Press-Republican

Columns

March 18, 2013

Face to face with some real 'nones'

Like many computer pros whose lives revolve around the Internet, Marc Yoder eventually created a blog in which to share his views on life, technology, faith and other cultural issues that happened to cross his path.

His "Marc5Solas" site -- the musings of a self-proclaimed "nobody from nowhere" -- drew a quiet hundred readers a week.

Then the 42-year-old Yoder wrote his "Top 10 Reasons our Kids Leave Church" post, based on dozens of face-to-face conversations with college students and 20-something agnostics and atheists in San Antonio. He offered them coffee, the occasional lunch and a chance to vent. They did just that.

"We all know them, the kids who were raised in church. They were stars of the youth group. They maybe even sang in the praise band or led worship," noted Yoder.

Then they vanish. About 70 percent slip away between high school, college and the office, according to researchers. How many return?

"Half. Let that sink in," noted Yoder. "There's no easy way to say this: The American Evangelical church has lost, is losing and will almost certainly continue to lose OUR YOUTH."

Before he knew it, 500,000-plus people had visited the website and his manifesto was viral on Twitter and other social-media platforms. Then the agonized digital epistles began arriving. Some readers started looking for the man behind the brash, semi-anonymous post.

"There was lots of church-bashing, but I expected that," said Yoder, reached by telephone. What hit him hard were the "worried voices" of "people concerned that something fundamental had gone wrong in modern churches and they couldn't put their finger on what that something was," he said.

What Yoder had done was tap into one of 2012's big cultural trends, which was the rise of the "religiously unaffiliated" -- the so-called "nones." The key numbers emerged from research backed by the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life and the PBS program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

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