In today’s lingo “Nones” are those identified as having little or no experience with the church or the Bible. When surveyed, these respondents record “no religion.” The “Dones” are those who report having had involvement, membership or leadership in the church. However, now they indicate in effect: “Been there, done that, doesn’t work for me anymore.” Is this a new trend? How have things changed? Here are six insights about “Nones” and “Dones.”
1. Scary statistics
The Pew Research Center conducted the 2007 Religious Landscape Study with a massive survey of 35,000 individuals and found that about 16 percent of Americans claimed no religious affiliation. By 2015, that same study reported the number had climbed to 23 percent.
The real eye-opener is that in 1980 only eight percent of those under age 30 were “nones.” The Pew Center now records that statistic at 32 percent.
In addition,The Christian Science Monitor reported from General Social Survey: “Eight times more 18- to 29-year-olds never prayed in 2014 versus the early 1980s.”
2. Numbers at the founding of our nation
It is often thought that the early years of our nation were the “glory days” of American Christianity. However, there has been a long debate about the true percentage of persons who were church adherents during that period. Patricia Bonomi claims that 71 percent were churched, but other research lists as few as four percent churched in North Carolina. Professor Martin Marty points out that in one common estimate church participation jumped from 17 to 34 percent between 1776 and 1850.
3. Numbers low in Biblical eras
In the Old Testament, we find patriarchs and prophets who despair about decreasing numbers of the faithful. In Genesis 18, Abraham wonders if there are more than 10 righteous people in the entire land. Elijah complains in 1 Kings 18:22 that he is the only remaining prophet of the LORD. In Jeremiah 7, the LORD admits that even when truth and news of God’s salvation are proclaimed, the people will stiffen their necks and pay no heed.
4. Jesus produced some “Nones” and “Dones.”
In St. Mark 10:22, Jesus attracted a young man, whom we call “the rich young ruler,” but once he heard Jesus’ requirements, he went sadly away. On several occasions, Jesus preached to thousands of people and yet toward the end of his earthly ministry they were not interested in his full message. While throngs of citizens welcomed Jesus on his Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, at the crucifixion only three or four women and perhaps John or Lazarus stood with him.
5. St. Paul’s experience
After Jesus’ resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, one would think that converts would remain committed. However, even several members of St. Paul’s missionary team could be counted among the “Dones.” According to 2 Timothy 4, Demas deserted Paul in his literal time of trial. In fact, Paul wrote that “all deserted me.”
6. Balanced perspective
According to Dr. Ryne Sherman, a researcher of the General Social Survey, younger Americans now believe in some sort of heaven at a higher rate than did previous generations. However, he further explains, “It’s sort of an attitude that if there is an afterlife, then God won’t really care if I pray or if I go to church.”
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, comments on the growing number of “Nones:” “This is a wake-up call. We have an incredible challenge ahead for committed Christians.”
For many decades Gallup pollsters have surveyed Americans on their weekly church or synagogue attendance. Over the years the responses have remained remarkably consistent. Between 39 and 44 percent say they had attended church in the last seven days. The highest recorded was 49 percent in 1959. The 2015 response was 37 percent which equaled the tally in 1940.
Ed Stetzer, the former director of Lifeway Research who now serves as a Senior Fellow of Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center, concludes, “Overall, the church’s influence on Americans is beginning to fade.” What he sees is a clarification of what it means to be Christian in America. Almost one-quarter of Americans has no religious affiliation. Another quarter of all Americans self-identify as Christians but could be described as cultural Christians or those whose religion is based in their heritage or family roots. The third quarter of Americans have at least some connection to congregational life, and the final 25 percent profess that Jesus has changed their lives and increasingly orient their lives in Him.
Stetzer asserts that no real researcher believes that Christianity in America is dying out. However, because the values of nominal Christians are aligning more and more with secular people, it certainly appears like that.
In my next post, I will offer some strategies for sharing the Gospel with “Nones” and “Dones.”
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A broadly-trained church consultant, Jim Farrer is the founder of Vital Signs Church Consulting and a member of the Society for Church Consulting. A veteran of ministry positions in Canada and the U.S., he has trained leaders from 18 denominations and led seminars and coaching sessions nationwide. His articles have been published in the Journal of Evangelism and Missions and the Great Commission Research Journal. You can reach him by e-mailing email@example.com or calling 814 629-5211.www