Why They Don’t Go To Church

Why are there people¬†identified as Nones? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife and I had a trip this morning and when I turned the car on, it was on talk radio, which I normally prefer to listen to because I really don’t care for most of the music today. We live in Tennessee and we’re still in the Bible Belt so we heard a conversation about nones and most people calling in to this local show were talking about material that would not have any interest to the nones. The nones are people who when asked to give a religion say none. It does not necessarily mean they are atheists. It just means that they do not choose to identify with any religion and the whole discussion on the show was based on a statement that only 18% of people attend church weekly.

Before too long, callers were calling in to argue over when the Sabbath was and verses were being misapplied left and right. Then we had the caller calling in to talk about salvation being only in Jesus. Okay. I agree with that, but that says squat about the nones. In fact, as I listened, I realized that this was the problem. Imagine going to someone who is a none and telling them salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. They might first wonder what you’re talking about with salvation and then if anything you’ll be told that they’re happy you found something that works for you, but it just doesn’t work for them.

Or picture the lady who called in and wanted to talk about sodomy some and how our nation is under judgment. (I use the term sodomy also because that is what she used.) Do I think homosexual activity is a sin. Yes. But here’s the problem. You go up to someone today who is a younger person and you tell them that homosexual behavior is wrong. Why? If all you have is “The Bible says so” then they will just be “So much more reason to not trust the Bible.” You could also get told about eating shrimp or mixed clothing or something of that sort. (In fact, this lady speaking had no problem with speaking about Old Testament Law and covenants as if there was a one-to-one parallel.)

But what about the Bible? Well if you tell them that the Bible is the Word of God, they’ll want to know why. What reason can you give? God says so? That’s entirely circular. If you point to your personal testimony, well many of the nones will be glad to tell you a personal testimony of how they went to church growing up and it just doesn’t work for them. Outside of the nones, I can show you plenty of Mormons who have a personal testimony. Do you accept their testimony that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God?

The problem is we’re not reaching the nones because they don’t really think they have something that we can provide for them and we have made church one of the last places that they want to go to. Many of you might be familiar with the work of Michael Patton from Credo House. He wound up getting addicted to pain killers and went to rehab and found that church would be a lot better if it was like that. People were open and honest and able to admit their failures. No one would bother trying to look good around everyone else because hey, if you’re in rehab, you already have some issues and you know it’s a safe place. Why don’t they do that in church?

Because church is not a safe place and so many Christians seem to think that if they are true Christians, they will show they do not have any major problems in their lives.

Church is also seen as a place that’s really pretty boring, and how many of us can relate. How many times is it that nagging can be called preaching? Why is it that the word “preach” has such a negative connotation to it? Frankly, if we think about something that we would want to do for entertainment, most of us would not go and sit down and listen to somebody speak for about half an hour. It’s just not something that we do. Add in especially that you don’t want to go and hear someone talk about how you’re supposedly doing everything wrong in life. Most sermons you hear at church are things you’ve also heard before if you grew up in the church. Church becomes a habit or a routine and you go mainly because some people are there that you like hanging out with.

Let’s also hit the big one. The question of truth is no longer discussed. Christianity has been reduced to an ethical system, as if Jesus just came to show us how to love one another and that was it, which entirely misses the point of the cross. Oh wait. The cross was just so we could go to Heaven when we die, which entirely bypasses any idea of “What am I supposed to do in the meantime?” We act as if the Christian life is just being a good person. You don’t need Christianity for that. The Greek and Roman teachers of the time of Jesus could have taught you how to live a life of virtue. Was Jesus highly advanced in His teaching? Absolutely, but most Romans, Greeks, and Jews were not going around in the first century struggling with an internal sin problem. They knew they weren’t perfect, but they had systems set in place already.

