Monday, 14 January 2013 10:37

Let’s Hear It For the “Nones”

Written by  Bob Crittendon
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There is no doubt that the sphere of religious practice is changing before our very eyes.  We have beheld the development of a variety of worship styles, a broadening of the types of churches where people will worship, and a significant group of people who either do not worship at all or are what we might called unaffiliated or even unchurched.


Two surveys that have been released over the past few months highlight the alterations on the landscape of spiritual practice.  In October, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a study of the religious habits of Americans, and the increase in the number of people who claim to be religiously unaffiliated is rising quickly.  One-fifth of the U.S. public, and a third of adults under 30, do not identify with any particular religion.  In the last 5 years, the unaffiliated, also known as the “nones”, have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all adults in the U.S.


But, before you conclude that these individuals are largely atheist or agnostic, think again – out of some 46 million people that are unaffiliated, more than 13 million, or 6% of the American public, are self-described atheists and agnostics.  There are nearly 33 million people, or 14%, who say they have no particular religious affiliation. 


Out of the unaffiliated, one-third of them say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives. Two-thirds believe in God, though less than half say they are absolutely certain of God’s existence.  And although a substantial minority of the unaffiliated consider themselves neither religious nor spiritual (42%), the majority describe themselves either as a religious person (18%) or as spiritual but not religious (37%).


A new Gallup poll, which is the product of almost an entire year of polling, released in correlation with the new book by Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport, God is Alive and Well, shows an increase in what it calls the “unbranded” religious people – and this can include those who attend churches that are not part of a traditional denomination.  


All in all, 7 out of 10 Americans describe themselves as either very (40%) or moderately (29%) religious.  Newport states that, “It is possible that religion will be more significant in years ahead, and we may be on the cusp of a religious renaissance.”   He predicts that, “there will be continuing changes to the ways in which people worship in the years ahead, most likely an extension of the current trends toward unbranded, nondenominational, more free-form religious expression...”


Gallup also relates that, even though an increasing percentage of adults say they don’t have a formal religious identity, the United States remains a largely Christian nation: more than three-fourths (77%) of American adults in 2012 identify with a “Christian” religion, which, according to the study, includes Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism, and other Christian religions.  And 94% of those who have a religious identity are Christians.


In light of these trends, we must ask how Christians and our churches can respond.   We cannot ignore the abundance of information about the practices of young adults, including the so-called “millennials”.  The Pew survey found that almost a third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.


It is also striking to me that we have a number of people who say they are religious, but are not identified with traditional structures.  That can be a mixed bag: there are churches that are innovative and inspiring, may or may not belong to large denominations, and are experiencing numerical and spiritual growth.  That’s good.  


What is disturbing is the tendency of people to buck tradition and to select their religious tenets from a broad range of sources – those who incorporate perhaps a little Jesus here, maybe including the elements that are most appealing, but they will also maybe mix in some New Age ideas, and proceed to redefine God in their own image.  We have to recognize that we are created in His image and that He makes it possible for us to relate to Him, not on our own terms, but on His.   That means we also cannot ignore the passages and principles of Scripture that deal with topics such as sin, obedience, and judgment.  


True Christianity does not include a “design-your-own” component.  In His love for us, God has prescribed a way for us to live, in the power of His Holy Spirit, according to His Word.  He desires for us to revere Him and regard His word as infallible – if we do that, He will be faithful to work in and through our lives for our good and His glory! 



Last modified on Monday, 14 January 2013 10:39
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