In The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker, 2014), pastor James Emery White tackles a growing problem: the increasing number of people who, when asked which religion they practice, check the box marked "none." In 1990 8.1 percent of Americans claimed no religion. By 2012 it had risen to 19.3 percent.
White begins by mining recent research to sketch a picture of the nones: where they came from, what they believe, and why they won't be returning to church anytime soon. The profile of the average none may surprise you. These aren't staunch atheists. White describes them as more disinterested than disbelieving. They don't think much about religion one way or another, and many still pray and believe in God. They don't necessarily mistrust religion; they just don't want to be a part of one. White's interest goes far beyond sociological curiosity. He wants to equip ministry leaders to reach the nones more effectively.
White starts the second half of the book with fire in his gut. He sweeps all the reports and documents off the table and leans forward in his chair, ready for a heart-to-heart with the reader. Over the next several chapters, he voices his anxiety over the current missional structure of the church (or, in many cases, the lack thereof). He's tired of member-swapping growth and has a number of suggestions for churches who want to reach out to the nones and see true conversion growth.
Most of White's recommendations won't surprise you. Revivals and altar calls should give way to a strategy of finding common causes with the religiously unaffiliated. Churchgoers cannot forget the importance of ideas, but in a world where popular opinion is esteemed over objective truth, nones are ...