Absent from the church is any notion that Christianity is, you know, true. It’s completely foreign to our thinking to consider that we believe that a man came who was fully God in nature, lived among us and taught the Kingdom of God, died on a cross, and then rose again in a new and glorified body. We somehow forget that this is not just Star Wars happening long long ago in a galaxy far far away. We claim that these are events of history, and yet we have no reason normally for why we say that they are history beyond “The Bible says so” and when we got to why the Bible should be taken seriously, there is nothing. In fact, we seem to treat it like a virtue if we believe for no reason. After all, that is what faith really is.

Well no, that’s not what faith is. Faith is more trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. Believing for the sake of believing is not a virtue. It would not be a virtue to marry someone without having any reason for thinking they’re marriage material. It would not be a virtue to hire someone to watch your kids without any reason to think that they’re competent. It would not be virtue to send your child to a college without any reason to think that it’s a good college for them. Yet here we take an even more important decision, such as our eternal reality and say “But in this case, it is a virtue.”

Believe it or not, the nones don’t want to check their brains at the door and they think they have to. They think that if you are going to be a Christian, it means you have to have a prudish attitude towards sexual matters just because the Bible says so. It means that you have to be someone who opposes science because the Bible says so. It means you are a closed-minded bigot because the Bible says you have to be right. Most of them already believe it makes perfect sense to remove the gender requirement for marriage and since many supports the transgender movement, they really don’t even place much stock in gender anyway. Why should they take you seriously?

And this is where the church has failed. We have not kept up our intellectual standards. We have in fact fallen into the individualism of our culture and we are doing evangelism in the 21st century as if we were living in the 1950’s where all you had to do was go and say what the Bible said and speak about the love of God and give your personal testimony and that was enough. It’s not. I’d say they treat the Bible about as seriously as a newspaper, but most of them would trust a newspaper more. Why should they believe the Bible? Haven’t you read the Wikipedia entry on the Bible?

When we forsook our intellectual convictions, we ultimately turned the church into a self-help therapy session. In fact, listen to a lot of Contemporary Christian music today. A lot of it is therapy. It’s meant to build us up and help us feel better about ourselves instead of inviting us into the grandeur of God. This is just as much our individualism. Now of course the Bible itself says radical things about who we are in Christ, but the focus is the in Christ. The focus is not us. If I want to feel better about myself, I can just go to a therapist today. I don’t need to go to church.

This is also why the Sabbath debate was so concerning to hear. The nones do not care about when we observe the Sabbath. They do not care about it any more than we care about finer points of Muslim doctrine. If we want to look at how salvation is found in Christ, the nones don’t care about that either. They don’t see any need for salvation because hey, what kind of God would judge you so much? Isn’t God love? Most people really have no idea what to do with these people because they have not studied the issues and have no idea how they can reach people on these kinds of issues.

Most of us also are not doing the work. I have written about how we have an escapist mentality with my main example being a woman in a small group who said “I’m saved and my children are saved so let’s just wait for Jesus to come.” Yes. That is entirely what the Great Commission is all about. Get yourself and those you love taken care of and who cares about the rest of the world? Note also the emphasis on getting saved. The emphasis is on God forgiving you. The emphasis is not on spreading the message of the Kingdom of God and proclaiming that Jesus is Lord.

We all realize that if we want to witness to people in another culture, we need to learn the language and customs and such of that culture so we can speak to them. What we have not realized is our neighbor is often that other culture. You have totally different worldviews residing here in America. How are you going to do that evangelism? You might actually have to learn what your neighbor believes and why they do. Believe it or not, you could also bear to learn what you believe and why you do. Have you ever thought about why you believe what you believe? If you haven’t taken the time to think about why you believe what you believe, why should anyone else take such time?

The nones are a sign that we have failed in our intellectual mission in the West. We have abandoned the rich heritage of the church before us and come up with a church that is all about me and does not provide anything the nones think that they need. They have better things to do on a Sunday morning and throughout the week than waste time in their eyes on religion. They are good people in their eyes and need nothing more. If the church wants to reach the nones, the church will have to learn to be the church. We must return to our intellectual heritage. This does not mean we forsake our ethical principles, but we don’t have them floating in air. We back them with why we believe this and make our stand.

The Kingdom of God requires it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters