The Rise of the "Nones"

We are in the middle of one of the greatest religious shifts in American history. We live during a time that the fastest growing religion, one that has more than doubled in the last 20 years, is what is categorized as the “none.” The term “none” refers to people who when asked to indicate their faith, they write “none.” They are the “religiously unaffiliated”.

James Emery White is one of my new favorite authors and bloggers. He has written an insightful book called, “The Rise of the Nones” (Baker, 2014). He says that “these religiously unaffliated people have always been with us, of course, but their new classification and vast numbers who have flocked to their nonlabel label in just a few short years have been breathtaking.” (p.7)

The “nones” are now the second largest religious grouping in America, second to only Roman Catholics and far out-pacing Southern Baptists. Perhaps what is most alarming is seen when you look at the “nones” by generation.  Here’s how they line up by generation:

“Nones” by Generation:

Builders – 5%
Boomers – 15%
Busters (GenX) – 21%
Millenials (GenY) – 34%

So if more and more people are walking away from the church, and we are at risk of losing an entire generation, what should we do? How can we be effective in this new spiritual climate?

Here are a few of my initial thoughts of where we should begin:

1) Don’t just be a missionary, be a MISSIOLOGIST

I know that is a false dichotomy, but I use it for emphasis. A missionary is one that engages directly with the mission field and takes the Gospel to them. But who trains the missionary? Of course, the missiologist does. The missiologist is one that is an expert on culture and knows how to build appropriate cultural bridges for the Gospel.

One of reasons for our ineffectiveness is that the church today has very few missiologists that can prepare our missionaries well for this new mission field. In order for us to be effective in this new day, we will need a generation of leaders who have a deep understanding of the Gospel and of the culture of the mission field to train up the next generation of missionaries.

2) Rethink Evangelism

So much of our evangelistic emphasis has been focused on trying to get people to come to a meeting or an event. In this day and age of the multi-site, Mega Churches and even “Giga Churches” (over 10,000 members), we think that attractional ministries are still the way if done well.  But if you take a closer look at the actual evangelistic effectiveness of these churches you, what you find may be startling.

One lesser known statistic by the Southern Baptist Convention has revealed that 60% of currently reported baptisms are actually “re-baptisms” of who were baptized before. Maybe we are not as effective as we thought. We need to rethink the way we reach people.

3) Train Evangelists

So what is the most effective Evangelistic Strategy? In my opinion, and I believe Jesus’ too, it is to train and send out evangelists to herald the Gospel everywhere they go. The most effective way to reach the “nones” is not another program or cool church plant. I believe that if we want our churches to effectively reach the “nones” we need to be serious about raising up the value of personal engagement and train evangelists at every level of our church.

What are your thoughts?  How do we reach the “nones”?