The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the results of a recent poll today that discovered that “the religious nones” are on the rise:
The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
I personally don’t find these statistics concerning “the nones” very surprising or alarming (more on that later), and I think it would be easy to draw wrong conclusions without reading the full study. Conclusions such as that the nones are not spiritual, don’t believe in God, were not raised in a religious tradition, have a uniformly negative view of churches, or practice New Age spirituality. You would be correct in assuming that the nones don’t think religion is for them. In other words, the overwhelming majority of this group is not interested in church or other religious institutions.
This trend is increasing with each successive generation and even increasing over time with the Generation X and Boomer generations.
What does this mean for those committed to living our Jesus’ mission and message? Also, why am I not alarmed?
#1) Cultural Christianity is less of an issue when sharing about Jesus. For most of my life, many people I knew with nominal beliefs about God would automatically label themselves Christian. I believe cultural Christianity has muddied the waters when trying to clearly explain what it means to know and follow Jesus.
#2) Since younger generations are less interested in church, we won’t be tempted to promo our church rather than sharing Jesus. This trend will eventually force us to focus on equipping people (the church is the people) to share Jesus with people rather than inviting people to join an institution. To put in another way, we have to equip ordinary people to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission… just like Jesus did.
#3) This is a good litmus test to see whether we really care about the spiritual trajectory of our neighbors, our communities, and our nation. Polls such as this take away any doubt regarding the direction of people’s beliefs and values and the declining influence of churches. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we don’t have what it takes to fulfill Jesus’ mission apart from the Holy Spirit supernaturally empowering us.