An Almost-NONE’s Perspective on Why the NONES Have Left the Church

I wrote a letter to the church recently.

Not my church, but to the church in general.

An interesting topic was presented in my Sunday School class a few weeks ago. I was gripped by it.

We were talking about “NONES”. Those, who when asked their religious affiliation, answer “None”. It doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t ‘religious’ or even Christian. They simply have no ties to a church or any religious affiliation. One third of adults under 30 in our nation today consider themselves “NONES”. The highest percentage the Pew Research Center has ever seen.

This should concern us. I mean, this should really inflict alarm in the heart of today’s church. It should make us ask some hard questions and find some good answers.

It was interesting listening to the discussion surrounding this topic in class. Most of them were over 30 and frankly, just didn’t get it. (No offense) I’m not pretending I ‘get it’, but I do have perspective. Maybe because I came very close to becoming a “NONE” myself.

I almost left. In fact at one point I told God “I QUIT!” Out loud and everything.

I know a lot of people, some I grew up with, family even, who really have quit. Or who have been so burned and burdened that they just can’t muster the strength to go back, even though they might want to.

This is really happening. These aren’t just ‘numbers’, these are people. People who have completely lost hope in the church, who have lost their confidence in Christ. And a lot of it frankly is our fault.

This brings to mind the lyrics from a Casting Crowns’ song, Jesus Friend of Sinners:

Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away
We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing
Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You but they’re tripping over me
Always looking around but never looking up I’m so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours

I wrote this to be thought provoking and not taken literally, at least not by me anyway. I haven’t really quit. But maybe I have in a lot of ways…

Dear Church,

I’m curious, why have the “None’s” divorced the church?

It’s because we are tired. We are tired of never measuring up and not being good enough. We cannot possibly attain to the standard you hold over us. So, we quit.

We have a need to be loved. To be known. To be accepted. To be cherished. We have a need to know the truth. To believe in something. Someone. We have a need for that truth to make a difference and to tell us who we are and why we are here. We have a need to be forgiven.

Sadly, Church, you are not meeting those needs. What we find frankly turns us off and turns us away. Instead of being loved, we are told to love God. But WHO is God? Instead of being known, we are told to know God’s Word. But again, WHO is God? Instead of being accepted, we are told to accept His will. But what does that mean? Instead of being cherished, we are told to cherish his law and hold to his commandments. But honestly, it all seems a little pointless. What’s in it for us?

Church, you are confusing us. You tell us Jesus came to heal the sick, but you tell us to stop being sick. You tell us, God came to save the lost but then tell us to get our acts together. We hear,“God loves you and has come to give you joy, to give you peace, to give you rest, to forgive you, to give you life.” But that is not what we see modeled by you. Instead we are told to Do More and Try Harder. You ask us, What’s Wrong with You? And tell us that, We Should Know Better. Well, we really just don’t know any better (and I’ll let you in on a little secret, neither do you, so stop acting like a hypocrite).

You have warped our view of Christ. “Grace” is something our parents used to say at meals, and honestly, I never really saw it work for them. And the “Love of God” is just an expression we tack on to the end of a sentence when we can’t find a parking space.

None of it has any meaning.

But this is what we are longing for. We long for meaning behind the doing. We need a Rescuer, not a rule set-ter. We are aching to be known, really known. We don’t want you to be scared of us. We are dying, literally dying, to be accepted just the way we are, with all our imperfections and screw-ups. And we are afraid to ever say it. But we want to know what it feels like to be cherished, to know we have value and aren’t just taking up valuable space.

This we find outside of your doors, believe it or not. You, Church, are supposed to be a safe place, a hospital I can come to, to bind up my wounds, but I do not find that kind of healing with you. So I go to the outside and I find it there. My soul is screaming for relationship, for connection and community. For that safe place. The outside gives this to me. They don’t strap me with rules and regulations and judgment. No, it’s quite the opposite, really. I am free to be who I want to be. So this is where I turn. To the safety of my girl-friend or my boy-friend or same-sex relationship. To the protection of drugs and alcohol and self-mutilation, numbing my pain and emptiness. To my addictions and dysfunctions, because it works, if not for a while.

We don’t have time or patience for this “Carrot and Stick” kind of faith. Be good and you’ll get a carrot. Be bad and I’ll beat you with a stick. Because, didn’t you hear me when I said, my soul is screaming for relationship?

Religion, Christianity, Church, these do not offer relationship. So, we’re done with you. We don’t want a religion that means nothing. Haven’t you seen the state of the family, our country, our economy, our world? We don’t have time to waste trying to be perfect or time trying to hide our imperfections. Why would we choose that when, like I said, I can find what I need on the outside a lot faster and safer than you can give it to me here?

I don’t want to be rude, but Church, you need to hear this. You got distracted. You fell asleep at the wheel and now you’re paying for it. And now we’re paying for it. You majored on the minor and minored on the major. You were swallowed up in the trap of Look Good and Do Better. But I’m here to tell you, that that’s just not real life. This pain and hurt I feel, is real life. This pressure I feel, is real life. This culture that tells me anything goes is real life. And, this economy that is sucking the very breath out of me, is the real life I’m living in.

And how does your Jesus fit in this real life?

I’m not sure why, but you seem to be afraid of the message of grace. I mean, real grace, what it looks like in real life. This baffles me, because this is what I need the most, this scary, dangerous gospel of grace. It’s the very thing that makes the difference and makes Jesus real and feel right. If you would have told me that Jesus doesn’t necessarily care what I look like or even what I do. If you would have shown me His love and acceptance and forgiveness instead of strapping me with a burdensome way of living. If you would have explained to me, really explained, that He came to take all of my sticks and to ive me all His carrots regardless of my “sinful transgressions”. Well, maybe, just maybe I would have stuck around a little longer.

But right now, I’m Just. Too. Exhausted. So I quit.