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The nones, not your grandparents' church commitment
by Charles Johnson
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These are the religiously unaffiliated population of the United States. Their number has risen from 15% in 2007 to 20% in 2012 according to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Of this 20% (33 million) they report 2.4% atheist and 3.3% agnostic. This is consistent with reports in 2011 by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) when it went so far as to declare religion on its deathbed in nine countries of the world and listed them. They further gave statistics of their own unaffiliated. In 1966 Time magazine had a front cover declaring, “God is dead!”

Who are the nones?
• 33% of adults ages 22-30 say they are unaffiliated
• 32% are ages 30-50
• 9% are 65 and older
• 68% of the nones say they believe in God
• 20% say they pray daily
• They do not want to identify themselves by their religion
• 37% say they are spiritual but not religious
• 10% are looking for a religion that is right for them
• Say that religion is concerned about money and power and focuses on rules and is involved in politics.
• Admit religion benefits society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

Overall in the United States 73% of the population says it is Christian and 48% identify themselves as Protestant.

Changes can come as one ages for 40% of older affiliated members indicated they had changed later in life. Those who grew up in a denomination and have spiritual desires may want to have children baptized in the church, attend Sunday school, and be confirmed and at some time have their daughters married there. These desires may lead to membership or as many do, they use the services of the church without any commitment to it.

A question to consider for them is, “Who do I call when I get sick, poor or when I have need of a funeral?” Many will expect service from the church even if they have not committed themselves to it.

What are the causes of un-affiliation?
A factor in this study is the absence of non-denominational church members who are no longer considered Protestant. A study from the Hartford Institute for Religious Research was done in 2011 by Warren Bird indicating at least six million individuals attend non-denominational churches. This number would include worshippers at the 1650 mega churches and 5000 multi-sites. These must be included in the unaffiliated.

These churches have had an 8% growth rate the last five years and according to Russell Moore from the Wall Street Journal, they are the fastest growing religious group in America. Over 82% of members indicate small groups are integral to their Christian nurture and formation and 46% were currently participating in a small group which was in addition to Sunday school classes. Strong Christian beliefs and values were indicated by 98% of worshippers.

These churches are not often independent but are part of a network and fellowship which stress accountability of their leaders.

Historically, in the most recent centuries a number of individuals refused to identify with mainline denominations. Beginning with the Pietist movement following the Reformation, Christians rejected doctrine which failed to emphasize spiritual life. These believers met together in their own homes for Bible study and prayer and emphasized ministry of the laity. This became known as the “prayer-house movement.”

Other believers rejected government’s oversight of spiritual affairs. Since the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, princes and kings could determine religious persuasion in their country. Kings ordained the church leaders with no concern for their spiritual qualifications. This too led to a “free church” movement throughout Europe emphasizing spiritual revival and a return to personal spirituality and prayer.
Some of these elements characterize the unaffiliated today.

With the rise of what has been called, “Neo-orthodoxy” some years ago, mainline churches strayed away from the Old Time Gospel our grandparents knew. The current rise in those unaffiliated began in the 1960’s. At the same time several church bodies experienced mergers and decline in gospel teaching followed. Their emphasis shifted to a “social gospel” which in itself is not bad but needs not be the central teaching of the church.

Members have left mainline churches feeling disconnected in some ways. They often would be called upon to support mission work but only through a casual offering. No emphasis was made in the transformation of people through the gospel. No one suggested short term missions to see where the offering money was going. Others felt disconnected as social justice was preached and demonstrations were held emphasizing needs of the socially disenfranchised but no one suggested getting involved in their needs.

Many of the unaffiliated have a desire to be involved in gospel ministry so they volunteer and raise funds for short term mission work or enter the inner city of their community to see what they can do to remedy the problems. These people want to get their hands dirty whether at home through an inner city ministry or on some foreign soil. They have grown disappointed in their churches with “talk and no action.”
With the large number of those unaffiliated under age 30, several suggestions can be made concerning the causes.

• Some of these are recent college graduates. College often persuades even the best Christian students to question their faith; they grow stronger in their convictions or at times will abandon it altogether.

These are prime years for dating and many young women find themselves as unwed mothers. As they examine the faith of their youth, guilt and despair set in. Instead of returning to their church which should be giving them support and offering spiritual guidance, many abandon their faith and remain uncommitted. Some may read their Bibles and pray but church involvement is out of the question.

• Other young women upon learning of their pregnancy follow bad advice and experience an abortion and all the emotion turmoil which follows. If their church disapproves of such action, they will be unwilling to return and find spiritual counseling and support which many churches offer.

• Young men also experience like circumstances. They will often participate in activities in college or after which are frowned upon by their church and they do not feel they will be welcomed back.

• Many colleges permit para-church ministries to meet on campus. These encourage college students in their Bible studies, prayer time and Scripture memorization. Some students find this spiritual life is something they never experienced in their mainline church so they seek out another church emphasizing this spiritual life.

Definitely some of the unaffiliated have given up on a religious association and do not care. Others have lost interest in the faith of their parents and have totally dropped out. Many reasons can be given and often are purely conjecture. If churches are concerned, an inner examination of who they are, what they believe and what they do might be in order.


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