By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
John Lennon sang about it in his classic “Imagine,” and now, for many people, it has come to pass.
“Nothing to kill or die for,” Lennon sang, “and no religion, too.”
According to the Pew Research Center, more and more Americans claim to have no religion.
One in five Americans, one in three adults under 30, is not affiliated to any organized religion, according to the study released Tuesday.
The survey asked participants to declare their religious affiliation from a list including Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, don’t know and nothing in particular.
Not that all of these people are not religious or spiritual, though the unaffiliated group does include those describing themselves as atheists.
In fact, 68 percent of those claiming no religious affiliation profess a belief in God, 37 percent consider themselves spiritual but not religious and 21 percent say they pray daily.
Many of these people, then, seem not to be turning away from God, but from the church.
Such a feeling would seem an anathema to those of us in Enid, where there really isn’t a church on every street corner, it only seems that way. But even in church-heavy Enid, there are plenty of people who are unchurched.
People’s perceptions of churches, whether or not they consider themselves affiliated with any particular religion, are many and varied.
Forty-seven percent of those who identify themselves as being affiliated with a major religion said churches are both too concerned with money and power and focus too much on rules. For the unaffiliated, those numbers jumped to 70 and 67 percent, respectively. Forty-one percent of the affiliated said churches are too involved with politics, compared to 67 percent for the unaffiliated.
But even the unaffiliated acknowledged the value of churches.
Seventy-eight percent said churches bring people together and strengthen community bonds, 77 percent said they play an important role in helping the poor and the needy, and 52 percent said they protect and strengthen morality. As for the religiously affiliated, those numbers were 90, 90 and 81 percent, respectively.
Even those who professed religious affiliation are not exactly breaking down the doors of our local churches. Forty-five percent said they attend worship services once or more per week, 36 percent said they attend once or month or once a year, while 18 percent say they seldom or never attend church.
Churches are trying to change. Worship services are increasingly casual, and likely to feature contemporary praise music featuring drums and electric guitars. Churches are incorporating video and computer graphics.
Some are incorporating text messaging into their worship experiences. Many are broadcasting their services live over the Internet. Sermons are getting shorter and more relevant to the problems facing people today. Even service times are changing to better accommodate the schedules of busy people.
Even those of us who are regular church-goers sometimes find ourselves frustrated with the internal politics and power struggles that sometimes rear their ugly heads from the pews.
These findings present a challenge for churches of all faiths and denominations. There are 33 million people in this country who say they have no particular religious affiliation, but only 10 percent of those say they are looking for a religion that is right for them, while 88 percent say they aren’t looking at all.
That is a large untapped pool of potential church members. But in the end, it’s not about religion, it’s about faith, it’s not about having a relationship with a church, it’s about having a relationship with God (and for Christians, with Jesus Christ).
And while it isn’t mandatory to attend church to have that relationship, churches provide an opportunity to worship in the company of like-minded, caring people who provide love and support to one another, even while they are hashing over what color to paint the nursery in yet another committee meeting.
Lest you grow discouraged by the growing number of those who claim no religious affiliation in this country, consider this. At present, 58 percent of Americans say religion is very important in their lives, compared to 22 percent in Spain, 21 percent in Germany, 17 percent in Britain and just 13 percent in France.
And if you are concerned about those empty seats in the pew next to you come Sunday morning, don’t despair. You can do something about it. Many non-church goers say the reason they aren’t in church Sunday mornings is because nobody invited them.
So ask. All they can say is no. Imagine if they say yes.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.