We often hear about “the unchurched.” In our Next Big Thing discussions, we segmented the unchurched into three distinct groups, to think about why they are not attending church, and if small groups could reach them.
The Nones are those who check off “None” when asked about their religious identity. People may say, “None,” but as a whole, Americans believe in God and pray, as shown by numerous polls. This suggests that even if one insists he or she is a None – they still feel a Need for God.
The Ones are alone in some way — divorced, widowed, new in town, single. Especially the Ones are young and on the move, relocating to cities where church membership is not the norm — San Francisco, Boston, Washington and New York. While the church has long insisted, “They’ll come back when they have children,” evidence suggests otherwise.
Why would they come back if they find spiritual community elsewhere? A study by two Harvard Divinity School researchers documented the alternative forms of spiritual gathering attracting Millennials. These new small groups include The Dinner Party – a grief recovery group, Cross-Fit Faith — faith-focused exercise circles; SoulCycle, Ctznwell, USDAC, Millennial Trains Project, Camp Grounded, the Sanctuaries. Millennials are not so much unaffiliated, as they are “de-churched,” in the language of these researchers.
Indeed, across the generations a growing number are finding spiritual community in places other than their local churches. A recent study on alternative faith communities found that 24.5 percent of Americans now say their primary form of spiritual nourishment is meeting with a small group of 20 or less people every week. The study’s author says, “About 6 million people meet weekly with a small group and never or rarely go to church. There is a significant movement happening.”
The “Dones” is new moniker, coined by Professor Josh Packard in a his book, Church Refugees. These are people who were active in their churches, mature in their faith, many involved in leadership. And then, something happened, and they were done. For the sake of their faith, they had to step back from church. The research shows that there are millions of Dones. In fact, 15% of the unchurched are born again Christians, according to religious pollster George Barna. While done with church, they are not done with faith.
Many of these unchurched groups may never return to Sunday worship. But does that suggest they are done with spiritual community, even Christian community?The evidence is persuasive that the unchurched seek community and need God — and some are already creating spiritual community. Can we invite them into our small groups? How would we need to change to welcome them as the Nones, Ones and Dones?