None Over Nominal

What’s the Difference

Nominal and Nones are all the buzz today thanks to the Pew Research findings on the religious landscape in the United States. The words get thrown around without clarification. The Nones is probably the clearer of the two terms. These are the people who have self-selected their religious affiliation as “unaffiliated”. Simply put, they claim no religion.

When it comes to Nominals, Ed Stetzer’s description of Christianity is helpful.  He states that when it comes to Christianity in the United States people embrace one of three categories—cultural, congregational, and convictional. He goes on to say that, “The first two categories are nominal Christians—they identify, but do not shape their lives around the Christian faith.” Thus the folks who self-select the nominal religious category culturally identify with a religion or have peripheral participation with the institutional religion.


The Point

The rise of the Nones is well documented and talked about from the Pew Research findings on the religious state of America. Today, we are seeing cultural Christians, and even some congregational Christians, now self-identify as religiously “unaffiliated.” In fact, the Pew Research has found that the rise of the Nones is primarily from the previously categorized “nominally religious” group. And as Christian Smith has pointed out that the fastest growing generational segment of Nones is among Millennials. So the question must be asked, “Why are Millennials choosing None over Nominal?”


Nominal religion and particularly nominal Christianity is deflating. There are Millennials that are encouraged about that reality. But reflecting on things that we already know about Millennials there are some obvious reasons that Millennials are rejecting nominal Christianity in particular.


Nominal is empty.  

To an experience driven Millennial the lack of meaning in a peripheral participation in Christianity doesn’t offer anything. It is experienced as an empty set of practices that have no connection to the world.


Nominal doesn’t require sweat. 

Millennials want to be challenged. Nominal Christianity provides thin practices that require no effort to practice and often is accessible to any religious consumer. Millennials find such practices plastic.


Nominal has no teeth. 

Nominal Christianity doesn’t latch onto the daily life of people and transform them. Thus when Millennials have to face their own shortcomings and brokenness, nominal Christianity fails to give them a passionate challenge. In other words, it fails to give them Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”


Is this a hopeful trend to you?

What opportunities are present in this trend?

What other factors lead Millennials to choose Nones over Nominal?