Last month, the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life reported that one in five American adults surveyed have no religious affiliation, a sharp increase in the number of “nones” in the last five years. The report, Nones on the Rise, quickly gained media attention, including here in Canada.
In response to the US survey, Reginald Bibby, one of Canada’s leading experts on social and religious trends, said that when it comes to taking a pass on religion, Canada has “been there” and “done that.” Based on his own research, this ‘no religion’ pattern has been evident in Canada much earlier than in the US, a trend that he describes more as a religious polarization than secularization (Find out more in Bibby’s latest book, A New Day: The Resilience and Restructuring of Religion in Canada.)
Before news of the rising Nones lead you to think that religion is in peril, consider the following additional findings: Pew reports that many of the religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God and consider themselves spiritual. Bibby comments that “large numbers of adult and teenage Nones indicate they have not slammed the door on [religious] involvement that they deem to be worthwhile.” That increases our hope, for it tells us that although many are dropping out of traditional religion, the spirit is very much alive and the quest for truth and meaning remains high.
A growing number of religious drop-outs, including atheists, agnostics and those of other faiths make up the ‘harvest field’ where we work. Almost daily, we find ourselves in the company of people who are lost and confused about their faith; many seek answers, but are unable to find the Way. At times, we too, have this sense of unease as we struggle to work out Christ’s covenant in a land of rising Nones. Aside from rethinking the ways we engage a rapidly changing world, how are we to respond?
“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Those were Jesus’ words to His disciples when He saw the crowds in the towns and villages where He preached, taught and healed. He was filled with compassion for them as they wandered aimlessly “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36-37), and asked His disciples to pray. Jesus saw a vision of a ‘plentiful harvest’ and knew that it would take many more workers to gather a rich yield.
The surveys conducted by Pew and others give us a vivid portrait of the state of religious affairs in our part of the world. There is a growing multitude who need to discover Jesus and rekindle a loving relationship with Him. There are too few faithful workers among us, and we are to ask the Lord for more. God, Master visionary and planner knows what skills are in short supply and where to send people to work. It is He who calls, appoints and gives. We are to ask for compassionate workers who share Jesus’ burden for the lost and helpless and, like Jesus, will lovingly attend to their needs. Douglas Groothuis writes, “For the serious Christian… an attitude of apathy over the eternal destiny of another human being is not an option. Jesus warned the church of Laodicea that he was nauseated by their lukewarm attitude (Rev. 3:14-16) (Christian Apologetics, IVP 2011).”
Ask the Lord for more workers who will commit to teach His Word, bring relief to the oppressed, and offer hope and healing to the weak and helpless. The lost and misguided are growing in number, as studies indicate, and they are right here in our midst. Pray for the state of the world we live in, that many more will work willingly to bring honour to His Name.