didn't go to. Today, I am an evangelical Christian, and I attend church like one, but most of my extended family do not attend church, and don't bother to call themselves Catholics any longer. The nominals became the nones.
What about you? What do you think we can do to reach the Nones? If you don’t attend church, what keeps you away?