Reevaluating the Nones

Ten years ago, Dr. James Emery White of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, wrote his book The Rise of the Nones. His work helped us get a better grasp on our religious culture, as we all could feel it changing, we just didn’t know how.  His book identified a growing group of people that have no religious affiliation and have become known as “nones.” Ten years later, he takes another look at what the current data is telling us about the religious culture in the United States.  Back in 2014, Dr. White based the research findings for his book largely on data from the Pew Research Center.  Based on a new report from that organization, those who now describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religion constitute about 28% of all U.S. adults. (up from around 17% in 2014)

Dr. White points out a few key changes, that give us hope moving forward.
1. They are now the largest religious cohort in America.
At 28% of U.S. adults, they are larger than evangelical Protestants (24%) as well as Catholics (23%). To put their rise into perspective, in 2007 they tallied only 16% of Americans. In the 1980s, they would have only made up around 5% of the population.

2. Most are not atheists.
This surprises people. While it is true that few go to religious services with any regularity, most “nones” believe in God or some other higher power. They consider themselves spiritual. But to be sure, if they believe in God, they will say it is not the God of the Bible.

3. They are not uniformly anti-religious.
Yes, most would tell you that religion does some harm, but there are also many who think it does some good. However, when asked why they are not religious, two-thirds of “nones” say they question a lot of religious teachings (60%) or don’t like religious organizations (47%). In short, they are skeptical of faith and skeptical of those who embrace faith.

4. Science is not their god.
Most “nones” reject the idea that science can explain everything. However, they express more positive views of science than religiously affiliated Americans do. On a sidenote, the largest group of “nones” – the “nothing in particular” – tend to have lower levels of educational attainment than religiously affiliated U.S. adults.
5. They are socially disengaged.

“Nones” tend to vote less often, do less volunteer work in their communities, and follow public affairs at lower rates than religiously affiliated people do. However, when you separate atheists and agnostics from those who are “nothing in particular,” atheists and agnostics participate in civil life at rates matching or exceeding religiously affiliated people. But social apathy can still be made a defining mark of the “nones,” as atheists and agnostics only constitute 37% of the “nones,” while an overwhelming 63% are “nothing in particular.” Having said that, the “nones” are consistently among the most liberal and Democratic constituencies in the United States.

So what does this tell us?  Identifying the why, helps us as Christians better understand the how of engaging them.  Like most of us, they are open to new information and they don’t blindly trust systems set up by people.  And as the largest religious cohort, they should be easy to find.  We work with these people, go to school with them and do life outside of organized church with them.  They are the parents at travel ball, the person you pass each week at the grocery store and the person you see every day at the gym.  The command to go into all the world has not changed.  Every day we are entering the mission field and God is presenting the harvest.  Findings like these should encourage us! Take this as a challenge, like each day the Lord gives us!    
Serving the Savior,  
Bro. Jonathan  

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