The “Nones” and the Spirituality of Everyday Living


One of the most important challenges confronting the church today is the rise of the so-called “Nones,” that is, the religiously unaffiliated, those who check “none” when asked for their religious or denominational affiliation. Today, 20 percent of Americans and 30 percent of people under thirty are Nones, and those numbers are growing by about 20 percent year after year.

Much of the conversation about Nones, reflected in the popular literature on the subject, has focused on creating a new ministry product (or the appearance of one) that Nones will find palatable. Elizabeth Drescher recommends that we shift our focus from broadcasting our message to listening to and appreciating how the unaffiliated themselves describe their own approaches to meaning-making, self-realization, or self-transcendence.

We don’t need a clever marketing strategy for reaching the Nones. We need an approach for engaging with people that transcends the arbitrary lines we draw and the dichotomous categories we create.

Drescher also reminds us that Nones are not a single unified group. They are not all hipster Millennials who hang out in coffee shops on Sunday morning while the faithful are at worship. Rather, they represent a wide range of beliefs, practices, backgrounds, and ages. There are some Nones who are deeply spiritual and even religious.

The Same Spiritual Longings

Conversely, there are people in our own congregations who struggle with doubt and disbelief. When we get beyond statistics and our own prejudices and preconceptions about Nones, we begin to see that the affiliated and unaffiliated have more in common than we might first expect. I have seen this in my own parish experience. Each time I have set out to plan a new ministry for that imagined proto-typical Millennial None, current members of my congregation inevitably come flooding in. I have come to understand that many of my members share the same interests and deep spiritual longings.

Naming the Holy

It turns out that attentiveness to everyday spirituality is vitally important when it comes to engaging with Nones. A survey conducted among Nones by Elizabeth Drescher in 2012 found that it was precisely these everyday activities and practices that Nones considered most spiritually meaningful. The most spiritually significant were enjoying friends (32 percent), enjoying family (24 percent), enjoying pets (23 percent), enjoying and sharing food (21 percent), prayer (19 percent), enjoying nature (18 percent), enjoying and creating music (17 percent), enjoying and creating art (11 percent), and enjoying physical activity (8 percent).

Some things immediately jump out from this data. First, the most durable traditional religious category of meaning-making among Nones is prayer. This is one of the reasons that offering to pray with others at the farmers’ market, Panera, the train station, and through social media is consistently so well received.

Second, it is clear that this meaning-making is rooted in everyday experiences: enjoying family and friends, pets, food, nature, music, art, and physical activity. These are not just diversions, hobbies, or the humdrum of everyday life. They aren’t things people do while they bide their time between visits to church. These are the activities and practices Nones themselves identify as spiritually important experiences. And so, if we are to engage the Nones who are present inside and beyond our congregations, online and in person, we must understand these are spiritually meaningful practices. We must acknowledge their spiritual significance and recognize them as holy.

Naming the holy is one of the key roles of ministry leaders today. It is something we can do whether we are scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, or having conversations in the neighborhood. We can name people’s actions and conversations as the holy callings, activities, and moments they are. This not only helps parishioners see their lives more holistically, but it can help us connect beyond our congregations in digital and online gathering places with Nones.

Rather than proclaiming church or worship as the solution to every problem, the answer to every question, the holiest of callings, the only way to really encounter God, we need first to understand how people already make meaning of their daily lives and participate with them in that. Only then will we have earned the trust and gained the opportunities to relate those experiences to our story of faith and our faith communities.

We don’t need a clever marketing strategy for reaching the Nones. We need an approach for engaging with people that transcends the arbitrary lines we draw and the dichotomous categories we create.

This article is adapted from Keith’s book The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World (Morehouse Publishing, 2015). Used by permission. The Digital Cathedral is available from Amazon and Cokesbury.

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About Author

Keith Anderson

Keith Anderson is pastor at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church near Philadelphia and coauthor of Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Church Publishing, 2018) and author of The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World (Morehouse Publishing, 2015).

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