As we noted in a previous post there is an increasing number of people, especially young adults, who the authors of American Grace term "Nones." They are "Nones" because they choose not to identify with any particular religious tradition. We've noted that many have been turned off by what they perceive are the "political overtones" of religion -- especially conservative politics. So, is it possible that these disaffected younger adults might be enticed to come into the church? Well, the authors say it's possible -- because they aren't by nature "ardent secularists." They write that "a large portion of those who demur from indicating a formal religious affiliation believe religion is important, pray regularly, and even attend a congregation on occasion" (American Grace, p. 176). They are, what sociologists Michael Hout and Claude Fischer call "unchurched believers." They are, thus to quote the Putnam and Campbell, "an inviting target for "religious entrepreneurs."
The term religious entrepreneurs might sound a bit off putting, but their point is well-taken. It will take people who are willing to take risks and try new things to reach this group of disaffected people. And what would this look like? Well, if its partisan politics or a merging of religion and politics, especially relating to sex and family issues that can be seen in the evangelical/GOP alliance, that pushes them away, then it would be helpful to deemphasize these kinds of issues in favor of others. That might be a harbinger of good things for mainline churches that aren't as linked to such emphases.
Of course there is the possibility that something more geared toward them, such as the emerging church or emergent church movements might be more successful. The reality, as the authors see it, innovation is at the heart of the effort. I would add that from watching the young adults I'm in conversation with, there is a strong desire to be doing something, not just watching something be done. They're not interested in committees, but they do want to make a difference.
Can this be done? Yes, I believe it can. That is the possibility raised in a more detached way in American Grace and in a more direct way by Carol Howard Merritt in her book Reframing Hope (Alban, 2010).