To be specific
The bland need to get salty to reach the ‘nones’
It’s good to be specific. That’s why Jesus spoke in parables. We remember what we’re told when the message puts down roots: a lost sheep, a sower of seed, a wayward son. No matter how great the idea, generalities evaporate. Specifics come to life.
Is religious faith in the United States fading into a vapor of generality? That’s the trend revealed in a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. About one in five American adults today is what’s become known as a “none” — someone who doesn’t belong to any organized religion.
This means the number of Americans with no religious affiliation has hit an all-time high. The rise of the nones is especially strong among young people. One in three U.S. adults under 30 doesn’t claim a spiritual home.
But here’s why specificity, or the lack of it, is a key to understanding this trend: Nones haven’t necessarily turned their back on religious faith. Sixty-eight percent of nones believe in God or a higher being; 20 percent say they pray every day.
Why, then, do so many shun religious affiliation? The reasons may be deeper than the notion that “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Perhaps, for many nones, religious labels mean little or nothing. U.S. culture has grown more pluralistic, secular and individualistic. Divisions of regionalism and ethnicity have faded. Communities and associations that used to form the core of one’s identity have submerged into the generality of a mass culture. The melting pot has boiled down a lot of distinct forms of Christianity into a generic American evangelicalism. And we are poorer for it.
If belonging to a religious subculture sounds foreign to the nones, the church will have to show why anyone with a broad worldview would want to join a narrow way.
Fortunately, although religious labels have lost their power to attract, the gospel has not. But the church does have the power to repel. The institution might hinder the message. We need to make sure we’re not blocking anyone’s view of Christ.
Nones will judge whether the church is a community that makes lives better or an institution consumed by tasks of self-preservation and drained by battles irrelevant beyond its walls.
A culture that prizes rugged individualism will not destroy a yearning for community. It may even heighten the desire to be part of something bigger and filled with a higher purpose.
A culture of secularism will not satisfy a spiritual search. A generation that keeps its distance from the church probably has just as much spiritual hunger as the one that came before it. They’re just not looking to the church for answers.
The church needs to prove it is better than they’ve seen. The bland must become salty. One way to be savory is to be specific about who we are as Mennonites — and Anabaptist theology can be pretty spicy.
A spiritual journey is best taken with others who “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). That’s a faith community. To join one you have to get specific.
Comment on the article To be specific
Please keep comments civil. MWR editors reserve the right to remove any comment. When posting a comment, you agree to the MWR Comments Policy. Name and comment will be posted; commenters are strongly encouraged to give their full name. Email address is for follow-up only and will not be made public.