Where Have all of the “Nones” Gone?

By Scott Keith

This week, the results of a new survey by the Pew Research Center were released. The study asked why people who were raised in the faith but now identify as religious “nones,” that is those without a religious affiliation, have elected to abandon the faith of their youth.

The results were ranged, but according to the poll, around fifty percent of the “nones” deserted the faith because of the absence of belief. One in five indicated an objection to “organized religion.”

Of fifty percent of “nones” who declare that they no longer have faith, several name scientific objections as the reason they do not believe. Others mentioned “common sense,” objecting that all religions suffer from a distinct “lack of evidence.” Still, others say that they just do not believe in God.

Among the twenty percent who indicate a dislike of organized religion claim that they hate the hierarchical nature of religious groups (Who doesn’t?). Still, others think the Church runs too much like a business (Duh!). The one thing you are sure to find if you attend church is a bunch of sinners!

I sometimes suspect, though, that most objections that “nones” have to the true faith once handed down are existential rather than intellectual. A good friend of mine Mark Jasa, who is a street evangelist and apologist, has also told me that a good number of objections that start as intellectual are unmasked as existential after a short conversation. Then when I want to be depressed, I remember regarding the freshman survey courses I teach at the University where, when asked, the majority of young “nones” college students don’t care or even know why anyone would ask about truth claims.

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Wow! Working at the University now for five years, I believe that I’ve seen this coming. The problem is, once gone, getting these “nones” back may be harder than we think. Quite simply, we had our chance while they were still with us, and we screwed it up.  Now they’ve moved past our concerns for them and their faith, and getting them to reinvest the literal time and mental energy may be damn near impossible. Stealing a line from an author and theologian much smarter than myself, I’d agree when he says that we have to assume that our churches are incubators for the next generation of “nones” and ask ourselves every week: “what do we have to do to keep that from happening?”

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time imagining that most of the pastors I know have the training or wherewithal to do what it takes to stop, or even slow, the incubation process. What would it take? The same smart guy theologian had three suggestions that I think we should consider. He said: 1) Pastors ought to learn apologetics themselves to teach the youth (teach us all) to defend the faith and answer common questions. 2) Unashamedly search through everything taught in their church––either explicitly or implicitly––and utterly destroy anything that presents Christianity as a mere subjective feeling or set of moral platitudes unvaried from all the other bullshit religions of the world. 3) Focus on vigorously and defiantly proclaiming the unadulterated Gospel of Christ from the pulpit and give the Sacrament graciously from the altar, teach solid verifiable doctrine in the classroom, and answer apologetic questions, sometimes even before they’re asked.

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When discussing this over email with Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, he claimed: “I think our default is, ‘Let’s keep doing what we’ve been doing for the last hundred years or so?'” I think he is right! He has told me several times that, long ago, before the “nones” were “nones,” he offered twelve Lutheran parishes in Southern California to invite families within five miles of their church to an evening of Q & A (which he would totally handle from beginning to end) on what Christianity is and on what basis we think the claim is true. Did he get an affirmative, “Hell yes, come on down!”? Nope! Zero for twelve parishes!

So here we go. I’ll throw down the gauntlet one more time. You invite them, and I’ll come (at no cost to you or your church). You get a group of your friends and neighbors, youth, families, and disillusioned college students together in a room, make some coffee, and give me a call. I’ll show up, drink some coffee, have some amazingly good conversation, and answer questions. I’ll handle the whole evening and do what I was trained to do by the best in the world: defend the faith and answer common objections. Who knows, maybe I’ll convince some of my friends from the Thinking Fellows and 1517 the Legacy Project to come along too. I’m serious! If you are too, feel free to contact joy@1517legacy.com and she’ll set the whole thing up.

The ball is officially in your court. And if you’re too far away for us to visit, there is still hope. Tune in for the next fifteen weeks to the Thinking Fellows podcast as we do a special series of episodes focusing on apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith). Maybe after fifteen weeks you can think of hosting a Q & A yourself.


P.S., If you are in south Orange County, bring your high-school aged kiddos to Sunday School at Faith Lutheran Church, Capistrano Beach, even once or twice a month. There in the iTrust class, they will meet Kurt and Debi Winrich, who have been training high-school aged youth to defend their faith on the basis of solid evidence for fifteen years. The kiddos that leave their classroom after four years of solid apologetics instruction and are ready to take on the world that is hostile to Christianity. Good on Kurt and Debi for their dedication to confirming the faith week after week.

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