Statistical Summaries of Church Attendance

Definition of churchless:  haven’t been to a church for 6 months or more

How many go to church (or don’t)[1]

 Those who attend once a month or more:  49%

Those who have dropped out (haven’t attended for at least 6 months):  33%

Those who attend once or twice a year:  8%

Those who have never been a part of a church:  10%

 

Churchless by age category[2]

Elders (born 1945 and earlier):  28%

Boomers (born 1946-64):  35%

Gen-X (born 1965-1983): 40%

Mosaics (born 1984-2002): 48%

 

Percentage of adults who have never attended church regularly[3]

1993:  15%

2014:  23%  (a 60% increase in 20 years)

 

Reasons the churchless have visited a church[4]

A friend invited them:  47% (down 28% in 20 years)

A pastor or church visitor stopped by to invite:  27% (down 21% in 20 years)

Social media or website promotion:  18% (not applicable 20 years ago)

Mailing, newspaper, or billboard:  16% (down 27% in 20 years)

 

Reasons skeptics (atheists and agnostics) might visit a church[5]

There are older adults who can provide life-stories:  14%

The church has volunteer opportunities to help the poor:  12%

 

Opinions of public toward various denominations[6]

Methodist:  55% favorable, 9% unfavorable

Baptist:  54% favorable, 14% unfavorable

Catholic:  45% favorable, 33% unfavorable

Presbyterian:  43% favorable, 9% unfavorable

Lutheran:  41% favorable, 11% unfavorable

Mormon:  30% favorable, 31% unfavorable

 

The top reason the churchless say they don’t attend[7]

(could only give one answer)

It’s boring:  15%

No reason, just being lazy:  13%

Too busy:  11%

Not a Christian:  10%

Don’t believe in God:  10%

Christians are hypocrites:  9%

 

Spirituality of the churchless[8]

A religion other than Christianity:  12%

Atheist, Agnostic:  25%

Say they are Christian:  63%  (Spiritual but not religious)

 

Unchurched and Born Again[9]

1 in 6 churchless in America claims to be “born again”

That’s 18 million people

If all of those 18 million went back to church, each church would gain 50 new people

 

Church-goers self-profile[10]

Think like Jesus, act like Jesus:  14%

Act like Jesus, think like Pharisees:  14%

Act like Pharisees, think like Jesus:  21%

Act like Pharisees, think like Pharisees:  51%

 

Young adult objections to church[11]

Too judgmental about sexuality of others:  91%

Too negative toward those who think different or are outside their church: 87%

Church members too hypocritical:  85%

Churches have an undertow (or explicit) about conservative or liberal politics: 75%

Church too anti-science:  72%

No sensitivity to people who are ‘different’:  70%

Church is boring:  68%

Church is disrespectful of differing denominations or religions: 64&

Church teachings and Bible is too confusing:  61%

 

Baby-boomer trends in the church[12]

24% decrease in worship attendance in past 20 years

40% decrease in Sunday School attendance in past 20 years

36% decrease in willingness to volunteer

78% increase in unchurched in past 20 years

41% of all baby-boomers are unchurched

 

Reasons baby-boomers give for leaving church[13]

No longer agree with what the church tells them to believe about God or Bible

Weariness with conservative or liberal politics promoted in church

Increased career demands leave little time for church

Caring for grandchild keeping them too busy

Health issues

Outgrown what the church has to offer

Too many “canned” programs

Looking for deeper relationships than superficial relationships church offers

 

The following excerpts are from the sermon at Mattoon First UMC, June 18, 2017 (Mike Smith, preacher) on how the church might relate better to the churchless

 

Churches in the future will not survive as social clubs:  especially churches with huge buildings, staff, and program needs.  Churches will only survive as they are authentic communities of love and grace, serving God, not the inner clique of us who run the church, not those of us who insist on the church being a museum of activities and objects we like

 

If we are trying to save the church as we like it, we’ll lose it.  The only way for the church to survive is for there to be a take-over…by God.  It’s up to us whether we let that be a friendly take-over or see it as a hostile take-over.

 

Central to our response to the unchurched can only be our love for them.  If we do not love unchurched persons and act on that love, then the number of unchurched will continue to grow and churches will continue to die.  It all begins with love.  If we do not grow our love then we will not grow our church.

 

But here’s a problem with love:  We often fail to love the churchless in part because it appears that we do not like them very much.  We complain that they are too spoiled, too irreverent, too skeptical, too scientific, too permissive, too liberal, too disrespectful, too godless, too irresponsible, too selfish, too ungrateful, too busy sinning.  We just don’t like them.  They need to get their butts back in church and be more like us.  And I’ve heard all those comments from church people in every church I’ve ever been in.

