When It Comes to “Nones”, Churches Still Have Some Skin In the Game

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American “nones”— people who claim no religious affiliation — come with a variety of stories.

Some were raised without any religious education at all. Most of them have few opinions on faith and wouldn’t know the Bible from the Bhagavad Gita.

And then are those who, like Eric Walker, grew up in a Christian environment, only to reject it in adulthood.

“I was, like most Southern children, raised in church … primarily Baptist,” says Walker, a 27-year-old Knoxville, Tenn., native who works for the U.S. government in Germany. “Through middle and high school, I attended organizations like Yoke and Young Life.”

Walker said he increasingly came to experience church as judgmental, which led him to question the existence of God and embrace science and reject faith. But he stopped short of saying he’s an atheist.

“Do I think there could be a God? Sure, the universe is unfathomably huge,” Walker said during an interview from Germany via Facebook Messenger. “I would consider myself spiritual.”

Walker represents what a number of recent polls show as a growing body of former or never-before Christians who would choose “none” if asked their religious affiliations on surveys and applications.

In 2012, Pew’s Religion and Public Life Project published research showing one in five Americans identify themselves as “nones.” And the numbers are rising.

“In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults,” Pew said in the report.

Larger Than Ever
But more recent research suggests the numbers are much larger than previously believed. The Barna Group recently found close to 40 percent of Americans could be considered “nones.”

Whatever the actual percentages, the group definitely is on the rise and serving as somewhat of a barometer of the cultural weather patterns with which American religious groups must contend.

And scholars, pastors and congregational consultants are uniform in their assessment that the church must respond to the social changes prompting the rise in the “nones” while remaining true to its core message.

But Christians should not worry too much — something they might achieve if they remember their church history, said Rob Nash, professor of missions and world religions at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology.

During at least two periods in American history, vast swaths of the populace either rejected the church or never was part of it to begin with, Nash said. Those periods preceded the First and Second Great Awakenings.

And in both cases, Christians responded with authentic expressions of faith which huge numbers of Americans found attractive.

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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Jeff Brumley

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