How can churches reach the growing number of religious nones—those who claim no religious affiliation—in America? Dave and Jon Ferguson say it could be as simple as a nine-word prayer.
In their book Finding Your Way Back to God, the brothers and pastors at Chicago Community Christian Church contend everyone is on a journey toward God, but our deepest longings can mislead us.
In a two-part interview, we spoke with Dave about the book and reaching those who want to be spiritual without God.
In the book, you talk about how most people still believe in God, but they’ve “forgotten” Him. What do you mean by that?
Dave Ferguson: Research tells us about 9 in 10 people in the United States believe in God, meaning the vast majority still believes God actually exists.
The challenge in helping people find their way back to God is not belief; the challenge is that while the overwhelming majority of people have a cognitive belief in God they feel no connection to God. People today don’t know how to connect with God or how to find Him.
You write there is a universal pattern for what a journey in God’s direction looks like. Could you briefly describe that common journey?
Dave: As we considered our own experiences, as well as the stories of thousands of people who have found their way back to God at Community Christian Church, we saw many similarities.
It was almost like a field of grass where people have walked across it, and over time you can see a well-worn path where those people have traveled. This is how the “Five Awakenings” that form the basis of the book began to emerge.
We also found these five awakenings in Jesus’ epic story of the Prodigal Son. These awakenings are not only how to find your way to God for the first time, they are how you find your way back to God over and over again and stay close to Him over the course of a lifetime.
Our book weaves together the story of the prodigal son with dozens of real life stories of people like you and me who have found their way back to God.
What are some common mistakes Christians and churches make in trying to reach the nones of this culture?
Dave: We’ve all seen countless reports indicating one of the fastest growing segments of people are the nones—those who check “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. The biggest mistake churches make regarding nones is assuming they are not interested in God or not interested in spirituality. This is absolutely not true!
Remember, 92 percent of all Americans still say they believe in God. Nones are interested! They are simply people who grew up with a particular religious label (Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, etc.) and no longer identify with that label or brand of spirituality.
Churches and Christians should understand nones as people who are on a spiritual journey, leaving behind all the previous labels and having not yet found a label with which they can identify.
Instead of settling for an inherited faith, nones are people pursuing an “investigative” faith where they want to discover God for themselves. The church should approach nones as a demographic group of people trying to find their way back to God.
Despite the move away from organized religion, the latest from Pew Research says more than 6 in 10 Americans (62 percent) say they experience wonder at least once a month. That’s up from 53 percent in 2007. What do you think that says about our spiritual makeup as humans?
Dave: We all have a longing for a transcendent experience with God and not just a propositional truth about God. For too long, much of the church has insisted on offering people only a modern proposition about God rather than a post-modern or even pre-modern experience of God.
People long for love, purpose, and meaning, and it is a relationship with God that brings us the experience and wonder of real love, clear purpose, and genuine meaning.
People today are more open to an experience with God than they have been in many decades. Christians should encourage prayer and searching knowing God will show up with signs and wonders.
In the second part of the interview, Dave Ferguson shares the five “awakenings,” he says helps wanderers find their way back to God.