"And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" - Matthew 5:47 NIV
These days, one out of three people under the age of 30 checks off "None" as their religious preference. In writing my last book, I came to understand that the people who check off "None" do so for a number of reasons. They are not one group. For simplicity's sake, I think there are at least four types of Nones today: the No Longers, No Ways, Never Haves and Not Yets.
The No Longers have drifted from church. Sometimes they return for a big life event like a wedding or a funeral, but not until they feel a lack in their lives.
The No Ways made a conscious choice to leave, often after being seriously hurt by a religious community. Sometimes they find a different kind of church, like the UCC for example. When we do welcome newcomers, we do a pretty good job with the No Ways. We're good at telling people what kind of church we are not, and sometimes they like what they hear.
But the Never Haves and the Not Yets have never experienced religious community before. Never Haves are often the grown children of the No Ways, inheriting their parent's anger or pain, nervous about showing up to any church.
The Not Yets are open and curious, and may wander in. Unfortunately, we often treat them like No Longers or No Ways, by answering questions they are not asking. "We're not like this or that kind of church," we say. Meanwhile the Never Haves and Not Yets are simply wondering who we think we think we are talking to during all those prayers.
Are you are doing a good job of welcoming people who have never experienced religious community before? Or are you assuming that everyone has already experienced it, and merely pointing out your church's key differentiators? It's something to think about, and apparently Jesus thought about it long before we did.
Jesus, you welcomed all people before there ever was a Church in your name. Teach me to say less about my own brand of Christianity and more about you, my own amazing Savior. Amen.
Lillian Daniel's new book Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don't Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting is now available for purchase, but you can hear it all for free at 1st Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa.