There are 12 million Dechurched people in America right now.
I wanted none of the language to or Labels to stereotype anyone who may be reading this article who is either unchurched or de-churched. This is absolutely not US verse THEM mentality, the purpose for discussing this matter is my personal burden and passion for young adults in crisis. Discovering the systemic causes of their needs and to discover practical methods to help them effectively. I am simply using these descriptors for the purpose of clarity and amplify the topics. Furthermore, these both topics have been researched in a more in depth way than I could ever give it justice and encourage you to research these both topics more fully on your own time.
I briefly will introduce the topic of the unchurched to clarify they are not the DE-cHURCHED. The latest statistics report 12 million dechurched people in America right now. I have researched this topic and have listed numerous sources for your own private study and research.
BARNA ARTICLE on The term “unchurched” has become quite popular in missional efforts to re-evangelize and re-church North America. To be sure, there are a lot of unchurched people in the U.S. In fact, no county in the US has registered a greater percentage of church persons over the past decade. Church attendance has declined over the past few years by 10%, and the US is the only continent where Christianity is not growing! With these kinds of statistics, I wonder if “unchurched” language and perspectives are falling short of adequately describing the challenges facing the American church (more Barna stats). Perhaps we should pick up the language of missiologists who have used the term “resistant.”
The resistant are those who have or are receiving an adequate opportunity to hear the gospel but over some time have not responded positively (Pocock, “Raising Questions about the Resistant”). The resistant are NOT unreached, though they are often unchurched. What constitutes “some time”? More importantly, should we shift our strategies and discourse to approach unchurched Americans as resistant peoples?
Not unlike the term unchurched, defining the resistant is has its problems; however, Timothy Tennent has helpfully pointed out that peoples can be resistant in at least four ways: culturally, theologically, ethnically or politically (Tennent, “Equipping Missionaries for the Resistant”). Depending on what area or peoples of the U.S we are considering, any one or combination of the four areas may apply.
If your town is average, thousands of recently dechurched people live near your church.1
Craig Bird, in a recent article at www.faithworks.com, called these dechurched “postcongregational” Christians.
Jamieson, who studies the quest of these post-congregational Christians, compares them to “travelers who abandon a luxury liner in mid-cruise. They grow tired of the endless buffets and entertainment, the carefully designed activities, or the captain who makes all the decisions about the ship’s speed and direction. They are longing to experience what is not on the itinerary. They sell all they have to buy a small boat and leave the welltraveled sea lanes for uncharted waters.”2
“George Barna noted two years ago that large numbers of American adults regularly participate in faith activities – prayer, Bible reading, use of the religious media – even though they haven’t attended a church service in six months. They are ignoring church, not faith, he said. Relatively few unchurched people are atheists. Most of them call themselves Christians and have had a serious dose of the church life in the past.”3
Is your church designed to
reach the “leavers”? Michael Johnson, in an article titled “If We Can’t Reach the Dechurched, Can We Really Reach the Unchurched?” suggests the following:
· Would it make more sense to first become the kind of church that is highly
effective in reaching the dechurched?
· What we can learn from the dechurched may be more important than what they
can learn from us.
· Collaboration, rather than assimilation, may be a more appropriate goal to set with regard to the dechurched.
· Understand that dechurched people are probably closest to the solutions needed to reach and transform your city.4
· It is important to take a second look at those people leaving the institutional church. Rob McAlpine, in his article “Detoxing from Church,” reminds us, “…these are people who are in love with Jesus, and who want to be a part of the healthy functioning Body of Christ. If they didn’t care, there would be no issues. They wouldn’t be upset. They would either leave altogether and never again seek out fellowship with other believers, or they would passively go through the motions week after week and never give their spiritual status second thought. It is far too easy for the church to make these people the enemy when in fact they are not.”5
When people leave our church fellowship, it is easy to write them off and never seek to find out “Why?”
The trouble with the Church today?
A perception of irrelevancy. There is a vast number of "unchurched" people in the World who see the Church as irrelevant. Some of the people are Christian believers who once attended an institutional church, but no longer attend; some are Christian believers who attended, but infrequently; and some are unbelievers.
Their reasons for abandoning the institutional church vary, but behind those reasons is one commonality: They believe the institutional church is irrelevant. It is perceived as irrelevant to their life, in that it cares little for them, or their situation, except for wanting to add another name to the church roles; and it is perceived as irrelevant to their community, in that churches only care about those people who are "like us."
