January 8, 2005
Have Unchurched Americans Doubled?
The number of unchurched Americans has nearly
doubled since 1991 according to Pollster George Barna. During a time that
the U.S. population edged up 15%, the number of adults who do not attend
church jumped from 39 million to 75 million.
Barna defined the unchurched as those who have not
attended church in the last six months, other than for Christmas or Easter,
or for special events like a wedding or a funeral. Their numbers have
increased from 21% of the population in 1991 to 34% today.
Who are the unchurched?
They are more likely to be male, younger than average
adults (age 38 vs. 43), and are more likely to have never married. While
only a quarter of adults are never-married singles, nearly two-fifths of the
unchurched meet that definition (37 percent).
They are also attracted to the nation's coasts. While
only 42 percent of Americans live in the Northeast or West, 51 percent of
the unchurched are clustered there, in the Blue States.
Author and researcher George Barna identified three
unique behavioral patterns of unchurched Americans:
1. They are "somewhat isolated from the
mainstream activities of the society. They see themselves as outsiders."
Fewer are registered to vote, donate to non-profit organizations or
participate as volunteers.
2. They are less likely to describe themselves as
"generous," "friendly" or "deeply spiritual" and more likely to be atheists
3. The unchurched are more independent. Few
joined a political party. They are not only less likely to marry, but to
have children if they do marry.
Why have the unchurched doubled in a decade?
First, Mainline Protestant denominations are in
absolute decline and were among the largest denominations in America. Since
1965, the United Methodist Church fell from 11 million to 8.2 million, The
Episcopal Church has lost a third of its members, and the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) shrunk from 4.3 million to 2.6 million.
Each of these denominations has been ravaged for
decades by the debate over whether to ordain homosexuals. Moderate and
conservative Methodists and Presbyterians have won the battle at their
national conventions, but not without losing millions of members, weary of
the struggle. Liberals have won in the Episcopal Church and even ordained a
practicing homosexual as a bishop. But the church could split in half this
Eddie Gibbs, Professor of Church Growth at Fuller
Theological Seminary, the world's largest seminary, comments, "There is a
growing disillusionment with institutionalized religion. If you are under
35, you are reacting to the hierarchy, control and male domination. There is
a group hungry for authentic relationships, inclusivity and open spiritual
By contrast, conservative evangelical denominations
have grown steadily. Each has a conscious plan to evangelize the lost. Since
1965 Assemblies of God quadruped from 572,000 to 2,686,000 and The Church of
the Nazarene tripled from 194,000 to 639,000.
The Southern Baptist Convention grew from 10.7 million
to 16.2 million. However, its numbers are inflated by 5.1 million so-called
Who are they? "The FBI could not find them,"
quips Bob Reccord, President of the Southern Baptist North American Mission
Board, who oversees 5,100 Baptist missionaries.
Among Southern Baptists, most churches have plateaued
in size or are losing members. Only 11 percent are growing. There were
429,000 baptisms in Southern Baptist churches in 1980 but only 377,000 in
"Disobedient Christians," harumphed Prof. Malcolm
Yarnell, Director of Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"Evangelistic fervor is now diminishing. We are told by Christ to share the
Gospel and are not doing it."
Dr. Bob Reccord, whose missionaries are working in such
tough places as Manhattan and Chicago to build churches and win lost souls,
says: "I think we have settled in much of the church world for a religion of
comfort and convenience rather than a relationship of character and
"We have lapsed into a fortress driven strategy, which
says, `We'd love to have you as part of our church. Our doors are open. Come
on in.' But when God called people to him, he did not call them to just come
and gather. He called them to scatter. They understood that their most
significant mission was not while they were together, but when they
Acts of the Apostles records explosive church growth in
Jerusalem. "But it started to enjoy its own success and by Acts 8, God
allowed persecution to come into the church. The Apostles stayed at the
nerve center of Jerusalem, but other believers were scattered. That was the
turning point for the Gospel to be taken to the world," asserted Reccord.
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