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Why Go to Church?

How to Connect With the Unchurched

Everyone knows that a lot of people no longer bother going to church on a Sunday. The latest study of this trend examines the motives behind this and also attempts to suggest ways to reconnect these people with institutional religion.

“Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them,” (Tynedale Momentum), was edited by George Barna and David Kinnaman. It draws on extensive research by the Barna Group, founded by George Barna in 1984, involving surveys of just over 20,000 people.

According to the research carried out by the organization the percentage of those who do not go to church regularly in the United States has risen from 30% in the 1990s to 43% in 2014. Of the remainder, 49% attend church at least once a month and 8% attend church infrequently.

They define someone as unchurched if they have not attended a Christian church, apart from a wedding or funeral, at any time in the last six months.

Looking at the cultural dimension the Barna Group surveyed people regarding 15 variables related to people’s identity, beliefs, and behaviors. Highly post-Christian individuals, who tested negative on at least 80% of the variables, accounted for 10% of Americans.

Post-Christians had to satisfy 60% or more of the factors and accounted for 38% of the nation’s adult population. Another 28% were moderately post-Christian.

“Estimated over time, the research shows that the proportion of highly secularized individuals is growing slowly but steadily,” they concluded.

Moreover, the younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is. Nearly half of those born between 1984 and 2002 qualify as post-Christian, compared to 28% of those born before 1945.

Digital revolution

One of the cultural changes the book examined was the digital revolution. Now, not only do people have so many more distractions, but young people especially feel they can and should contribute, not just consume, which is a challenge to traditional church techniques of communication.

A big advantage of these changes, however, is the opening up of so many more ways of connecting to people, which many churches are utilizing. Nevertheless, while this has had some success with young people, among the older adult population few go online to search for faith-related information.

One of the consequences of the changes in recent times is that: “Churchgoing is slowly but incontrovertibly losing its role as a normative part of American life.” While in the 90s about one in seven of unchurched adults had never experienced regular church attendance, today that percentage has increased to nearly one-quarter.

At the same time the number of those who can be classified as purely unchurched adults, those who have never attended a Christian church in their lives, is small — only about one in 10.

Therefore it is important to understand why the people who stopped attending church did so if they are to be brought back to church.

Few unchurched people are hostile to faith or anti-God, the book explained, but they see the church experience as boring or without meaning, and many do not perceive church attendance as having any value.

A majority of unchurched adults, 58% pray to God once a week, and a significant number read the Bible, yet, the authors concluded that unchurched adults do not tend to invest much energy in deepening their relationship with God.

Another result from the surveys revealed that six out of 10 unchurched adults admit that the faith they possess today is no different from the spiritual maturity they had when they were children. Breaking free from this “spiritual lethargy” is a barrier to be faced.

Former Catholics

One interesting point that came out of the surveys is that one-third of all churchless adults are former Catholics, who say they will not consider returning to the Catholic Church. They are hesitant to become members of a Protestant church, but reluctant to reconnect with the Catholic Church.

Why do young adults drop out? The surveys identified six main reasons.

+ Churches seem restrictive and overprotective

+ Christianity as practiced is too shallow.

+ Churches seem antagonistic to science.

+ Churches are judgmental and rigid about sexuality.

+ The exclusivity of Christianity is a turnoff.

+ Churches are unfriendly to those who doubt.

In terms of how to attract people back, the authors pointed out that above all, church is a place to meet God, so the musical styles, sound systems and programs are not the main attraction.

The surveys showed that many people leave a Sunday service without feeling as if they had connected with God.

Prayer, service, love, discerning the cultural trends, and compassion are some of the ways the authors suggest as means to attract people back to church. A significant challenge, but one that needs to be affronted.

About Fr. John Flynn

Australia Licenciatura en Artes de la Universidad de Nueva Gales del Sur. Licencia en Filosofía por la Pontificia Universidad Gregoriana. Licenciatura en teología de la Reina de los Apóstoles.

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