A new religious group of Americans has emerged in recent years. It is called the “Nones,” not to be confused with habit-wearing “nuns,” of course. These “Nones” are those with no religious affiliation. When surveyed or asked about their religion, they answer, “None.”
According to Gallup, this is the fastest growing “religious” group, reaching almost a quarter of the U.S. population. This has caused a great deal of hand-wringing in Christian circles in regards to the future, and no small amount of ink has been spilt in its analysis. Such analysis is proper, calling all thoughtful leaders of faith to reflection. However, for me, I am more concerned with another group: The “Dones.”
These people used to go to church or some other house of worship. Maybe they were even leaders in a congregation, and never imagined life on the “outside” of institutional faith. But now they have checked out and gone home. They are “done.” This is no small number, as some three million people leave the organized church every year. There are many factors: Demographics, technology, pluralism, and church scandals to name a few.
Many of these folks are simply burned – burned up and burned out – tired, exhausted, even harmed by the very institutions they trusted to give them life and meaning. Others have “outgrown” the faith of their church or denomination. That is, they don’t “fit in” any longer, or have come to spiritual conclusions inconsistent with those with whom they share a pew.
For myself, I was a “Done” for a season, leaving the church and pulpit to figure out what I could still believe and what had to be jettisoned for my soul’s sake and sanity. I understand now, on the other side of this “faith crisis” what I could not have fathomed when my faith was young and new: To quit on the established church can be a means of recovering personal faith.
Yes, that’s blasphemy in some circles, this idea of a church-less faith, and many – well ensconced within the establishment – will take to their keyboards and comment sections to correct my heresy. Correct away, but as you do, find if you can some compassion for those whose journey of faith has taken them into doubt, whose pursuit of truth, liberty, and clarity has taken them away from the fold.
Such people do not need graceless letters of correction, finger-pointing sermons, the unyielding weight of unmet expectations, or the breathless quoting of some rulebook like it is the voice of God. Those are some of the very things that have contributed to so many becoming “Dones” in the first place.
What is needed is the spirit of Christ, the compassion of Jesus, who made a career of fiercely resisting the religious establishment while simultaneously creating a gracious community for “the lost sheep.” Imitating his pattern would help more people “stay” within their communities of faith, and even if some had to “go,” they could safely go with God.