The Rise of the ‘Umms’

Unlike “Nones” and “Dones,” most “Umms” want to return to church—but they feel stuck.

For the first time in my nearly 40 years, I do not belong to a church body.

Each Sunday I awake with a longing to gather around song, Scripture, and sacrament. Most of those mornings my wife and I walk to the nursing home to celebrate the Eucharist with a faithful but forgotten few.

This year my wife and I want to plant a church in Chicagoland, but many weeks I am left wondering, Where do we fit in?

Recently, I was lamenting this season with a friend. He echoed my sentiment, “I’m also floating without a church—it isn’t ideal, just the way it is.” Our exchange wasn’t significant, just two friends consoling each other through ecclesial purgatory. Later that week, I heard similar thoughts repeated by my neighbors who are new parents.

Again, this sentiment was echoed by a friend who works at a large Christian nonprofit. Over text messages and phone calls, my old roommate and my denominational executive repeated a similar status. But what really caught my attention is when I heard my students and colleagues at Northern Seminary describe themselves and their congregants in much the same way.

All expressed a strong commitment to Jesus and a desire to be part of the church, but they are not active in a local congregation. This growing segment of believers is what I am labeling the “umms.”

Dones, nones, and umms

COVID-19 has been described as a global x-ray, revealing what was hidden in our systems and relationships all along. To be more precise, COVID-19 seems to be an accelerated x-ray, revealing and amplifying these hidden truths at an expedited pace.

Acquaintances became strangers as relational ties grew strained. Economic inequalities became glaringly obvious. …

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