In Search of Better Stories

The Rise of the Nones

Who are the “Nones”? They are the people group in America that check “None” when survey’s and census’ come round asking what religious affiliation someone might be. (They are not to be confused with “Nuns” that would be an entirely different book!) As the title suggests, this group is experiencing dramatic growth. They are the 2nd largest group in America behind only the Catholics, and they are the fastest-growing group in America by far.

  1. We don’t care anymore. White doesn’t think the “Nones” are an angry group. It’s just that to them, organized religion just doesn’t really matter anymore. Indifferent is the word that best describes them. “They neither care to practice religion nor to oppose it…it just doesn’t matter that much” (15) “Who knows, who cares?” would be a typical response to the question of God from a None. Jonathan from the Atlantic Monthly rightly calls Nones “Apatheists.”
  2. Gun’s, Lawyers and Money. White speaks of a first “perfect storm” that knocked Christianity off its moorings as the centring pillar of western thought. Freud, Darwin and Copernicus formed a juggernaut which shattered a Christianity previously impervious to attack. The earth wasn’t the centre of the universe as the Bible allegedly taught, there was a naturalistic explanation for the world that didn’t require God. The idea of God itself, according to Freud, was nothing more than a psychological projection coming from human desire. As these assertions became mainstream, Christianity tumbled. In our modern era, another perfect storm has arisen, which is producing Nones at the alarming rates indicated in this book. Christian’s like guns, they don’t like immigrants, and they hate gays, the world views the church which appears to harbour these ideas as disgusting. The church uses lawyers and politics to try to force a moral conservatism on people further producing resentment against the church. Money is the final element. People simply cannot abide, a fat-bellied version of Christianity given over to consumerism and materialism decoratively adorned with opulently wealthy, televangelists and megachurch pastors.  “Guns, lawyers, and money” are the assumed narrative that people believe about the church in our society, which leads to poll numbers such as 91% of people think the church is anti-homosexual. 72% think the church is out of touch with reality. 74% say there is no value in attending church. Etc. Etc.
  3. Syncretism and Postmodernity — The Nones are increasingly into “a mix-and-match mentality of pulling together different threads in various religions to create a personal religion that suits their individual taste.” (51) This roll your own at-home version of religion combines with the conviction that faith is no longer wrong based on what one perceived to be the truth; instead, belief is wrong for claiming there is the truth. Direct truth claims fall flat in the ears of the Nones. 
  4. Christians tried too hard to fit in  — In trying to adapt their religious beliefs to socioeconomic change, to new moral challenges, to novel problems of knowledge, to the tightening standards of science, the defenders of God slowly strangled him (52)… We’ve taken a historic, 2,000-year-old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff…(67) Whites seems to be saying that Christians have failed to live out a radically distinct counter-cultural faith. I think he is onto something. The Christian faith is not true, according to modernistic “fact-based” standards of science and history. Nor is Christianity some sort of simple trick to help a person achieve a better standard of living. When it’s defended and presented in these ways, Nones quicken their step away from the faith. 
  5. Don’t get too excited! — “While it is true that the number of megachurches roughly doubled during the decade (2001-2010) … and they are attracting an ever bigger slice of the religious attender pie, it is a bigger slice of a shrinking pie.” 
  6. Serving the community is the necessary way forward.   — In Chapters 1-6, we learn how and why the Nones are done with religion. In Chapter 7, The chapter title is clear about what will be a failed strategy: If you build it, they won’t come. In this chapter, we are told that if you have a cool church with hip coffee and trendy music and “a real sense of community” the Nones won’t come because they already have hip coffee, trendy music and a real sense of community. The nones are pretty sure that religious organizations are about money, politics, power, and are full of problems. “I already have lots of problems, why should I go to church and get more,” they say. However, most (78%) say that churches actually do a good job helping the poor and benefiting society through service.  The Nones won’t come to your church for coffee and community, but they might help you with a service project. This observation is a good one. 
  7. Where did James Emery White go?  Chapter 12 and following feels like we are reading a completely different book. Andy Stanley must have possessed James Emery White and wrote the rest of the book in his place! Clearly, this is not the same author! The chapter title is called Opening the Front Door, and he leads off with a Lifeway Research poll which suggests that 82% of unchurched people will come to church if they are invited by a friend. Wait, what?  And when they arrive, we must make sure we are friendly, have a killer children’s ministry, and great music. We must make sure our building is in tip-top shape, because “you never get a chance to make a first impression.” and we have to make sure we use power-point and cool videos to keep peoples attention.

    He then goes on a rant criticizing anything that is “para-church” or anyone that is “kingdom centred instead of local church centred.” He launches off into a brutal bashing session against a Christian businessman who spread the gospel through his company instead of his local church. White declares for us what the church is:  It is the place where the gospel is proclaimed, worship songs are sung, communion is taken, and where spiritual care and protection is afforded through qualified pastors. The Sunday gathering is all that matters, and anything that might take away from it is wrong. If books could yell, White would be yelling at this point, and then his book ends. 

    Honestly, this is one of the most bizarre finishes I’ve ever experienced in a book. Chapter 12 and following seem to undo everything that led up to it. White goes to great pains to tell us that the Nones are indifferent to organized religion and that Church attendance is not even on their radar screens.

So what should we do? 

    Give our church buildings a good scrub down, put our smiley faces on and invite the Nones to a consumer-oriented church service because Ed Stetzer thinks 82% of them will come if you ask nicely. 

I just got whiplash. 

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