Statistics on the churched, unchurched, & dechurched


Recent statistics from a Barna study on cities with the largest and smallest church attendance show that 73% of Americans claim to be Christians.

38% of Americans are “churched,” having gone to a religious service in the last seven days.

34% are “dechurched,” being former active churchgoers who have not attended a service in the last six months.

43% are “unchurched,” having not attended a church service in the last six months.

OK, that comes to 115%.  Though I suppose “unchurched” includes those who aren’t Christians as well as those who still claim to be.  And isn’t there overlap between the categories “dechurched” and “unchurched”?

And what about those who don’t go to church every Sunday but who every other week or go once a month?  In a 2016 study, Barna classified as “churched” those who attended at least one service within the last six months.  Those numbers came to 55% of Americans being “churched.”  That study also usefully combined the number of those who go to church at least once a month and who say that their faith is very important to them, coming up with the category “practicing Christian,” a category comprising 31% of Americans.

Faith resists quantification and even using church attendance as a metric has its problems, since people don’t necessarily admit the truth about such things.

I was most interested in the category “dechurched.”  I know some of those folks.  They haven’t exactly lost their faith, though it’s evident that it’s weakened greatly since it hasn’t been fed in awhile.  Nor did they just drift away.  I know those two reasons account for some of the dechurched.  The ones I’m thinking of were very active at one time, but then the congregation went through some controversy and they just burned out.  (They weren’t in any of our congregations.)  I know trying to bring “inactive members” back into the fold is a challenge for pastors and elders.  Has anyone had any success in reaching the “dechurched”? [Read more…]

Embedded religion vs. movement religion

Walther League 1928I’ve been reading Kenneth L. Woodward’s Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama.  I’ll be publishing a review of it for the Concordia Historical Institute Journal.  Woodward was the religion editor of Newsweek for nearly four decades before his retirement, an old-school journalist who is widely respected from all sides.  He treats the developments in American religion since the end of World War II as a historian but also as a first hand witness who came to know many of the players and covered the key stories of that tumultuous period.

He distinguishes between “embedded religion” and “movement religion.” [Read more…]

Guilt and shame


There is guilt, the inner torment that comes from doing what is wrong.  And there is shame, the torment that comes from other people knowing that we have done something wrong.  Guilt is private; shame is social.  Guilt has to do with how we see ourselves; shame has to do with how others see us.

We might do something we know is wrong, but feel only mildly guilty about it.  But if other people found out, our shame–consisting of embarrassment and a ruined reputation–would be devastating.

Lifeway did a study of what feeling people want to avoid the most:  guilt, shame, or fear.  38% of Americans said shame.  The breakdown according to age, education, and religion–given after the jump–is interesting.  (“Nones,” for example, those with no religion, are especially plagued with guilt.  Religious people are more worried about shame.)

The problem of shame in our culture today shouldn’t surprise us.  Moral relativism might assuage guilt, but it doesn’t help us with shame.  On social media, shaming other people has become a national past time, leading some targets to misery and sometimes suicide.  Social norms, especially of the politically correct variety, are enforced by shaming the violators.

The fear of shame might be considered shallow.  “You worry about your reputation more than the wrongness of your behavior.”

But the Bible says a lot about shame.  It seems to be an aspect of God’s judgment–that our sins will be disclosed, so that we will be “put to shame.”  Yet  Jesus endured shame on our behalf.  The Cross, reserved for the lowest offenders, involving being nailed naked to a tree and lifted up for all the world to see, was considered an especially shameful way to die.  And yet,  “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

As a result, the Cross of Jesus Christ gives us forgiveness for both our guilt and our shame:  “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).

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Americans’ moral beliefs



Gallup has released its latest study of Americans’ moral beliefs.

Gallup’s Values and Beliefs poll has been taken each year since 2001, so that it is possible to track changes.

Some two-thirds of Americans see nothing wrong with sex between unmarried couples (69%), homosexual relations (63%), and having a baby outside of wedlock (62%).

Despite this sexual revolution, the vast majority of Americans still strongly disapprove of adultery, with only 9% considering it “OK,” a number that has changed little over the years.

Only 43% consider abortion to be moral, a number that has also been stable since 2001.

For the numbers on these and many other issues, as well as data about the values that have changed, go here.

The summary report, excerpted after the jump, observes that no issues have shown change in a conservative direction.

While it is true that most Americans consider themselves conservative politically, conservatives too are mostly liberal when it comes to morality.


Painting:  Moses with the 10 Commandments by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Believing, behaving, belonging

41d5clt3VoL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_The Pew Study of religious belief in former Communist countries that we blogged about recently cites a scholar who breaks down religious involvement into three factors:  “Believing. Behaving. Belonging.”

A religion entails believing in certain things.  “Behaving” refers not so much to moral behavior–though acting in accord with what one’s religion teachers is surely an important factor–but to religious behavior, such as attending church, praying, etc.  “Belonging” refers to membership in a religious community, as in belonging to a church and holding to a particular religious identity.

The major insight from this breakdown is that people around the world often approach their religion in at least one of these ways, but not always in all three of them.

In the former Communist countries, people “believe” and “belong,” but they do not “behave.”  That is, they affirm Christian teachings and consider membership in a church extremely important, but they hardly ever actually go to church or practice other religious “behavior.”

In Scandinavia, as I have been learning, despite the presence of intensely Christian individuals who do all three, the majority of people do not “believe” (the rates of atheism and agnosticism are very high), nor do they “behave” (seldom attending religious services).  But they do “belong,” as rates of church membership–church tax and all–remains very high.

In East Asian Buddhism, many people do not believe in their religion, nor do they belong to a religious community.  But they do “behave” in accord with the religion, going to the temple and performing the rituals and sacrifices.

Many Americans “believe” but neither “belong” to a church nor “behave” by attending one.

Liberal Christians “belong” and “behave” in their mainline denominations without actually “believing.”

Some say that these can be put into an order according to which people can be drawn into the church, though opinions differ on what the order is.  Might “belonging” eventually lead to “belief”?  Or does “belief” lead to “belonging”?  (See Roger Olsen’s  discussion.)

What are some other applications? How can this breakdown help us in reaching the “unchurched” and in discipling the “churched”?  Or is this merely a sociological account of religion that has little to do with actual faith? [Read more…]

The religious comeback after Communist atheism

Bezbozhnik_u_stanka_15-1929The Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe strongly enforced the atheism mandated by Communist ideology.  They promoted atheism by laws, education, and brutal persecution of religious believers.  Schools taught required courses in atheism.

Churches were torn down or converted into movie theaters or (in the case of the Lutheran church in St. Petersburg) swimming pools.  Thousands of pastors were killed or consigned to the Gulags.  I talked with an Estonian who told me that her son once went inside an abandoned church because he was interested in the artwork.  He was warned never to do that again or he wouldn’t be allowed to go to university.

But 25 years ago, Communism collapsed in Russia and Eastern Europe.  Now those regions are arguably more religious than most of the countries of Western Europe.

A study by Pew Research shows the massive failure of Soviet atheism.  In the 18 former-Communist countries surveyed, 86% of the population believe in God.

And yet the temporary loss of a religious history shows.  Most citizens associate religious belief with national identity.  And they aren’t necessarily going to church all that much.

Catholics go to church more than the Orthodox.  But the Orthodox are more conservative morally when it comes to issues like homosexuality.

The Pew study describes religion in the former Communist states as “believing and belonging, without behaving.”

Read about the findings after the jump.

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