A quarter of the US population now identify as ‘None’, those that check ‘None’ when asked to identify what religion they follow. What should be more alarming is that with those under 30, the percentage of Nones is 40%, almost half of the next two generations. Whatever our approach has been as a church isn’t working anymore. Here are six reasons why the Nones are walking away from church:
1. Moral Reason: People believe suffering disproves the existence of God. Renowned New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman says he lost his faith and embraced atheism because of suffering in the world. And he’s not the only one. But the foundation of our faith is not a world without suffering. Pain and suffering don’t disprove the existence of God. It only disproves the existence of a god who doesn’t allow pain and suffering. We can try and gloss over the rough edges of human experience, but there are still these existential questions about pain and suffering we have to deal with.
2. “Biblical” Reason: People believe the Bible is the basis of our religion, and people have questions about the Bible. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It’s a line that many who grow up in the church know by heart, and it reflects a problem in modern American Christianity: many of us believe that the Bible is the foundation of our religion. For instance: there’s a viral blog post by a former worship leader who left the faith after she read a book “proving” contradictions in the Bible. Apparently, she grew up believing the foundation of our faith is a non-contradicting book. My question is: are we founded on a book, or on an event in human history? There is a distinct difference.
3. Experiential Reason: People had a bad church experience. Whether it was a church scandal, a church split or just mean church members, too many people have walked away from church because of a bad church experience. I had a friend years ago that was living proof of this. Born and raised in a small country church, he was forced to go every week by his parents. He thought church was boring and unengaging, and his particular church experience didn’t disabuse him of that notion. His parents said when he was 18 he could decide for himself, and he did just that, barely attending his entire adult life.
4. Lack of Comfort Reason: People feel out of place and unwelcome at church. Have you ever been to a place where you didn’t feel welcome? A place where people were talking over your head, no one was welcoming, where you felt insignificant and stupid? Like if you bought a ticket this past September and flew to Tokyo, Japan for the 16th World Medical Nanotechnology Congress and walked into this presentation: Protamine conjugated fluorochromes: A new photosensitizer for photodynamic tumor therapy. You probably wouldn’t have any fun, and you’d feel like an idiot, and do you suspect anyone would stop and try and explain anything to you? If you’re not a church person, all this spiritual mumbo-jumbo that’s thrown out from the stage is about as comprehensible as protamine conjugated fluorochromes.
5. Relational Reason: People come looking for community and we give them a program. We’ve turned the movement of Jesus into a monument. The word in Greek for ‘church’ literally means assembly, gathering, movement. Today it means a building, an address, a program. We “go” to church. Thank you for “coming” to church, like church is a location. People aren’t looking for programs, they’re looking for relationships. They’re looking for a family. If our church is merely a collection of programs and events with no real community, we can have the word “church” plastered on the side of the building at on the front of our website, but we’re not living like a church. I would argue that many people aren’t really rejecting the true church: they’re rejecting buildings and programs and events that just happen to have the name “church” attached to it.
6. Relevance Reason: People don’t see us as relevant or important. People see us as relevant in their everyday lives as I see a horse riding school: not very. I mean, we have cars now, why ride horses? In the same way, people can say: we have science and technology, we have sleep number beds, why do we still need religion? Some people aren’t hostile towards religion at all, they’re just uninterested.
As depressing as this might be, don’t lose hope! In my next post I’ll share 7 Ways to Reach the Nones for Jesus.