“Nones” reject traditional, organized religion for real, Spirit-filled worship and loving people.
It’s all over Facebook, Twitter, CNN and more. The church is shrinking. Pew Research Center released a study that showed that the group of people identifying as Christians in the United States has shrunk by eight percent. This is a serious finding because it suggests that more and more people are leaving the church.
The study has the religious community in an uproar. Yet, this conversation has actually been going on for some time now. When speaking of non-church goers in his book Unchristian, Barna Research Group’s David Kinnaman says, “they think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be.” In a sermon series on the topic Pastor Michael Kelly commented saying, “While individuals are being gunned down, the church is worried about drums.”
There is so much discussion and debate on this issue and all types of statistics, but why not get it straight from the horse’s mouth? Why not ask people who do not go to church why they do not go?
Marlon is a 35 year-old musician from Bakersfield. He has been married for eight years, and he and his wife have three kids. He is a fourth generation Seventh-day Adventist Christian who rarely attends church, although he did two months ago for a family reunion event. He generally attends once every other month, but he does not go regularly because–brace yourself–“there’s nothing there.”
What’s missing, we asked? “[T]he Spirit of the thing” is gone,” Marlon said. The church has lost “the compassion for the people that come through the door.”
Maurice is a 35 year-old construction worker from Pittsburgh. He is divorced, but lives with his girlfriend and their three kids. Having been a member of a Baptist church, then a Lutheran church, then another Baptist church, and most recently a Seventh-day Adventist Church, Maurice says he is “caught in the middle. I don’t know, but I know there’s a God.”
He has not been to church in three months and may go twice a year. When asked why he does not go he said, “I don’t feel the love…it’s more about what you got and what you don’t got more than a relationship with God.”
Tamika, a 31 year-old Community Organizer and Birth Worker (Doula) from Atlanta has been married for four years, and she and her husband have two kids. Tamika was raised in Baptist and Pentecostal settings, but said she stopped going to church in college when it became more about “getting” (referring to word of faith and prosperity theology) than God and developing a relationship with Him. On the other hand, she attended other churches that were “oppressive” and “judgmental.” She has not been to church in years, but did go for a funeral in 2012. She intimates that social and political consciousness is what she is missing from church, along with critical biblical and theological studies that empower people to improve their personal lives and make the world a better place.
What was strikingly similar was what they are watching on the news, how they get their music and how they describe their spirituality. All of them commented that they are paying close attention to stories of suspicious, unjustified deaths of Black males around the country. All of them receive the majority of their music from some streaming service like Spotify or iHeart Radio. And all of them describe themselves as devout seekers of God, spiritual understanding, truth, and personal growth. While their approaches differ, their quests are all authentic and vibrant.
The world is changing fast. Five years ago iTunes radio did not even exist. Five years later, people feel like they can not live without it. But it is not just the music that is streaming. Everything is streaming. The news is streaming. The NBA Playoffs is streaming. Even churches are streaming. And while the world is moving and streaming at such a rapid pace the systems of power and dominance are shifting all around us as well. People are not waiting for the little local church to figure it out. Young people all around the world are moving on to find the tools that will fit them for their journey, whether the church is willing and able to help or not.
What will the church do to respond to these serious seekers? Will we hold on to disjointed methods of communication while unlimited media can be streamed at the push of a button? Will we continue to stifle authentic cultural expression while our youth are flocking to the local cafe for open-mic night? Will we refuse to love the unlovable even though Christ stretched his arms wide to embrace them? Hopefully not for long because He’s coming back really soon to see how we treated the rest of his children.
People often say, “Don’t look at people. Look at Jesus.” I will be the first to say that is a cop-out too readily used to absolve people’s bad behavior. Nevertheless, we are still left with the alternative. And whenever I look to Jesus, I am always convicted and inspired. It makes me think of this text:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. (Luke 4:16-20 NIV)
What many people forget about this text is that right after this scene, the church leaders and longtime members actually tried to throw Jesus off a cliff (see verse 29). I am certain we have never seen that level of anger and drama in our churches! It has not become that bad! But, the drama did not deter Jesus. He saw the church as it should be, not as it was. Even though He went to church regularly, He was careful to do the things that truly represented the Spirit and love of the Father. And thus He established a new church based on these principles.
Even though He went to church regularly, He was careful to do the things that truly represented the Spirit and love of the Father.
The church I joined is the church that Jesus described: committed to serving the poor, liberating people from prison (internal and external), healing people’s brokenness and blindness, and promoting equality in our world. That is the church Jesus established, and that is the church I joined. We do not always look like it. We do not always act like it. But I am not the least bit distracted or deterred from what Jesus sent us to do. I want all of my friends to help me with this amazing mission. I cannot possibly do this by myself. After all, every journey is so much more fun with friends.