Running After The ‘Nones’ Is Like Tanning Salons Offering Their Services To Black People

So the Pew study reports that there been real and sustained growth in the group known as the “nones.” The Religious News Service did a really good profile of what the study shows.

Here’s what I think is important (at least for this post):

5. [He's] not very religious. This may sound obvious, but it makes the distinction between a person who has no religious affiliation, and one who is not religious. There are some nones who do consider themselves religious — just outside the confines of a religious organization. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of nones seldom or never attend religious services.

So if a substantial majority of the “nones” do not consider themselves religious–and not just unaffiliated, why are so many religious folk (especially liberal religious folk) running after them as if they were the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? This makes as much sense to me as a tanning salon chain putting an ad in Essence magazine.

What’s really the drive behind running after the “nones”? It can’t be that we really think we’re going to get somewhere with them. Because, honestly, what we’re offering appeals to them about as much as what the tanning salon is offering appeals to most black people.

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13 thoughts on “Running After The ‘Nones’ Is Like Tanning Salons Offering Their Services To Black People

  1. :What’s really the drive behind running after the “nones”?

    Well, since you asked Kim. . . how does “delusional thinking” sound?

    On a related note, it seems that Unitarian Universalists are falling all over themselves to see the highly misleading aka greatly exaggerated reports of the growth of Unitarian Universalism as published in USA Today and the Washington Post etc. as a positive sign when it *could* actually be a quite negative sign. . . I will leave it up to U*Us to figure out how this alleged 16% increase in the number of people who self-identify as U*Us, which does not translate into a similar level of growth in actual U*U “church” membership, could be an indication that Unitarian Universalism is not doing very welll these days.

  2. My understanding is that many of those who feel we ought to run after “nones” would deny that we’re a religious organization, and instead believe that we are a civic club type organization .

  3. As a former “none,” I think the idea is that there may be Nones who are effectively between religions and/or think that all religions are by their nature like the religion they left behind but might actually be happy as UUs. This turned out to be true of me, which certainly doesn’t mean it is true of all nones or even a substantial portion. But it sure makes the “How do we get our good news out to people who might like us but don’t know us?” question, as usual, relevant.

    I’m not for relentless pursuit of people who don’t want to be religious, of course, but I will note that unlike skin color, religious persuasion is something that can and does change throughout one’s lifetime, so maybe the Nones aren’t all quite so much of a lost cause as you suggest.

    • hey CC. how’s non-law school life/bar prep life?

      If the rush towards that ‘nones’ was about reaching out to those who might be malleable, then I think that UUs could actually have a reasoned conversation about it. There is a plethora of research about churches and church growth and healthy/effective churches. Yet when that research is presented, most UUs want to argue with it (I’ve seen it happen more than once).

      But I don’t think that is what this rush towards the ‘nones’ is about is looking for those who are malleable. I really do think this is about something else.

      • Post law-school life is amazing. Being an actual lawyer is so much less work.

        That was a helpful clarification. I hope we can do a better job applying the research.

  4. Kim,

    You asked,

    “What’s really the drive behind running after the “nones”?”

    and now you are saying,

    “But I don’t think that is what this rush towards the ‘nones’ is about is looking for those who are malleable. I really do think this is about something else.”

    So can I be so bold as to ask just what you think the “something else” that’s *really* the drive behind U*Us running after the “nones” really is?

    Robin

  5. Kim … the significance of the growth of the “nones” isn’t being a potential source for new members. For those involved in congregations and other religious organizations, the question is how healthy is the “religious” sector of the economy.

    We may be seeing a shrinking of the “religion” sector of the economy. I wrote on this about 2 years ago:

    http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/2010/04/uua-demographic-trends-and-tipping.html

    I would suggest that the growth of the “nones” can eventually lead to a “tipping point” — once a community reaches 25-35% “nones” in the population, the Unitarian Universalist growth trend flips to negative growth. At least that’s been the pattern in New England.

    • If the religion sector is declining, then it’s primarily declining in one group; young whites, and more particularly, young white males (which is what the Pew study points out). As you and I talked around each other on in the Congregations and Beyond facebook discussion, the religion sector is NOT declining among ethnic and racial minorities. It’s just not. So what does running after this group—the ‘nones’—which will produce increasingly diminishing returns, really signify? Because it does signify something. And, for the most part, UUs don’t want to have that discussion.

  6. Kim wrote:

    As you and I talked around each other on in the Congregations and Beyond facebook discussion, the religion sector is NOT declining among ethnic and racial minorities.

    That’s what the Pew study reported. The 2008 ARIS study that looked at this trend from 1990 to 2008 reported the following on page 2 of the PDF document:

    The growing similarity of Nones to the general U.S. population is seen also in the racial and ethnic composition of Nones, as shown in Figure 1.4. In all, whites are slightly more likely to be Nones while blacks are slightly less likely, but the differences are relatively small. That blacks, who are generally considered to be the most religious racial/ethnic group in the U.S., make up 8% of the None population suggests that this shift in the religious marketplace is widespread and penetrating deeply into traditionally religious populations.

    The most striking change among the racial and ethnic groups is among Hispanics. In 1990 they comprised 6% of U.S. adults and 4% of adult Nones. In 2008 Hispanics doubled their percentage of the U.S. adult population to 13% and tripled their proportion among adult Nones to 12%. This means that Hispanics are not only the fastest growing racial group in America in general, but are the fastest-growing minority group among Nones. This, too, is a noteworthy finding considering the stereotype of Latinos as a deeply religious population.

    http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/files/2011/08/NONES_08.pdf

    So … it’s true that more “none” growth in happening some demographic groups and less in other demographic groups. But I don’t think it would be wise to assume that this trend is non-existent in ethinic and racial minorities when some studies have reported it to be present.

    • I said that the “religion” sector is not declining in ethnic and racial minority communities; not that ‘nones’ don’t exist in those communities. The Pew study said that the percentage change in ethnic and racial minorities was not significant (as I read it, the change in the African American community was about 1% and in the Latino community was about 1.5%). So liberal religious folk being anxious about reaching out to the ‘nones’ means something.

  7. “So what does running after this group—the ‘nones’—which will produce increasingly diminishing returns, really signify? Because it does signify something. And, for the most part, UUs don’t want to have that discussion.”

    Kim,

    It would seem that you don’t particularly want to have that discussion here in that you have so far failed or indeed refused to state clearly what you believe the significant “something else” that is *really* the drive behind U*Us running after the “nones” actually is. I have my own ideas about that but I would like to know what you believe U*Us running after the “nones” signifies.

    Thanks,

    Robin Edgar

    • Yes, I have an opinion about what the rush towards the ‘nones’ is about. And I think that it’s easy to read in my comments. But since I did the original post as a question, I was looking for other people’s opinions about it.
      Sorry if that disappoints you Robin, but that’s the way it is.

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