The big headline in USA religion news this week is that a statistically significant number of folks in the United States have moved away from self-identifying as “Christian” and into something we in the Pacific Northwest have known about for years: the “none” zone. That is, more people than ever are choosing not to choose a religious affiliation – and most of the new “nones” used to describe themselves as Christian. What does it mean? Here are a few reasons why I think this is great news for the Church, and great news for Christians.
More people are being thoughtful and intentional about religion than ever.
Christianity has been the default religion of our dominant culture for the entire history of the USA. This means that when pressured to choose a religion the easiest thing to say is “Christian.” Most people I know who have left Christianity have done so for good, thoughtful, and intentional reasons. To me, this is a good thing. It means that if they ever come back, they’ll mean it.
The people sitting in my church every Sunday morning really want to be there.
It is hard to form passionate, thoughtful, and transformative communities of faith when people attend church to fit in, or because it’s the only socially acceptable activity for Sunday morning. I love it that in my sweet little Pacific Northwest congregation every person there is fully aware that their neighbors are hiking, sleeping in, or doing yard work. They know they could be doing that stuff and no one would judge, but they choose church, God, and each other. There is vast potential in this gift.
Christianity is at its best when it is counter-cultural.
It may be true that with a shift away from organized Christian religion our churches have to re-examine why they exist and work harder to become what God is calling them to become. But how is that a bad thing? We were born as a counter-cultural community of visionary rebels seeking God through community, acts of compassion, and radical hospitality. Perhaps the Spirit is calling us back to our roots.
The Episcopal Church already stands out from the dominant culture Christian crowd.
The other big religious news trend in the past few weeks has been the stream of former Evangelical Christians choosing sacrament and liturgy over fundamentalism. Our tradition as Episcopalians is one of the biggest gifts we have to offer the world – worship that brings together ancient Christian practice with a post-modern willingness to ask questions, welcome women and the GLBTQ community, and stand on the side of social justice.
This is our moment – if we can rise up and meet it.
The Rev. Alissa Newton is our Program Director for Congregational Development and Vicar of St Columba in Kent, Washington.