That is not a new revelation, but it is one that the Church must meet head-on if it is to meet the mandate of the Great Commission — that of going into the world and making disciples of Christ, for the sake of Christ. Churches who make the gospel relevant to the hungry, to the hurting, and to the disenfranchised will meet the mandate; those who do not, will not.
Think of this: A church can grow in membership, launch building programs and increase the budget exponentially and still be irrelevant.
How? By focusing on membership, building programs and the budget, while neglecting the hungry, the sick, the naked, the imprisoned, the disenfranchised … Jesus Christ among us.
A reality of immobility. While the focus of the past decade has been on establishing new worship services — first targeting baby boomers, then targeting twentysomethings, Millenniums, or whatever is the demographic of the moment — the Church seems unable to move what appears to be a vast army beyond the sanctuary doors.
Why is that?
If you believe that what we call discipleship has its roots in worship, then the fruit of discipleship is correlative to the degree in which we worship in spirit and in truth. Superficial attempts at worship (whether in contemporary or traditional settings) will result in little or no fruit — an immobile congregation. Those engaging in true worship — worship in spirit and truth — will naturally produce a bumper crop of discipleship. They will look for ways to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned and sick, and focus on being disciples of Christ, for the sake of Christ and others.
Finally, the Church is in trouble because of …
A resistance to change. Again, that is not a new revelation, but this is the most dangerous foe of all in postmodern Christianity.
Much has been written and said in recent years concerning the "emerging church" and "postmodern" faith, but if you find someone who claims to be an expert, keep looking. Still, one constant component in what is being said and written is that doing things the way we’ve always done them because that’s the way it’s always been done will no longer get it — if it ever did. Another component is that those working the field of the emerging church are uncovering what some might find as an unexpected surprise: Therein lies a fertile field of faith.
But, to mix a metaphor, the field of faith today is as fluid as the ocean. The Church has to catch the wave, and for some of us there’s some hard paddling to do.
The bad news: Some believers are already worshipping outside of our doors, because they believe the institutional church will remain irrelevant, immobile, and unable to change.
Jesus says that he "was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Likewise, when he sent out his apostles he said: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." This restriction is a very important consideration because it tells us that his primary mission was to reclaim those who were by birth included in the promise to Abraham. But they were lost, he said. Why did he call them lost? Anyone who has read through one of the gospels knows that Jesus went to the sick and afflicted. He himself went to Samaria where descendants of Abraham lived cut off from the Temple of the Jews. His detractors accused him of associating with those they considered beneath their piousness to even acknowledge on the road. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them. I tell you that this Jesus would be unwelcome in some of today’s churches.
This is the way that Mary Tuomi Hammond defin
The word dechurched is hardly adequate in describing the variety of individuals in question. Any term that utilizes "church" as its root can easily be misunderstood due to the myriad of popular conceptions and definitions applied to it. Does the word dechurched include those who simply neglect to make time for public worship or those who drift away from Christianity out of disinterest and distraction? Does the term primarily refer to individuals who have left mainstream denominations due to serious concerns? Can one be considered dechurched by virtue of simply attending a church and leaving it, regardless of whether that person ever made a genuine commitment to a life of Christian discipleship?
With these very valid questions in mind, I wish to clarify my use of the word dechurched for the purposes of this article. I use this term to describe those who have lost a faith that they once valued or have left a body of believers with whom they were once deeply engaged. I limit my exploration further by focusing on those who have felt damaged and alienated amid this process. I cannot judge the authenticity or a person’s prior experience with the Christian faith; I can only listen to the pain and disappointment, the questioning and confusion, the anger and even rage that the stories of the dechurched often embody.
With the risk of sounding melodramatic, I must say that the last sentence above affects me deeply; it breaks my heart. And that’s why my own anger and even rage sometimes bubble over when I read the attacks of one professing Christian against another. These dechurched are the collateral damage of these battles for power. They, and those attacked, are the ones who suffer when church leaders fight among themselves and when they abuse their positions and pompous titles.
But who will stand and speak out for the unchurched and dechurched? Who will go beyond theological and denominational squabbles and continue the job that Jesus began? Who will lay aside their pride, put their trust in God rather than doctrine and dogma, and humble themselves for the good of others? And who will give up their human notions of worthiness and give up their pride for the unworthy? Who?
1. Dispel the stereotypes. Research points out that the growing portion of this group, are not weak in faith, but in fact are strong Christians. Many are former church leaders, many have years of ministry experience, and some are even former pastors. They are not disillusioned with God, just the organized church they’ve known; and many are experimenting with the house church movement or pursuing other creative formats like marketplace or community missions. In fact, for the most part it is because of their strong faith, not the lack of faith, that they have the courage to step beyond the known comfort zones of their traditions and face the misunderstanding of other Christians.
