Rise of The Nones

 Over the past two years, I, Daren, have been doing research with the goal of helping our church be better positioned to minister to the next generation. Having watched as some of the core youth from Bailey and surrounding churches walked away from the church and faith when they left for college, I became concerned that something must be done to address the issue. Moreover, nationwide statistics from the past two decades are reflecting this growing exit from the church, as well. Those identifying as “none” (i.e., atheist, agnostic, or no affiliation) is now at 26 percent, which is up from 17 percent in 2009. John Marriott suggests, as the number of “nones” increases, the number of people claiming to be Christian is decreasing, pointing to a higher rate of deconversion (i.e., leaving Christianity). More alarming for the church’s future is that the number of young Americans as of 2009 leaving the faith was 5 to 6 times the historic rate, with only 49 percent of millennials calling themselves Christian. Adding to this, “Recent surveys…reveal that Gen Z is the least religious of all generations in America,” with those in this age group twice as likely to identify as atheist as the general population. What is most concerning, however, is that Gen Z (those born between 2000 and 2015) is becoming the largest generation in the U.S. All of this leads Steve Cable to conclude, “If America continues on its current trend, the number of 18-29-year-old Americans who state, ‘My religious preference is none or a non-Christian religion’ will grow to over 50% of the population by the year 2030.”
     Given the above statistics, there is a clear and growing problem with the church’s inability to ground young people in a faith that is “resilient.” Many in the church are mourning the loss of Millenials and Gen Z. However, there is genuine uncertainty among most as to how to stem the tide. Some assume that the church should simply continue as it always has. Others, however, have opted for an attractional model of the church that often seeks to reproduce the latest fad in effective ministry styles. However, when these changes are made, sometimes without theological reflection or contextual awareness, they typically run their course until the next fad comes along.
     The reality, though, is that "no change" or "change-for-change’s-sake" will not do. The game itself has changed. The goal of the church, of course, is the same: to make disciples. However, the field (i.e., culture) upon which the church lives and plays has changed significantly. Gone are the days when it could be assumed that a young person who wandered from the faith during their college years would necessarily come back when they got married or had children. Today, young adults are waiting longer to marry and start families, thus leaving more opportunity for the door of faith to close firmly. Moreover, the church is finding it harder than ever to instill a resilient faith in its young people due to these cultural shifts. As McDowell and Wallace suggest, “Why are older teens and young adults less likely to become Christians? If their own answers tell us anything, it’s based on their intellectual skepticism, and the age of doubt and cynicism appears to be dropping.”
     As a result, it is incumbent upon the church to assess the situation honestly, reflect deeply and prayerfully, and respond appropriately so that we can stem the tide. The very health and sustainability of the American church is at stake. As such, this situation is not something that can be left to take care of itself. This will require the church to think like the missionaries we are called to be, continually learning the ever-changing language of culture and communicate the never-changing message of Christ to emerging generations. This will also require intentionality. While the church must always look to the power of the Spirit (Acts 1:8, 1 Corinthians 3:6) rather than relying on its own ability to address felt-needs, the church also has a commission it must obey (Matthew 28:18-20). Fulfilling this commission will require thoughtful planning and execution.
     Starting in January, I will be laying out in my sermon series, "The Rise of the 'Nones': Stemming the Tide," the beginnings of a plan and a shift in thinking that will positively impact our whole church family. The shift will involve developing a slightly different--but quite biblical--view of the church and its responsibility for reaching the next generation. Here is the vision:    To create a family--an intergenerational community of disciples--grounded in a faith in Christ that is resilient by focusing on the transformation of the next generation. I believe that this focus on the next generation will both enliven and grow the older generation as they come to understand that it is the church’s mission to pass the faith faithfully along to those who come behind. In this context, I believe that preachers, youth ministers, missionaries, faithful husbands and wives, effective godly parents, and employees with integrity and witness in the workplace will be developed in this coming generation. And here's the good news. You and I get to be part of this movement!
     Join me starting in January as we upack together what this looks like for BCC going forward!


Tom Frey - January 1st, 2022 at 6:28pm

Excited for this series!

Marie Malone - January 1st, 2022 at 8:29pm

Blessings forward 🙏