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Rise of the Nones: What the New Data Tells Us About the Non-Religious

First, one of the characteristics of faiths like mine is we tend to see opportunity in everything.

Furthermore, being a monotheist, all monotheist faiths tend to see what goes around them either as the blessing of God or in some sense the judgment of God. So, in other words, when the people of Israel in the Old Testament saw bad news and were in crisis, they did not believe there was no God. They simply believed God was disciplining them. So, in that great tradition, I think God is teaching us something through this difficulty. I think God has a lesson here for our churches.

As such, I think it’s fair to say three things:

First, we continue to lose what some have called our home-field advantage.

On a growing basis, identifying oneself as a Christian is not a means to societal advancement but can actually be a means to societal rejection.

Second, the “squishy middle” is collapsing.

Nominalism will go its way. I believe the future of Christianity in North America will look more like the present-day Pacific Northwest, as I have explained here.

Third, and finally, it is still a vast overstatement to see this as a collapse of the Christian faith in North America.

The reality is evangelicals have been relatively steady as a percent of the population over the last few years. However, there is still great cause for concern here—and for action.

For me, it is both a concern and an opportunity.

I am concerned people are moving away from any religious memory that so many churches, particularly seeker churches, could appeal to. In other words, you can’t bring the Nones back to church—they simply don’t find it appealing.

I see an opportunity for churches to clearly state what a Christian is, as others are no longer claiming that title as frequently. Furthermore, teaching believers to live on mission in their contexts, rather than just to bring their friends to church, is how we will reach the Nones.

So, as society moves away from Christian identification, let’s meet them on the road and say: “We did not believe in that expression of Christianity anyway. Let me tell you about Jesus and how he changes everything.”  

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates; and he has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the Editor-in-Chief of Outreach Magazine, and regularly writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves at his local church, Highpoint Church, as a teaching pastor. Dr. Stetzer is currently living in England and teaching at Oxford University.