What About the Nones?

A follow-up to our review of the book, You Found Me, by Rick Richardson

In his newest book, You Found Me: New Research on How Unchurched Nones, Millennials, and Irreligious Are Surprisingly Open to Christian Faith, Rick Richardson addresses several myths about the American Church.  The first myth he addresses is that America is becoming a “nation of nones.”

This myth has arisen out of research by the Pew Research Center that shows that people identifying as “none” are the fastest growing religious segment in America.

The growth of that segment is reason for concern, but not for panic.  It’s a myth that we are in danger of soon becoming a nation of nones.

One reason Richardson cautions against panic is that the research doesn’t distinguish between nominal and committed Christians.  “This decline is overwhelmingly due to the former letting go of identification with Christian faith,” he observes.  He continues, “Protestant evangelicals remain the largest religious group in America, surpassing nones and every other religious identification.”

Richardson wants to address myths about the American Church because these myths give us a false understanding of the receptivity of people in our culture.  That can magnify our fear in sharing the gospel or even cause us to remain silent.  But Richardson counters, “The biggest challenge congregations need to overcome is our own mindset and not the hostility or apathy of the culture.”

The biggest challenge congregations need to overcome is our own mindset and not the hostility or apathy of the culture.”

Richardson also clarifies that the much discussed, and growing, ‘none’ category, or religiously unaffiliated, is actually made up of three subgroups:  atheists, agnostics, and ‘nothing in particular.’  “Many ‘nothing in particulars’ value religion or at least spirituality, believe in God, and pray, and many are quite open to faith conversations.”

“It turns out that ‘nothing in particulars’ have nothing in particular in common with atheists and agnostics, except that none of these groups identify with religious institutions,” Richardson notes.

Rico Tice of Christianity Explored Ministries once observed that the person with the megaphone doesn’t necessarily speak for the whole group.  That is consistent with what Richardson says about how the vocal atheists have skewed our understanding of the receptivity of all nones. “Atheists use a megaphone and have given the appearance of being much more influential and numerous than they are.” Richardson found that “When it comes to spirituality, belief in God, prayer, & receptivity to spiritual conversations & invitations, nothing in particulars are far more receptive than most atheists and agnostics.” For example, Richardson notes that “43 percent of atheists think the Christian faith is harmful to society, 21 percent of agnostics do, and only 3 percent of ‘nothing in particulars’ do.  The stark contrast in that one attitude is echoed in many other measures of spiritual receptivity and openness to Christian faith.” Rick Richardson

Read our full review of Richardson’s book here.

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