Ed Stetzer on the “Nones”

From Ed Stetzer’s blog:

Around 75 percent of Americans call themselves Christians—they “self identify” as Christians, regardless of how others might define them. I find it helpful to separate those who profess Christianity into three categories: cultural, congregational and convictional.

Now, these are NOT exact numbers, but broad categories. The numbers are different from region to region, but as a whole, the categories might be helpful.

The first category–Cultural Christians–is made up of people who believe themselves to be Christians simply because their culture tells them they are. They are Christian by heritage. They may have religious roots in their family or may come from a people group tied to a certain religion, e.g., Southern Evangelicals or Irish Catholics. Inside the church, we would say they are Christians in name only. They are not practicing a vibrant faith. This group makes up around one-third of the 75 percent who self-identify as Christians—or about a quarter of all Americans.

The second category–Congregational Christians–is similar to the first group, except these individuals at least have some connection to congregational life.They have a “home church” they grew up in and perhaps where they were married. They might even visit occasionally. Here again though, we would say that these people are not practicing any sort of real, vibrant faith. They are attendees. This group makes up another third of the 75 percent—or about a quarter of all Americans.

The final group–Convictional Christians–is made up of people who are actually living according to their faith. These are the people who would say that they have met Jesus, He changed their lives, and since that time their lives have been increasingly oriented around their faith in Him. Convictional Christians make up the final third of the 75 percent—or about a quarter of all Americans….

The “Nones” category is growing quickly, but the change is coming by way of Cultural and Congregational Christians who no longer feel the societal pressure to be “Christian.” They feel comfortable freeing themselves from a label that was not true of them in the first place. Convictional Christians are not leaving the faith; the “squishy middle,” as I like to call it, is simply being flattened.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    I have tried to define the word “Christian” here:
    https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/the-definition-of-christianity-die-definition-des-christentums-unten/

    Many people (both at my left and at my right) are going to disagree but I think it is a rather useful distinction.

    By the way I also find that the distinctions Edward made are very relevant, actually I observe exactly that in both France and Germany.

    But there is a huge difference: owing to the much stronger secularism, people who are not genuine believers don’t usually go to the mass or to the worship.

    So there are (very) few Conventional Christians but there are even fewer Congregational Christians.

  • Josh T.

    Interesting way of defining different types of “Christians” although I don’t know if even three types cover the reality properly, or at least he doesn’t fully address how the groups are related. Where do people fit who grew up in revivalistic churches and were “on fire for God” (as they like to say) as teenagers but who walk away for various reasons? They would have self-identified as Convictional at one point in the past but are so no longer. Even if the Nones are gaining numbers by way of the Cultural and Congregational groups, the Congregational group itself may be gaining numbers by way of the Convictional, so I think the separating out of the Convictional group as safe from dropping out may be slightly naive.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “People who would say they have met Jesus” . . .that strikes me as a rather narrow delineating line. Catholics and many other churches don’t use such “born again” language.

  • Marshall

    One thing about cultural Christians, they know some of the stories and some of the words, so Christianity forms a language or a background for thinking and talking about some kinds of social and personal problems … maybe we can call this kind of unbelieving person “moral Christians”. In my experience, this valuable function is getting squeezed out from both sides. Believers call it Relativism; secularists see any reference with religious content as an appeal to authority or proselytizing. One the one hand we loose a communitarian language to oppose to the individualism of modernity; on the other hand we loose fertile ground where spiritual seeds can grow. Big loss to everybody, seems to me.

  • Rory Tyer

    Many do use this language. My father’s family was mostly Catholic and I know several of them who are devout and would happily use this language – it is, after all, Johannine, not an invention of American evangelicals.


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