The other day, I informed my wife that the number of “nones” are growing in the American Protestant church. She looked at me quizzically and asked, “The church has nuns now?”
No, I explained, not those kinds of nuns. I spelled “none” and told her that this was a group of people who do not affiliate with any church or religion. According to a fresh study from the Pew Research Center, the number of “nones” have spiked from 16.1% to 22.8% in a seven-year period. Though approximately 1 in 7 Americans still identify themselves as Christian, there is also growth in non-Christian faiths, most especially Muslim and Hindu.
As I noted in a previous blog, I firmly believe that the church will never die — it is God’s and nothing of God will be lost. However, though the Body of Christ is eternal, church cells in the form of local congregations may indeed perish. In light of this, some churches may panic and others will double-down in hidebound attitudes and proclamations that spelled their demise long ago.
I certainly don’t have a solution-in-a-bottle. But I do have questions. And often when we ask questions, we begin to formulate answers.
1. Why do you think the mainline church — especially in America — is declining? Are people not interested in the Gospel — or is the church presenting the Gospel in uninteresting ways?
2. What is the purpose of the church? If you were asked to distill this purpose into 10 words or less, what would it say?
3. If your church keeps doing what it is doing with no change in mission or vision, will it be around in 10-15 years?
4. If you asked a few “nones” in your church’s neighborhood about your congregation, what would they say? Would they know your church existed or what it stands for? If your church vanished next week, would the community miss it?
5. Clergy burnout is epidemic. Why? What should the church-at-large do to address this?
6. Read Acts 2:41-47 and Acts 4:32-35. What did the early church do that your church is not doing?
7. What makes a church grow? Is it programs? policies? leaders? people in the pew? God? Or is it a combination? If so, what is the role and relative significance of each?
These questions are challenging but I think they’re worth asking. The “nones” who are searching for meaning and purpose might appreciate it if your own church asked — and answered — them.
Photo of abandoned church courtesy of Michelle Coleman via Flickr