2. Avoid Simplistic Definitions. If someone is part of a house church, mission group, marketplace fellowship, or even on a temporary sabbatical, they are still part of THE Church. We say the church is not a building or an organization, it’s the Body of Christ, but we tend to forget this when we attach labels.
3. Listen to the Dechurched. Seek them out, know who they are, listen to their perspective. Focus groups and one-on-one interviews with the Unchurched are good to get a broad, uninitiated, community perspective so important. But the recently Dechurched will have the most informed and intuitive perspective, the kind that can uncover great insights and ideas for change.
4. Partner With The Dechurched. Sound strange? But think about it. The Dechurched are probably the closest people to the creative solutions needed to really reach and transform your city. But, you say, isn’t that like reward-ing independence? Would that not legitimize them? What if all my people took their path? Stop for a minute and unpack that line of thinking. Don’t we want all of our people to be independent, to stand confident in their gifts and calling, follow the call of God, to meet the needs in the community they are uniquely meant to fill? They should not have to leave the fellowship to do that, only if we’ve made it necessary. We may have to admit that if people have to leave to follow their calling, or for that matter if they are that easily drawn away by outside influence, there is something inherently wrong with the way we’ve wired our organization. Could it be that the reason they are disconnected from much of the Body the result of church institutions that fail to provide a wide birth for creativity, imagination, risk, and missional ideas? We also must admit that God may have these people where they are for a reason, to experiment, venture into new areas, cross-pollinate with different cultures, or take a sabbatical to process or work through something important with God in a way which a high level of church activity would be a major distraction. But they still might be open to collaborate or partner for specific reasons. Whatever relationship that might be, can you see the mutual benefit?
5. Create Community Idea Factories. In almost every case, the reason people leave the church, is not a relational problem in and of itself. At its base it’s a failure to channel inspiration and imagination. If dreams and ideas keep bumping up against walls and internal obstacles, sooner or later they will find their way outside the enclosure. A better way would be to take the proactive position and actually stimulate ideas. But, facilitating ideas is not the same as endorsing or funding ideas. Read some of Tommy Barnett and his son Matthew Barnett’s experience with the Dream Centers (The Church That Never Sleeps) for effective ways to create and channel an idea movement. Remember, the path to transformation goes through dreams.
There are 12 million Dechurched people in America right now. That means if your town is average there are thousands of recently dechurched people living near your church. With a little openness and creativity put into it, what could an intelligent outreach strategy that effectively connected with them mean to your church, and in turn, what impact it could have on your city?
Yet in these deep longings of the urban youth, the voices of the streets seem louder than the faint cry of a church stuck in institutional patterns of the past. A growing "non-church Christianity" is growing up where God-talk is hip but church is out.
but good kids
not bad kids
just misunderstood kids
watch mom shoot up
and dad shoot bullets
and combat the words
that scream that I’m useless
and mad at dad who split
and mom who took him back
even though he split
her lip the third time
I watch from the s
and grow full of hate
from parents’ guidelines
and you, pastor
push me faster
taking our crumbs to fill
your already full plate
your frock is stained
you mock the name
of He who commissioned
cuz you’re more concerned
with titles and pensions
than the mission to save me
don’t forget the babies
don’t be so lazy
cuz I need you greatly
it’s not about parking spots
and who pays a lot
but who gives a lot
and who prays a lot
the lost sheep
but nobody’s looked for me
don’t you know God made
the Good Book for me?
but I need direction
man of God
woman of God
be of God
and keep your eyes peeled
but still trying
though momma ignores us
and daddy abuses us
I’m sure that God still
wants to use us
when momma doesn’t hug us
and daddy slugs us
I’m confident that God
still loves us
cuz I’m a hood kid
but a good kid
not a bad kid
just misunderstood kid
and I need your help
before it’s too late
and I walk the same path
that my parents made
look at us
behind the chain linked fence
pain wrenched kids
such tainted kids
who were struck
but never fainted kids
we live hellish lives
but can be saintly kids
if you just try TRY!
we’ll continue to die
continue to cry
the hood kids
that no one really cares about
it’s so obvious that no one
really cares about ’em…
1 Mindstorm Idealetter, June 7, 2005, breakthroughchurch.com
2 A churchless faith, Craig Bird, June 7, 2005: http://www.faithworks.com
4 Mindstorm Idealetter, p.1 breakthroughchurch.com
5 Detoxing From Church, Rob McAlpine: www.robbymak.org