The term nones was coined when a 2012 Pew Research poll asked Americans how they identified themselves religiously (www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise, accessed 11/8/21). The poll showed a five-percentage-point rise since 2007 in the number of people who marked “none” (as in “no religion”). This led to polls by Gallup, UC Berkley, and Duke University, each confirming that more people were not choosing a religious affiliation. The group with the highest percentage of “none” was Millennials (32 percent), those aged 18–29 that year.
This finding led social analysts and research groups to dig more deeply into the trends and reasons behind the shift and its relationship to church attendance, which had been noticeably declining across the board. Pastors, church leaders, and denominations started to take notice of the histories and criticisms of those who marked “none.” The nones commonly claimed past church attendance and Bible reading coupled with a distrust of authority and dissatisfaction with institutionalized religion.
There are often ebbs and flows with culturally established religions. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish religious authorities (Pharisees and Sadducees) had a long list of do’s and don’ts that every Jew was expected to follow. This became an immense burden to people. Jesus healed a man who had been unable to walk for 38 years on the Sabbath (John 5:1–18). Jewish law stated that no work of any sort was to be done on the Sabbath. Not only did they criticize the healed man for carrying his pallet, but they also persecuted Jesus for healing on that day.
Humans often take what God created for good (like the Sabbath as a day of rest) and add extra rules, regulations, and systems that God never intended. This still happens today and can lead to disillusionment and frustration for people in the church. Many of the nones’ complaints could stem from a legalistic approach to the Bible.
God’s Word should be our source for all knowledge and wisdom (Psalm 119:97–104), guiding us in how to become more like Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the Word (John 1:1–14). He became flesh and dwelt among us. He also didn’t come to get rid of godly rules but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). It is humanity who takes these rules where they were never meant to go.
Jesus upset the entire Jewish religious system with His words and actions. He wanted people to know God in all His goodness, mercy, and love (Luke 19:10). It is what He still wants today for His church (John 17:20–26).
The young adult “nones” of today may have marked a box that did not affiliate them with a certain religion or label, but further research did reveal this: “This is the group most likely to say they love Jesus but not the church—or that they are ‘spiritual but not religious.’ They might appear to be wandering, but they would never claim to have lost their faith” (www.barna.com/research/three-spiritual-journeys-of-millennials, accessed 11/8/21).
The disillusioned, agnostic, and atheist also marked the “none” box. Regardless of one’s label, Jesus came in love for the entire world (John 3:16). A box marked yesterday does not determine a person’s tomorrow or eternity. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). It is through His life, death, and resurrection that we come to know the Father. There is no other way, and no set of rules and regulations, that can bring us to God.