 

Well…that tough approach isn’t working. But here’s the thing:  God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…that whoever would be open to him, accept him, trust him, take a risk with him, follow him…God so loved the world that he was willing to endure the greatest pain in order that the world might not perish.  If we are God’s church, then we should at least be willing to give up our sacred cows so that the churchless might we welcome here and find in a revived church the love and the mercy and the depth of faith that they desperately need in their lives.

 

I’ll offer four thoughts this morning on changes we might make to help us love the churchless.

 

First, pray and fast in order that God will give us a change of heart toward the churchless.  We don’t love the churchless…yet…as much as God wants us too.  Our list of what we don’t like about them is too long and too poignant and it’s infecting and diluting and diminishing our love.  Our first task is to pray that God will change our hearts, open our hearts, help us open our arms, help us open our minds, help us open our doors to people we may not fully understand, appreciate, or condone.

 

Second, could we become more humble in our judgments?  Of course, church folks are aware of sin and how destructive and harmful it can be.  And we should talk about sin, and celebrate deliverance from sin.  But we Christians often have a tendency to go hog-wild about other people’s sins…yet down-play the way we ourselves have fallen short of what God wants.  Jesus pleads with you and me to remove the log from our own eyes before we try to take the speck out of someone else’s.

 

And the areas where the church has always been most judgmental is in the area of sexuality.  We’ve always been judgmental about the sexual behavior of other people.  Our particular obsession changes from generation to generation.  We are currently fixated on homosexuality.  But in other generations we have found other so-called “sinners” to pounce upon and condemn.  Church folks are sometimes so intent on judging others that they haven’t even noticed that they have mistranslated, misunderstood, and misquoted the Bible in order to condemn the sin.  Lots of good righteous Christians are going to face God someday, and we’ll boast of how we held the line against sinners, and God will open scriptures to us that we failed to read carefully, and lots of us are going to be standing before God saying, “oops!”

 

Third, we need to be more articulate about what it means to “believe” in God.  Belief in God does not mean that we undergo a lobotomy and allow some church group to do our thinking for us.  It does not mean that there is only one way to read and interpret the Bible.  It does not mean that everything taught by other religions is wrong.  It does not mean that we should shoo our doubts and questions away from our heads and mindlessly mouth pious phrases that we have been taught.  It does not mean that science and history are disqualified because our feeble brains can’t square them with literal interpretations of scripture.  In biblical Greek, “believe” and “faith” are the same word: “pistis.”  And it simply means that we are willing to take a risk on some person, some God, some notion…even though we don’t know all there is to know…even though we have reasonable doubts…even though we can’t find conclusive proof.  To believe in God or to believe in the Bible doesn’t mean we have to attack and cast out science and history…or any other system of thinking that may challenge our religion, make us wrestle for the truth, offend us, confuse us, or stretch us.

 

Fourth, we need to be more like Jesus and less like the Pharisees.  When people say that the church is full of hypocrites, they are not entirely wrong.  (cf. the Barna survey above)  There are really two types of Christians:  Pharisee imitators and Christ imitators.  Whenever the church is primarily a social club, or a society of do-gooders (you know, mission work and all that) it tends to be Pharisee imitating.  That’s what the Pharisees in the Bible did:  they did good works and they were a social club.  But when the church starts to establish and nurture one on one relationships with each other and with the churchless…then the church becomes more and more Jesus-imitating.  The trouble is:  most of us think we are imitating Jesus, when in actuality we are more like the Pharisees.  Only a renewed and intensive commitment to Bible Study will help us see and understand the difference and begin to make the changes.

 

In conclusion, the people in this room are good and precious…and God needs us to be the body of Christ.  God has elected us to be the chosen people to establish a different kind of a church: one that will truly bless…not only the churchless but also the church folks.  God loves us.  God loves Mattoon.  God needs a group of people who will faithfully be the body of Christ.  God needs a sacred space where once you cross the line into that place…to be with that group of people…you will know you are somewhere really different.  God needs us to be that assembly of people where an outsider can instantly sense the love, the joy, the welcome, the grace, the mercy, the hope, the living Christ.

[1] Barna, George and Kinnaman, David, editors, Churchless:  Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them, published by the Barna Group, 2014, pp. 1-11

[2] ibid. pg. 12

[3] ibid. pg. 22

[4] ibid. pg. 28

[5] ibid. pp. 138-153

[6] ibid. pg. 50

[7] ibid. pp. 46-55

[8] ibid. pg. 17

[9] ibid. pg. 85

[10] ibid. pp. 175-191

[11] Kinnaman, David, Unchristian:  What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters, 2007, pg. 26

[12] “Research Releases in Faith and Christianity, July 26, 2011” found at https://www.barna.com/research/barna-describes-religious-changes-among-busters-boomers-and-elders-since-1991/

[13] ibid.