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JOE LAGUARDIA: Reaching those who have given up on church requires compassion, finding common ground

Over the last week, politicians are clamoring to move the GOP forward after losing the While House. Stories abound on how they lost ground with young people who voted overwhelmingly for President Obama.

That caught my attention because it seems that this is the very demographic least likely to attend church.

I'll leave the politics to the politicians. But when it comes to the church, Christians need to be concerned.

A recent Pew Research poll found the number of "nones" (people who do not associate with organized religion) rose from 14 percent to nearly 20 percent. A third of adults who follow this trend are under the age of 30; and, worse still, 88 percent do not want to look for a religion to call home.

Upon closer inspection, however, the very same poll provides the church with avenues of hope -- of spreading the Gospel message -- even in the least expect places.

For one, a majority of nones may not consider themselves religious, but they do consider themselves spiritual.

I don't know about you, but I think that the church should have a monopoly on all things spiritual. We should lead the way in spiritual experience by putting a name and face to the Source of that experience, just like Paul did by naming that unnamed god in Athens (Acts 17:16-34).

But that simple message has been clouded by our political bickering even in the church. While so many nones believe they are spiritual, just as many -- if not more -- feel a "deep connection with nature and the earth."

So, spirituality is tied to an ever-growing concern for creation and the individuals who live in that creation no matter how different those individuals may be.

Many segments of the church, however, have fallen into the temptation of believing that creation care and the shaping of social legislation is a purely political concern. This politicizing of God's creation -- and the people involved in legislation -- is an immediate distraction in reaching the nones. The nones see such culture wars as a war on their very personhood and values.

Now, don't get me wrong: I don't think individual churches need to compromise their values or their reading of the Bible -- Christians are just as diverse on these issues as are those in society -- but I do think that our rhetoric related to creation and local communities needs to change.

Concerning ourselves with a more nuanced understanding of all things "spiritual" will provide us with an evangelistic -- and evangelical -- avenue of hope towards reaching the nones out of compassion rather than condemnation.

Another avenue of hope is in broadening the church's message that prayer and miracles are most compatible with a compassionate Christianity. Just as the number of nones is on the rise, so too are people who pray and believe in miracles.

Again, you'd think that the church had a monopoly on these two areas of spiritual connectedness, but it seems that more people find Oprah to be a source of inspiration for prayer than the prayer-filled walls of our churches.

How in the world the church lost young people to self-help books and celebrities in the cultural election on prayer is beyond me.

Our failure in reaching the nones is not as bleak as I suspect. We already have what it takes to make connections with folks who have given up on church; now we only need to learn to how to speak their language when it comes to spirituality, prayer, creation and people care, and the miraculous when it comes to outreach and collaboration.

If we are too busy fighting one another and participating in culture wars that birth vitriolic rhetoric, then we will continue to lose the hearts, minds, and ears of the nones for years to come.

Only when we make an intentional effort to reach out with compassion and a search for common ground, will we gain ground for Christ.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.