Churchless and Secular

ChurchMy world … and welcome to it. (HT James Thurber)

I’m not churchless or secular, but by far the majority of my friends, peers, and coworkers are. Although my university community is not yet the norm for the country as a whole, it may reflect a growing trend. Churchless is an increasing phenomenon in the US.

Dave Kinnaman and the Barna Group have published the results of a series of surveys in a new book Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them. The surveys themselves lead to some interesting insights. Cathy Lynn Grossman at The Religion News Service reports:

If you’re dismayed that one in five Americans (20 percent) are “nones” — people who claim no particular religious identity — brace yourself.

How does 38 percent sound?

That’s what religion researcher David Kinnaman calculates when he adds “the unchurched, the never-churched and the skeptics” to the nones.

He calls his new category “churchless,” the same title Kinnaman has given his new book. By his count, roughly four in 10 people living in the continental United States are actually “post-Christian” and “essentially secular in belief and practice.”

If asked, the “churchless” would likely check the “Christian” box on a survey, even though they may not have darkened the door of a church in years.

You can read the full story here: Secularism grows as more U.S. Christians turn ‘churchless’. A summary of the survey results can be found here: Five Trends Among the Unchurched.  Many of the unchurchless were at one time regular attenders – in childhood or as adults – but for a quarter church was never part of their regular experience. This latter group is likely to grow.

This is a story that has been picked up and linked in a number of different places – from atheist sites like richarddawkins.net to, oh, well, here. Neither the optimism expressed on the atheist sites nor the handwringing of Christian sites (I hope not here) really catch the significance of the results.

Kinnaman divides people into four groups – the actively churched (about 49% of the US population), the minimally churched (about 8% of the population), the dechurched (about one third of the population) and the purely unchurched (about 10% of the population).  It is hard to call the US a secular country when about half of the population is actively churched (i.e. attend church regularly usually once a month or more), but the trend – the growth in the churchless population is worth some thought.

Nearly half of the unchurched attribute their lack of church attendance to an absence of value.” This perceived lack of value can express it self in a variety of ways or reasons. Church attendance can be viewed as tiresome, boring, irrelevant, unnecessary. Many don’t see church – any church – as a place of meaningful community. It is a group sharing the same space at a public event – not a place of belonging.

In chapter 8 Kinnaman looks at six reasons that the unchurched drop out – these begin with the perspectives expressed by young adults (You Lost Me), but the same reasons persist for all age groups.

Churches seem restrictive and overprotective

Christianity as practiced is too shallow

Churches seem antagonistic to science

This is a big one in my environment, crossing all age group boundaries.

Churches are judgmental and rigid about sexuality

An even bigger concern again crossing all age group boundaries in my environment.  This can range from the view of women (complementarianism does not go over well) to even touchier issues involving sexual identity.

The exclusivity of Christianity

Churches are unfriendly to those who doubt.

Churches are not a safe place to wrestle with questions and doubts. When what little belonging one might feel is placed at risk the safest approach is to detach and find answers elsewhere. This is intensified among young adults when the stage of life makes moves common and a move to unchurched means not searching out a new church rather than leaving a current church.

These are issues that are magnified by the life situation of young adults, but are not unique to young adults. They need to be addressed across the board – not in specially designed youth oriented outreach.

There is more in the book reporting the results, but this is enough for a useful discussion.

What do you see as the biggest driving force for becoming “dechurched?”

What value should belonging to a church offer to a Christian?

Why should a non-christian care?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

If you would like to comment please see Churchless and Secular at Jesus Creed.

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