The rise of the ‘Nones’

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

-- 1 John 2:19

The percentage of professing Christians in America has dropped in recent years, falling from 80% of the population to below 70%. The main reason is the rise of the "Nones." Other religions have consistently tallied under 10%, atheists and agnostics hover a little over 10%, but the percentage of "Nones," those who profess to be Christian or spiritual but hold no or have dropped out of any church affiliation has grown to over 15%. What's happening?

Nuns wear habits, but Nones got out of the habit of attending church services on Sundays. This was happening long before COVID, but was exacerbated by the virus. They say if you do anything for 21 days, it becomes a habit. On the flip side, if you ignore a previously held habit for the same time frame, it's easy to, well, get out of the habit.

The problem with this common version of the Nones is that they have proven their professions of faith were nothing more than a mere external habit. Once broken, for whatever reason, it doesn't often come back. Real faith is an internal transformation that results in external obedience, disciplines, rituals, and yes, habits. Habits formed by genuine faith cannot be easily broken.

Most Nones became Nones during their college years. Forced to attend church services as children and adolescents, the freedom of college life, or early career life after high school, entices them away from the church. These Nones expect to find themselves in Heaven one day, if not in church. They were cajoled or coached into making some kind of profession of faith or confirmation, baptized according to some tradition, and told being good is the way to the good place. And of course, everybody's good, especially the Nones.

Blame is to be shared here, between the Nones themselves and the churches they departed. Most of these churches are dead Catholic or Mainline congregations where doubt and disbelief were preached from lame pulpits instead of a robust rendering of the word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Shallow and overeager evangelical churches are to blame, too, who coax young people down aisles and have them repeat prayers that offer false security in a cheap Gospel.

Then there is what I call the Great Deadening. We had a Great Awakening at the beginning of the American experiment, thanks to God using great preaching from the likes of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and others. Dead sinners were quickened to spiritual life, churches filled, and other results were palpable.

Today, during America's decline, we are experiencing the Great Deadening. People who have gone through the motions of faith and Christian observances, like regular Sunday worship, have come to realize they have no faith at all. So, why attend services? As John wrote, "They went out from us because they were not of us."

I can think of only one valid reason for a genuine Christian to drop out of church and become a None. It is the malpractice of Christianity, particularly by clergy, that wounds and scars the soul. Sadly, it is not uncommon. A preacher sexually assaults or seduces a young girl. A priest with repressed homosexuality molests a young boy. A prominent layman has an affair with a woman in the church, and at least two families are destroyed. I've lived through some things like this myself, but opted to stay in. I don't blame others for checking out.

There are exceptions to every rule I have offered for being a None. But, with the exception of the latter, most Nones drop out of church because they are not exceptional; they are not Christian at all. They never were, and sadly, most likely never will be. I won't say none of the Nones will be in Heaven, but the number will be a lot smaller than they think.

So there it is, Nones. I think you are disingenuous. But I admit you've been negatively influenced by disingenuous church members, who probably won't be in Heaven, either. But you are intelligent, more so than the average pew sitter. So take a look around. There is genuine Christianity and there are biblical churches to be found. Try one out. You just might come back, for good, and for the glory of God.

Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].