Rise of the nones part 2: Equipping the Church
In part one, we sought to better understand the rise of the religiously unaffiliated with PRRI’s Research Director Dr. Dan Cox. This is a trend we cannot ignore as now fully one-fourth of the American population identify as religious nones. Find part one here.
Our aim is not just the acquisition of better facts, but better understanding to inform action. So, we also spoke with Jana Harmon, a teaching fellow with the CS Lewis Institute about what it looks like to reach out to those who are within the nones. Jana is currently researching the compelling topic of Religious Conversion of Atheists to Christianity.
From a Christian worldview perspective, what do we need to understand about the growth of “the nones” in America?
Jana: “A lot of atheism right now is informed by the culture. It is the water in which we swim. In many cases, many [atheists] said they lacked exposure to any real form of Christian belief.
“One person said it had been two generations removed from him, as far as any exposure to Christianity. When he thought of Christianity, he thought of Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. The goody two shoes that everyone loves to hate. The religious one who was backwards and intolerant and uneducated, unsophisticated. There is a real lack of attraction to the Christian worldview as well as just believing it is simply not true.”
Jana shared the story of man who harbored anger against God after a tragic childhood. He spent years building logical arguments against God. Then, his wife became a Christian.
This man had to pick up his wife from the home of the couple who had led his wife to Christ. Jana shared how God used this relationship:
“He walked in ready to fight. But that’s not what he received. He received undaunting hospitality. He was invited just to talk. They didn’t talk about God, they let him talk. He had never felt so valued, that he came back again and again, for about six months.
“Then he started bringing up questions about God. And they had answers. So they asked him, what are you holding against God.
“So they prayed over him. He work up the next day, and for the first time in his life, he was not angry. He had a peace from nowhere. Something changed.
“The love and investment form that couple started him on a path. He went to seminary and now he ministers to his community. He goes around being Christ in His community, a totally transformed life.”
Intentional love breaks down barriers
Jana found from her research a theme: “Overwhelming love allows someone to hear. We all have a responsibility to move into brokenness. We are called to that— whether they are believers or non believers.
“It is we, the body of Christ, who reach into the situation. We are the hands and feet of Christ who can make a difference. We can bridge that doubt or disbelief and move it to a place that God exists because the people of God are rallying around and they feel the presence of God.”
We are talking about being a representation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. When we were in pain, God did not pull away. He moved toward us. We are to be the personification of Jesus on earth. It is not a formula. It is listening. It is hospitality. It is presence in someone’s life.
Jana shared, “When I asked converted atheists, how can we reach out? What is the most compelling way for the church to reach atheists? They always answer, it depends. It depends on who the person is. what their hurts are. What their pains are. What their questions are. Sometimes we try to answer questions they aren’t even asking.
“The important thing is just to engage. Find out who they are. Not only their intellectual questions, but what forms their belief. What experiences have they had. What emotions. What exposure they have had. What lack of exposure.”
“I have heard it said, there are two reasons someone is an atheist- one is because they have not met a Christian. The other is because they have.”
Equipped with substance
Jana shared from her research and conversations with atheists: “We also need to have substance. Our image is so tarnished that not even one person thought Christians were educated people. There is a stereotype we need to break down. We need to respond to the things the culture is pushing back against.
“Yes, the Lord gives and enables, and allows us to be used. He calls us to be prepared and He calls us to reach out, both the same.”
Two places to find additional resources on substance and responding to questions:
Jana shared incredible stories of transformation, you won’t want to miss. Listen to our entire interview here:
Want more resources to help bring God into the conversation? Sign up for our email updates to be informed and equipped to reconnect the eternal to the every day. Sign up here.