Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway, recently wrote about the expanding segment of our country that describe themselves as 'None'. When asked by researches if they are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim, one in five said they are 'None'. While there are Nones who have rejected theism for intellectual reasons, many more have rejected the structures of traditional religion.
Nones, as a group, are big and only getting bigger. If you also lump into this category the large and growing number of people who will give a nod to God on a survey or show up in their grandmothers church on an occasional Easter, the Nones + the apathetic offer a blistering critique of American faith.
For those who are looking for solid research on the Nones I would point you to "UnChristian" by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman. Speaking as born and bred Evangelical Christians, they confront the hard data regarding the perception of the church through the eyes of those not involved. Their answers are not surprising but still painful. The Nones perceive that the church is too political, too homophobic, and anti-women. But I also have a few thoughts that press to the core of what the church is doing to multiply the
1. Not enough risk.
Faith is meant to be an adventure. A life-changing, life-improving, ongoing date with the divine. Yet too often our aim at church is to invite people to join our property committee...or Christmas decorating committee...or the committee to advise the committee. Christian faith is SUPPOSED to be risky, edgy, and off the charts. That is why we call it a 'leap of faith.' Church is simply too boring, and that statement has little to do with organ music.
2. Not enough Jesus
Somewhere along the way the church reduced the life of Jesus to little more than a bloody, cross-shaped escape hatch. How someone can read the four Gospels and reduce his entire life to the 'say the magic word that gets you to go to heaven instead of hell when you die' game is beyond me.
The life of Jesus is a lived out picture of God and a new paradigm for humanity. It is a snapshot of what life lived on God's terms can be like for everyone who chooses to pursue love. When Jesus said he is the way, the truth and the life, it is an invitation to his way, his truth and his life- right now and forever more. That pervasive discontent the people experience within American culture, inside and outside of church, is because the way of Jesus has not become their life's way.
3. Loss of community
The life experiences of people cry out for community. From the divorce rate to the frequency at which people move for work to the health situations forced upon us, we are starving for genuine, life-supporting relationships. Yet rarely is church a place of community solace. Rarely churches have created authentic opportunities, but many still require people to dress inauthentically, speak inauthentically, and even utilize the time people are able to give the church with strange performance rituals that only a few participate in. The connections that take place, the community forming before and after worship and during the week, is more important than the lighting, the PowerPoint, and the message. We must remember the original word for church was ecclesia, meaning 'a gathering of called ones'. It is intended to be a group that does life together, not a show or a place people attend once in a while.
The Nones are growing, with no end in site. Jesus, mission, and community are not a plan to reverse the rapid decline of the church. It is the original intent that God has had for His people from the beginning of time. People connected to Him, one another and living to serve. That is something that everyone - every None is searching for, even as as churches miss the mark. The good news is this: God is working through His church and in spite of His church. Thanks be to God.