How Nones perceive your church and ministry varies tremendously depending on your location. Understanding that perception–what it’s like to be an Unaffiliated person in your community–increases our ability to empathize and connect with Nones.
In “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children”, Christel Manning’s interviews with parents who identify as “None” reveal distinct differences between how these parents perceive religious people and communities depending on the local/regional culture.
Key Point #3: Knowing Your Local Mission Field Matters
Here’s what Manning observed, None parents in two cities with high religious affiliation rates, Colorado Springs and Jacksonville:
believe that the majority of people in their communities disapprove of having no religion….[while] I found no evidence of Nones being persecuted or discriminated against…these narratives must stand as expressions of subjective parent experience…Nones in these cities expressed a sense of being embattled (80-81).
On the flip side, in New England:
The presumed privacy of religion had a clear impact on how parents think about its role in the lives of their children….[Nones] tended to see local churches and synagogues as benign, a kind of useful resource that you can draw on when you need it (i.e. Jewish Community Center day care, the Catholic high school with a great hockey team)…religion or secularity for New England parents was not a source of cultural embattlement and social tension (87).
What to make of these differences?
- Never discount the perceptive reality of others, especially outsiders. While it might not be accurate (Manning noted there was no actual discrimination in the cities of high religious affiliation), the accuracy isn’t the central point. A perceptive/experience is not to be debated. “Perception becomes reality” as the conventional wisdom goes.
- It’s our job to be more accommodating and loving of those who are wounded, or perceive being isolated or not belonging in a religious community. In a community setting where a None family might feel “embattled,” this unconditional love is greatly needed. We can surprise them with acceptance, non-judgemental friendship, listening, and openess.
- In a community where religious “privacy” is the norm, churches and ministries can expect None families to show up at programs/events that seem “benign” to them–this is an opportunity to be ready for.
- There aren’t going to be in-depth studies on every region and sub-region in the U.S., so as churches it’s up to us to do some reconnaissance, do scouting, do focus groups, get out of our “comfortable” circles to listen/learn what the None experience is like and what perceptions they may have of religious organizations.
Stay tuned in the coming days for more key points and applications from this study! And, as always, feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications in the Comment box.