Longing to be Found
It is no secret that the fastest growing religious affiliation in the US is the “Nones,” those who claim no affiliation with any religion. Pew Research surveyed 35,000 Americans in 2007 and again seven years later in 2014. They found that the percentage of those who claim no religious affiliation had grown from 16% to 23%. Among millennials the figure was even higher: 36% claim no religious identification. Outside the church these figures have produced a legion of gleeful doom-sayers who hail the decline and pending death of the Christian faith and the triumph of Western Secularism. Within the church there has been a loss of confidence and a sense of failure; many church leaders are discouraged to the point of giving up.
In his new book, You Found Me, Rick Richardson looks at the research and sees grounds for optimism and hope. He finds that Nones, Millennials, and Irreligious are surprisingly open to the Gospel, it’s just that we Christians have lost faith in the power of the Gospel to change lives. He writes:
No amount of strategy, structure, or civility can replace a vibrant hope and faith in Christ that is lived out in community. The greatest problem churches face is not the none-ing of American but rather the none-ing and secularizing of the church.
We’ve come to believe the lie that secularism is more attractive, more honest, and more satisfying than a faith in Jesus Christ in company with other believers.
For me the issue is deeply personal, not because I’m a pastor in a local congregation but because I grew up a None with a decided prejudice against Christians and the Christian faith—even though I didn’t know a single professing Christian or the first thing about the Christian faith. Where did I get my prejudice? I got it mostly from the larger culture—TV, movies, etc. The Christian faith was seldom mentioned at all (making it largely irrelevant), and when it was referenced it was almost always in a negative context. Christians were portrayed as weak and venial; either easily deluded or hypocritical or both. What overcame my prejudice was an encounter with a wise pastor who gave me a copy of the New Testament.
I’ve told the story before but what’s important about it here is that, even though I wasn’t searching and had a bias against Christianity, the encounter with Jesus through the pages of the New Testament made all the difference. All my preconceived notions and objections were washed away by the overwhelming reality of Jesus as presented in the gospels. I had three initial responses to what I read: first, I was unalterably convinced that Jesus was real, that the Gospel of Jesus was and is the most important thing in the world. Second, I was genuinely confused; why hadn’t anyone ever told me this before? And, third, I had the sense of being found, which is why I was drawn to Richardson’s book in the first place.
Jesus looked at the world of his day and saw that the harvest was plentiful. The same is true in every age and in our day too. The Nones and Irreligious are more open to the Gospel that we imagine; in the words of Richardson they are just waiting—longing—to be found. Remember the three things that make for happiness from last week? Where better to find personal growth than in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Where better to find meaningful relationships than in a congregation committed to serving him and loving each other. And where better to find a place to make a lasting difference in the life of others than a church committed to its community. The only thing we lack is the courage of our convictions and an abiding sense of the presence and power of Jesus to make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others. They are waiting to be found.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Rev. Don Muncie