the shape of leadership

How to Engage Nones

Three practices for evangelizing religiously unaffiliated Americans

Kent Ingle on April 1, 2024

Faith in America seems to be dwindling. A report by The Great Opportunity found that more than one million American youth will walk away from Christianity every year.

The religious “nones” are making national headlines again. A recent Pew Research Center revealed a study that showed the religiously unaffiliated is now the largest cohort in the U.S. This group is comprised of atheists, agnostics, and those who say their religion is “nothing in particular.”

Most nones grew up in religious homes (particularly Christian ones). Many still believe in God or a higher power. But 90% of them say they seldom or never go to religious services. It’s also a younger demographic. A majority (69%) of them are under the age of 50.

Is it time for us to change our evangelistic methods?

Below are three ways we can engage with religious nones.


Start by Listening

During my first job in sports broadcasting, I worked with two news anchors who were not Christians. I knew that to share my faith with them, I had to be intentional with the time we spent together.

Most of our conversations involved me just listening. I would hear about the difficulties they encountered and validate what they were going through. I eventually led them to Christ because I started by listening.

I learned early in my leadership that people are influenced by those who actively listen to them. And when leaders refuse to listen, they alienate those around them.

If we want to speak into the lives of others, we must listen to them. We will only understand someone once we know their story. And we can only know their story by taking the time to relate to their experiences.

Before Jesus healed Bartimaeus, He asked him a question. Mark 10:51 says, “‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him.” Although Jesus may have known the answer, He started with a question and listened.

How many of us, even if we know the response, start with a question instead of a statement?

To win the next generation to Christ, we must cultivate the power of asking questions and active listening. The more we listen, the more we will learn the right questions to ask.


Prioritize the Experience

Many will label the rise of the unchurched as a crisis of faith. But it’s an opportunity for us to share the gospel with more boldness and creativity.

From the moment a student visits our website, sets foot on our campus, or calls one of our offices, Southeastern University wants them to have an experience consistent with our mission. We know the interaction can make or break their decision or feelings about our university. And it may unintentionally hinder their perception of Christ.

Many nones were raised in the Church. However, they have mixed views of religious institutions. From the stories I’ve heard, many had negative encounters at church. They felt like the Church wasn’t there for them, they had painful interactions with members, or they were skeptical of leaders. It boils down to their desire for authentic community and leadership.

From our interactions with people outside the Church to our services and outreach methods, we must evaluate how the experiences we create further or hinder our ability to share the gospel. Methods we used two years ago may no longer be relevant. The tools we use must continually be evaluated and adapted, but the message must stay the same.

Christ “came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And to do the same, we should take a missional approach by learning about those we want to reach so we can create an experience where they desire to know more about Christ.


Provide an Invitation

From working with the next generation, I have learned they have a deep desire for community. And for those who are not part of a religious body, it can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. The Pew Research report shared how religious nones are often “less satisfied with their local communities and less satisfied with their social lives.”

The church can be the community that many nonbelievers are longing for. Ephesians 2:19–22 reminds us how important is the body of Christ.

A 2023 State of the Bible report found that non-practicing Christian and non-Christian Gen Z adults are still open to Scripture-based experiences and conversations. Many would consider an invitation from a friend to stream a church service, watch a program about Jesus, or attend a Christian concert.

Surveys done in the past decade have revealed that most unchurched individuals attend a service if a friend or close relative asks them to.

The community that is built within a church can be foundational to one’s faith journey. It’s a community where we walk alongside each other and spur one another on — something people not affiliated with religious institutions can miss out on.

Reaching religious nones can be as simple as inviting them to attend church with us or engaging in faith conversations. We must share with the next generation of believers how important it is that they ask their friends to attend church.

Many will label the rise of the unchurched as a crisis of faith. But it’s an opportunity for us to share the gospel with more boldness and creativity.

Comfort can be our greatest inhibitor of reaching the unchurched. We must step out boldly with courage and conviction to engage nonbelievers — and encourage the next generation to do the same.
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