Since church, i.e., how we represent Christ as a community in this world, is a pretty important thing to try to get as right as possible, I hope you will seriously explore these matters and ask, “How can we do better?”

The Barna Group has carved its niche by providing insightful market research for churches and ministry organizations, along with doing the same for several well-know companies.

Here are a few figures for you to digest from one of their latest studies on unchurched Christians.

  • 83% of Americans consider themselves to be Christians.
  • 61% of those who do not attend church activities consider themselves to be Christians.
  • 28% of the U.S. adult population has not attended any sort of church activity in 6 months. That’s 65 million adults, 100 million when you count children under eighteen.
  • 53% of those who do not attend church activities, used to do so, but have intentionally distanced themselves from the church.

I am fascinated by the 61% and I am one of that number. The Barna report revels more about this group.

They are:

  • 30% protestant
  • 17% Catholic
  • 18% born again
  • 68% hold a biblical world view of God
  • 35% believe the Bible is true in all of the principles it teaches
  • 15% consider their religious faith important in their life
  • 22% contend that the ultimate purpose of life is to love God with all their heart, mind, strength and soul
  • 27% support the notions of salvation by grace alone, Jesus Christ living a holy and sinless life on earth, and Satan existing today

Here some more anecdotal thoughts about the 61%, gained from years of interacting with people who are unchurched Christians.

  • Many of them had some traumatic experience in their church-going years that disillusioned them concerning church life and involvement.  That could include church leaders who abuse their power, disagreements over church leadership decisions, not having a voice in the direction of the church, or the conclusion that their church is not a caring community.
  • Many of them were thinkers and questioners who did not find satisfying answers for their questions, nor a safe atmosphere for expressing questions and doubts.
  • Many of them were unpleasantly surprised by how much their friendships revolved around involvement and support of church programs, rather than the relationship itself.
  • Many of them felt that the way they were expressing their faith through their involvement in an institutional church, did not make sense for them anymore.
  • Many of them regard the institutional church as irrelevant, so they don’t bother with it.
  • Many of them feel the word, “Christian” has been so corrupted, they no longer use it to describe themselves.

Many of them developed issues with the institutional aspects of church, including …

  • Mortgages and maintenance for rarely used church buildings, dedicated to congregational use, rather than using the building as a way to be a demonstration of Christ’s kingdom, by opening it up for the community.
  • Huge costs in staff salaries and benefits, rather than minimizing staff and equipping people for ministry and service.
  • Centralization of power and control, rather than empowering people and developing decentralized ministries
  • Relying upon programs, rather than relationships as a context for spiritual formation.
  • Pouring most of their energies into a Sunday morning program and trying to get people to come to it, rather than living out the life of Christ in each person’s relational and geographical context.
  • Focusing upon providing programs and services for the membership, rather than looking to the people in their community who need a real life example of someone living life in the way of Christ.

40 million unchurhed Christian adults are not all sucking on “sour grapes”. There are many important things to learn from them.

Link to the Barna Group study

This post was originally published April 15, 2010.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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