Join Jeff at Exponential 2020 in Orlando for his session on Ten Characteristics of Future Church Planters.
The “Rise of the Nones” captured widespread attention by Christian leaders in recent years. While it was once difficult to quantify the “nominal” Christian dynamic of religious preference in North America, the radical proportion increase of those claiming no religion put these realities front and center in the minds of evangelicals.
Those tasked with leading churches, denominations, and networks were forced to grapple with the reality of how this wide-sweeping abandonment of religion could have flowered on their watch. While it is not the intention of this article to discuss the numerous ecclesiological factors that have converged to contribute to the climate for “Nones” to flourish, their dramatic increase is nonetheless a commentary on the condition of the church. One thing is clear—the church’s mission field isn’t what it once was.
And perhaps, that is not altogether bad.
At our last gathering of the Send Institute Missiologist Council, we sought to discern the sociological dynamics propelling the category of “Nones.” Who are they? Where did they come from? What’s the church to do?
Missiological pioneers for various denominational traditions met together for the purpose of giving extended consideration to the realities of our North American context in the hopes of aiding the church in its missionary precision and intentionality as we all move into the future.
Dr. Ryan Burge, professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, led the group is a consideration of the growth or decline of various spiritual strata of the North American populace. Burge’s assessment put facts alongside various themes that have become common verbiage for church leaders such as the fact that the congregations of most denominational traditions are aging or the fact that diaspora people groups and their churches are on the rise.
We wrestled with extensive data on the uprising of the Nones, as well as the declining statistics of most other faith traditions in North America. Safe to say—the findings painted a bleak picture of our present reality and our apparent future.
But unique to this report was a deeper dive into the subclassifications of the Nones. We dug into three distinct groups which, when combined, make up the whole of this fast-growing group: 1) Atheists, 2) Agnostics, 3) Nothing in Particular.
The first two groups – Atheists and Agnostics – express strong convictions in their positions and are highly resistant to change. But they do not seem to be growing as a percentage of the population – just holding their own. But the third subgroup, those in the “Nothing in Particular” category, tell quite a different story.
The Nothing in Particulars possess a vague belief system, one that is far less thought through than the first two subcategories of Nones. They, as a grouping, express a strong belief in God, and seem to be open to attending a church sometime in the future – which, in itself, should provide a ray of hope for mission-spirited churches.
This category, as a group, has both less wealth and less education and are marked by a common dispassionate attitude to much of life. They tend to be ‘non-joiners’ in every sphere of society, from bowling leagues to the P.T.A. to religious expressions.