In a culture that preaches anything but the Christian Gospel, Millennials thirst for churches that provide ageless truths revealing the meaning of life. Thus the Church need not fear the seeming growth of “nones” in America. This represents an opportunity rather than a danger, since it simply requires that the Church pursues its central mission to “make disciples of all nations” by preaching the Gospel.
Popular thought leaders increasingly point to the rising tide of “nones” as heralding the end of Christianity’s importance in America, despite evidence contradicting this fallacious narrative. The story goes that fewer young Americans buy into the exclusive truth claims of Christianity and have abandoned religion in droves, resulting in the swelling ranks of religiously unaffiliated “nones” across America.
Public Religion Research Institute CEO Robert P. Jones serves as an example of one public intellectual promoting this narrative. In his book The End of White Christian America published in 2016, Jones partially attributes the supposed death of “White Christian America” to the failure to accommodate young Americans’ shifting morals. As IRD contributor Derryck Green writes in his book review for Juicy Ecumenism:
Jones’ claims that the refusal to bend to cultural trends and accept gay marriage (which he labels anti-gay) puts the evangelical portion of White Christian America at odds with younger Americans (132-137). There’s a subtle suggestion that evangelicals should follow their mainline brethren and bend or reject traditional Christian biblical and theological teaching on marriage as a strategy to broaden its appeal to younger Americans.
Deeper analysis rebuts arguments like those advanced by Jones. Religious researcher Rodney Stark debunks several myths about “nones,” Millennials, and religion in his book The Triumph of Faith, which I recently reviewed.
Stark begins by refuting the claim Millennials’ Church attendance represents an unprecedented rejection of the Church. He concedes that “younger Americans are attending church less often than are older generations,” yet he denies this has resulted in lower overall church attendance.
He says that younger Americans have “always” attended church less often than their elders. But “generation after generation,” they predictably start attending church more often as they get older and start families. Consequently church attendance has remained remarkably constant over the past three decades.
Furthermore, Stark clarifies the emergence of more “nones” in America. He says this represents nothing new or scary in the religious landscape (emphasis Stark’s):
Back in 1990 most Americans who seldom or never attended church still claimed a religious affiliation when asked to do so. Today, when asked their religious preference, instead of saying Methodist of Catholic, now a larger proportion of non-attenders say “none,” by which most seem to mean “no actual membership.” The entire change has taken place within the nonattending group, and the nonattending groups has not grown.
Stark also busts another myth: that young Evangelicals abandon the church because they are becoming more liberal.