By Michael C. Mack
According to a Barna Group survey, the majority (62 percent) of churchless Americans consider themselves Christians. “Most of the churchless in America—contrary to what one might believe—do not disdain Christianity nor desire to belittle it or tear it down,” says the report.
This graph provides a more detailed breakdown:
How can churches make sense of these surprising findings, and more importantly, what can churches do in response to them?
“I think a dissatisfaction with the institutional church is significantly responsible for the result,” says Mike Shannon, professor at Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University.
In The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker, 2014), James Emery White says that 20 percent of Americans check the box labeled “none” in regard to their religious affiliation. And most churches, says White, are doing nothing to reach this fastest-growing religious group.
Ed Stetzer, executive director at LifeWay Research, says this phenomenon is not a justification for Christian leaders to panic. These findings don’t mean the church is dying, but that it’s transitioning. “I believe this current cultural shift is bringing clarity that will assist in defining who we are as Christians, and that is a good thing in some ways,” Stetzer says. “Christianity is represented by people who live for Christ, not check ‘Christian’ on a survey form.” (See Stetzer’s article, “The State of the Church in America: Hint: It’s Not Dying,” at ChristianityToday.com,)
How can churches respond in light of this trend? “I think churches need to get back to teaching from the Bible about lordship and commitment,” says Shannon. “It might cost us a few numbers at first, but the disciples would be more mature and eventually make a greater impact.”
As Christians and churches find themselves more and more on the margins of society, points out Stetzer, it’s an opportunity for us to count the cost and move “into the mission field as agents of gospel transformation.” It’s time for Christians to regroup and reengage.