While an increasing number of Americans are reportedly abandoning the institutional church and its defined boundary markers of religious identity, many Americans still believe in God and practice faith outside its walls, a new Barna study has found. The Barna survey has looked into the “fascinating segment of American population who “loves Jesus but not the church.” These are their surprising findings.
One-tenth of the population comprises those who self-identify as Christian and who strongly agree that their religious faith is very important to their lives, but are “dechurched,” meaning they have attended church in the past, but haven’t done so in the last six months or more. Barna adds that only seven percent belonged in this category in 2004.
More than 60 percent of the people in this group are women, and 80 percent are not millennials. “This group also appears to be mostly white (63%) and concentrated in the South (33%), Midwest (30%), and West (25%), with very few hailing from the Northeast (13%),” the study reveals.
“This group represents an important and growing avenue of ministry for churches,” says Roxanne Stone, editor in chief of Barna Group. “Particularly if you live in a more churched area of the country, it’s more than likely you have a significant number of these disaffected Christians in your neighborhoods. They still love Jesus, still believe in Scripture and most of the tenets of their Christian faith. But they have lost faith in the church.”
What’s more, their beliefs about God are more orthodox than the general population, even rivaling their church-going counterparts, the study shows.
“For instance, they strongly believe there is only one God (93% compared to all U.S. adults at 59% and practicing Christians at 90%), affirm that “God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and the perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today (94%, compared to all U.S. adults at 57% and practicing Christians at 85%).”
Furthermore, while they might not be comfortable with the church, this group still maintains a very positive view of religion, the study adds.
“When asked whether they believe religion is mostly harmful, their response once again stood out from the general population, and aligned with their church-going counterparts. However, only 55 percent disagree that all religions basically teach the same thing, compared with 86 percent of evangelicals.
The study notes that this group falls outside of the characterization of “spiritual but not religious” folks. “But unlike practicing Christians and evangelicals, this spirituality is deeply personal – even private – with many preferring to keep spiritual matters to themselves: only two in five say they talk with their friends about spiritual matters often.”
“The critical message that churches need to offer this group is a reason for churches to exist at all,” Stone concludes. “What is it that the church can offer their faith that they can’t get on their own? Christians need to be able to say to these people – and to answer for themselves – that there is a unique way you can find God only in church. And that faith does not survive or thrive in solitude.”
About the Author
Anugrah Kumar is a writer for The Christian Post.