Who’s in your parish? Increasingly, the answer is “None.” And no, “None” is not a number; it’s a religious identity.
As many who work for churches know, in 2012, Pew Research Center released their infamous report about the so-called “Nones On the Rise”.
Nones are the fastest growing “denomination” in our religious landscape. The latest statistics suggest they make up about 23% of the adult population, an even higher percentage among millennials, and they’re growing robustly, while nearly every other indices of religion in America is headed in the opposite direction. Nones are those who, when asked about their beliefs, state no particular religious affiliation. Although they certainly have beliefs about any number of things, they don’t identify with, nor attend, any church.
The point is not to shock or amaze the faithful by statistics but to open up an honest conversation. Our evangelization strategies need to be concerned with Nones, while too often we put a lot of energy and resources into only serving the members we already have.
But in order to faithfully answer the call of the “New Evangelization,” parishes need to allow the Holy Spirit to stir up a “holy discontent” with “business as usual,” which, among other things, means turning our attention to the Nones. As you begin the process of engaging Nones, here are two simple things you can do starting today.
Get to know your Nones
What are people doing on Sunday morning while you’re doing church? What are their reasons for not coming to church? If you don’t know, find out. Take some time to research what’s going on in your local community. Ask around, and please, try and avoid the temptation to smug self-righteousness. This is an exercise that should be undertaken with humility.
On that note, it’s also important to understand why people are coming to your church. In our new parishioner welcome ministry, which we call “Access Point,” I always like to informally survey where they are coming from. Most often, the answer is, true to form, “nowhere in particular,” but their feedback will help assess where you need to direct your outreach efforts.
Evaluate Your Entry Points
Evangelization is inviting someone to wade into a cold swimming pool. Sometimes we simply want to plunge Nones into the deep end of Catholicism and hope they will immediately find it as beautiful and transforming as we do. That may work for some, but often what cradle Catholic disciples find transcendent and mystery-laden may just be confusing and strange to a None.
There is a “warming-up” and “going deeper” process of entering the church: that’s discipleship. But evangelization is about the first step. Besides Mass, are there any ministries going on at your parish that a None would find appealing? If you’re thinking of starting a new ministry or inviting someone, consider that question first.