Step 10 of the Bishop’s Mission Plan: Reach the “Nones”

The Rev. Maxine Allen says the discussion she’s participated in regarding African-American churches is just as valid for the final step of the mission plan: Reach the Nones.
“We must recognize that there is one or more generations who consider themselves religious but do not identify with any particular religious denomination,” she said.
Who are “the nones?”
According to a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, “nones” include about 13 million atheists and agnostics, and nearly 33 million who claim no particular affiliation. Many are under age 35; they pray, believe in God and have regular spiritual routines, but are not affiliated with any particular religious denomination. And the number of “nones” continues to rise to more than 20 percent of the U.S. population today.
Bishop Mueller agrees this is a group of individuals for whom the church’s engagement is vital.
“The growing ranks of nones is due in part to the world in which we live,” said Mueller. “But another piece of it is that we as the church have dropped the ball. We became more focused on ourselves than on the young people in our midst.”
Conference Lay Leader Karon Mann cites the recent experience of a young friend of hers as an example of how the church must change in the way it communicates with those beyond the walls of the church.
Mann’s young friend lives in the downtown of a small community, within a mile of four churches. One day there was a note on her car windshield inviting her to attend one of those churches. But the note writer went on to say that if she chose not to attend worship, would she be so kind as to move her car from that parking space so that churchgoers might park there.
“It’s made me really stop and reflect about how we need to examine our motives, thoughts and ways that we communicate, particularly with those who do not have  a church background or home, “said Mann. “We need to be looking for ways to meet needs, not to be asking for their parking space.”  
Carissa Rodgers has an interesting perspective on the subject of the “nones.” She’s 25, African-American and close to finishing her studies at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, with plans to return to the Arkansas Conference to complete the necessary work to become an ordained elder. And she left the church at age 17 because of what she terms “church hurt.”
“I left the church because I felt it wasn’t being what I expected it to be,” said Rodgers. “There are churches everywhere but it’s not always visible how people are benefiting from church. Many people my age are asking if people aren’t benefiting from church, what’s the point?”
Rodgers is enthusiastic when talking about new church models that she says “look more like Jesus.” The focus is on relationships that deepen over time and evolve into spiritual discipline. One model she mentioned involved the purchasing of homes in a residential area, so the minister is a resident of the neighborhood as well as pastor to the community.
“The more we begin to change the way we do church, I think we will be in a much better position to reach the nones,” added Rodgers.
Mueller believes United Methodists of Arkansas are up for the challenges and are showing their excitement and commitment for reaching the people God has called them to reach.
“I believe God is calling us now to reach out to the nones, young adults, youth and children to share the good news of Jesus’ love,” he said. “To help them find their place in the community of faith, to help them discover new communities of faith within the Christian tradition that allow them to be passionate about making disciples for Jesus Christ who make disciples for the transformation of lives, communities and the world.”