09 March 2009

Americans fleeing religion in droves

Here's the current cover story on a certain well-known newspaper:

Most religious groups in USA have lost ground, survey finds

This is not exactly a surprise.

One thought I had, which I enjoyed having because it made me feel OK: "emerging churches" are criticized (and I myself worry about this) for not having many converts - for being made up mostly of people who have departed more traditional church environments and are trying to save their own faith. But in an atmosphere like this, I sorta feel like helping folks to not leave the Church is, well, something. For real.

(But I still think we collectively miss opportunities to engage - for mutual benefit - with folks outside our comfy and safe and "thank God we're not where we used to be" church cocoons.)


Tim Mathis said...

The book 'What Americans Really Believe" by Rodney Stark is an interesting counterpoint to that article (I came across both randomly in recent days) - it runs down the findings from the Baylor report (from 2001-2008) mentioned once or twice in USA Today. The most interesting thing in that one, to me, was that Americans actually aren't attending church at any lesser rate than they were 40 years ago (it was about 35% in 1964 and about 35% in 2007). Fewer are identifying as 'Christian', and more are identifying as 'no religious affiliation', but attendance overall isn't being affected. Christians are switching churches all the time, the non-religious seem to be getting a little more entrenched (thanks Christian Right?), and fewer people seem to see a social need to identify as 'Christian' when they don't attend church. I'm not sure what all of this means, but it's not exactly 'fleeing our churches' as it's made out to be in a lot of circles. You should check it out.

Bob Pearson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Pearson said...

I agree that helping people not leave the church is a very good thing. But if all we do as emerging leaders is focus on this goal, we are missing the whole point I think to our dialogs. The answer to the question "How do we need to change to be able to connect with this growing community of people who are choosing to not even check out Christianity any more?" seems to me to be the key today.

The "church" (in all its various flavors today) is doing to many things that cause people to turn away and not enough to make them sit up and say "Wow, look at what they are doing and how they are living and how they are different and that is a good thing!"


Mike Croghan said...


Interesting - that church attendance statistic is very interesting - but it's also got me thinking. You and I both know that "butts in pews" is really not all that much more significant than "willingness to check 'Christian' on a survey form". What's really significant is: who is actively trying to follow Jesus? And also: what do these human organizations called churches, denominations, etc. perceive to be their priorities? It will be interesting to see what effect studies like these have on the latter question.

Also, total church attendance may not have changed, but demographics of church attenders definitely have - and they've definitely gotten grayer.

@Bob: I agree. But it felt good to think, for a moment, that we who are helping create church space for disaffected church people are at least doing something of value. But yes, there's so much more we can do if we can quit licking our wounds and "emerge" from our little church ghettos.