You want church growth? You want to reach the unchurched? Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals. The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar. THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:
If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.
That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.
“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.
The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.
Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.
The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.
Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.
Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.
Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.
Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches? What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off? How might they be brought back into the fold?
UPDATE: Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.