What on earth are “millennial nones”?
Recently a Pew Research Poll, a Gallup poll and a poll from UC-Berkley and Duke University showed church affiliation in the United States is as low as it has ever been since they’ve been counting heads. Now almost 20% of Americans list their religious affiliation as “none.” Dubbed “nones” by the number crunchers, they discovered that a significant number of Millennials (people aged 18-29), a third actually, fall into this category.
The Barna Group dug deeper. Who are these young adults? Did they ever have a faith? If so, why are they checking “none” on surveys? What has turned them off to church? The Barna Group described three categories of millennial nones in its Three Spiritual Journeys of Millennials report:
• The Nomads: These 18 to 29 year olds have a Christian background and still consider themselves Christian even though they are no longer engaged in church. Many in this group do not value faith and religion and believe going to church is optional. About 1/4 say they don’t fit in anymore, despite having been active in church previously. They would say they love Jesus, not the church; they are “spiritual but not religious.”
•The Prodigals: This group has lost the faith they once had and do not see themselves returning to Christianity, believing it can’t meet their spiritual needs. Some in this group may have been injured by church or experienced an intellectual change leading to this long term dismissal of faith.
•The Exiles: This group still attends church but feels lost, unable to find a setting that helps them connect their faith with their everyday lives. They try to remain active in their culture without giving up their allegiance to Christ.
Reading about these Millennial groups, I fail to see where the 18-29 years olds have a lock on these titles. So many of my peers (Baby Boomers) tell me they don’t attend church anymore but are “spiritual.” These are the same people who years ago sang in the choir or ushered at services. The Prodigals are well represented in my peer group too. Some have divorced or have broken some denominational taboo and simply walked away without looking back. I suspect many of my grey haired friends in the pews today are Exiles. They are going through the motions and continue to try to correlate what is said in church with what happens in the world.
The question for churches today is how do you reach these people? How do you begin to heal old wounds or clarify doctrine to those who no longer care? How do you make church relevant again to those who once stood beside you in worship? How does the Church interact with the current culture in a meaningful way without watering down doctrine?
I think my pastor was on to something when he said the closer he grows to Jesus, the less he can tolerate religion. I found that statement interesting since technically, “religion” puts food on his table. I understand him, however, because ten years ago this month I was a bit of a nomad, exile and prodigal rolled into one. I had I decided I was too old to go through the motions anymore and was finally going to live and act according to my beliefs. But instead of walking away from church altogether, I stepped next door to another denomination and it made all the difference for me. Simply put, my current church brings me to the foot of the Cross in a way I had never experienced before. I realize now “religion” is meaningless unless it is Christ centered. In fact, I would say without Jesus at its heart it can be toxic to the spirit. Find Jesus first and all else follows