Recent news reports tell of the growing number of “nones” among the American people. A significantly number of persons claim no religious affiliation when the question is asked. Nobody seems to have a definitive answer as to why this is happening. Just maybe….the answers are multiple and complex.
Some suggest this new “none” category reflects the number of people who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” But no one seems to know exactly what that means or what those who make this claim are saying. I’m not sure even the “nones” know!
Others suggest that life has become so hectic—even frantic—so that religious ties or any form of regular worship have a lower priority. When needing to drop some weekly routines from life, worship attendance seems one easy choice. Secular pursuits have a higher priority and greater affinity. And plenty of those who currently do claim membership in a Christian denomination acknowledge they only join in community worship once or twice per month. Ironically (to me) this sporadic worship pattern feels “regular” to many! Such changes in habits and patterns substantially lowers the theological and biblical memory of many—even many of those who grew up in the church.
Still others lament dull worship services and dispassionate preaching. When I recently asked a young woman about her church affiliation, she said she doesn’t go anywhere much. Then she added, “If I visit a church, and if the people don’t seem excited to be there and the preaching isn’t spirited, I’m outta there.” Seemingly, even some so-called “contemporary” worship can have its dull routines.
However, I can’t help wondering if there is not a fourth possibility. Is our theology and discipleship formation too tired and worn? Do we need some kind of reformulation of our beliefs to express the place and power of Jesus and the meaning of Kingdom living in this new day? Are the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed live options for today’s post-modern believer?
I am increasingly convinced that thinkers, teachers, and writers like Brian D. McLaren are moving us in the right direction. The message in his book titles confront me regularly: EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE, or A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIAN, or A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIANITY: TEN QUESTIONS THAT ARE TRANSFORMING THE FAITH or (especially) A GENEROUS ORTHODOXY. These clever titles seem suggestive of the direction in which we need to move. Many people long for a fresh, compelling word from the Christian tradition, but don’t know the questions to ask or the answers for which they are searching. So they slide away from the Church on a quest for more “satisfying” pursuits.
Just maybe…Christian leadership needs to find a passionate, convincing, relational, and connective, reformulated word to engage the rise of the “nones” in 2015. A worthy challenge for creative worship leadership and preaching in the coming summer months!
WPA Commission on Archives and History