But it’s more than simply being nothing. Perhaps one of the more disconcerting marks of typical nones is that they are very content with holding their “nothing in particular” stance toward religion. Among those who say they believe in “nothing in particular,” 88 percent are not even looking for a specific faith or religion.
Think of their stance like this:
A specific religion? “Not for me.”
But at least seeking? “No, not really. Not a priority.”
The detrimental effect for a church or denomination could not be more complete. It is akin to having a world full of people being open and even interested in coffee, but purposefully driving past Starbucks with complete disinterest.
The significance of this cannot be overstated. For the last few decades, the key word in most conversations about evangelism and church growth has been the word seeker. As in “seeker churches,” being “seeker-targeted” in strategy, and in talk about reaching “seekers,” or what a “seeker” may think about our service.
And let’s not forget the widespread embrace of being “seeker-driven” and “seeker-sensitive.”
All things “seeker” came onto the scene during the late seventies and were vibrant until the mid-nineties. It is now irrelevant at best and terribly misleading at worst. The term seeker was used to refer in a general way to the unchurched who were turned off to church but open to both spirituality and religion. Think back to the flood of baby boomers who wanted to find a church for their kids but felt freedom from the religious and denominational moorings of their youth.
They weren’t rejecting religion per se; they just felt the freedom to explore other traditions. For example, consider the number of Catholics who explored nondenominational, evangelical megachurches. These were people who were truly seeking, open to exploring the Christian faith for their life, and often in active search mode for a religious faith, and even home, in order to plant themselves. They had rejected the religion of their upbringing (often Catholicism), not religion itself.
As the ARIS report concludes, “The challenge to Christianity . . . does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.”9 Barry Kosmin, co-researcher for the survey, adds, “They’re not thinking about religion and rejecting it; they’re not thinking about it at all.”10 Or as the research of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found, “The unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them.”11
So much for seeking.
Jonathan Rauch, in an article for the Atlantic Monthly, coined a term to describe his own spiritual condition. After a couple of glasses of Merlot, someone asked him about his religion. He was about to say “atheist” when it dawned on him that wasn’t quite accurate. “I used to call myself an atheist,” he finally responded, “and I still don’t believe in God, but the larger truth is that it has been years since I really cared one way or another. I’m”—and this was when it hit him—“an . . . apatheist!” Rauch went on to describe his state as a “disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people’s.”12
He’s not alone. According to the 2011 Baylor University Religion Survey, 44 percent said they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom.” And in a study by LifeWay Research, 46 percent said they never wonder whether they will go to heaven. So when it comes to matters related to God, religion, or even atheism, millions simply shrug their shoulders and say, “So what?”13
James Emery White, Rise of the Nones, the: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014).