Okay I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a statistics nerd! I find stats interesting. I’m especially interested in research that explains people’s behavior. This is called social science research.
LifeWay Research just completed some fascinating research for the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. This research really got my attention because they contacted roughly 2000 people and asked their opinions about church. They found some fascinating information about the unchurched population of America.
What does unchurched mean?
“Unchurched” according to this research, is defined as someone who hasn’t gone to church in the last six months unless it was on a special holiday, for a death or a wedding. The research shows that according to this definition, there are lots of unchurched people in America. In fact, there are more unchurched then churched people in America today.
Who is unchurched?
The unchurched population of America looks exactly like you. They live next to you. They work with you. Here some of the characteristics of unchurched people:
- Two-thirds (67 percent) are white
- Just over half (53 percent) are male
- About half (47 percent) have a high school diploma or less
- Almost two-thirds (62 percent) went to church regularly as a child
- About a third (32 percent) consider themselves nonreligious
- One in 5 identifies as Protestant, 1 in 4 as Catholic
Here’s another fascinating statistic. The unchurched people are not opposed to talking about faith. In fact, the majority say that if faith is important to you they would expect that you would talk to them about your faith. They want to hear about faith, if it’s that important to you. While at the same time, 65% of unchurched people have never had someone explain to them what it means to be a Christian.
Why are they unchurched?
It looks like many unchurched people were once in church. Almost 62% said that they went to church as a child but stopped going when they got older. Here are some of the reasons why people stopped going to church:
- Only went because my parents made me
- Lost interest
- Turned off by the moral stances of the church
- Moved away and stopped going
- Lost trust in the church
- Got too busy
- Had a bad experience
- I made lifestyle choices that were criticized by the church
- Lost faith in God
Let this sink in for a moment, as this trend continues America will face a generation that has no church experience at all. Their parents didn’t go to church, their friends don’t go to church and therefore they see no need to go to church themselves.
What is the church going to do about it?
If you really believe that the Jesus’ church has the answers to life’s greatest problems, then the church must respond to this disturbing trend. I think the only question that church leaders can ask as a result of this research is… what are we going to do about this? I hope church leaders will reexamine the way they are doing things and start to make an impact among this growing part of the American society.
Here’s also a suggestion that all church members can do about this trend—start to model the lifestyle of Jesus. He was regularly around the unchurched. The religious leaders of his day criticized Jesus for this in Luke 15:1-2. Jesus not only did this often, but he said that God finds joy when the unchurched are “found” (Luke 15:7). The angels in Heaven throw a party when people that don’t know Jesus come to him in faith (Luke 15:10). You can’t miss this from the end of this chapter in the Bible—the son or daughter that returns to church after walking away from the faith for many years brings the father great joy (Luke 15:32).
I want to challenge you based on this research today to live like Jesus. Spend time with people that don’t believe what you believe. Rearrange your schedule so that you are intentionally building relationships with people that don’t go to church. Go seek out the most notorious sinner in your city and start a relationship with him or her. One day—God willing—you will be able to share the Father’s joy when someone who was once lost becomes found by Christ.