Last year, 43 percent of U.S. adults said they had not attended church in at least six months, reported the Barna Group, which studies religious trends.
“There is a discernible rise of churchless Americans,” Barna President David Kinnaman told The Christian Chronicle. “This consists of three trends converging: an increasing percentage of atheists, a growing number of nominal Christians disengaging completely from churches and more pressure on well-intentioned churchgoing families who don’t attend as many weekends per year as they would have 10 years ago.”
churchlessness in America
The graphic shows data from the 2014 book “Churchless,” edited by George Barna and David Kinnaman. (GRAPHIC BY BARNA.ORG/CHURCHLESS)
RISE OF THE ‘NONES’
In Churches of Christ, the total number of men, women and children in the pews has dropped to 1,519,695, according to the 2015 edition of a national directory
published by Nashville, Tenn.-based 21st Century Christian.
That number of adherents represents a decline of 165,177 souls — or 9.8 percent — in the last quarter-century.
SOURCE: “Churches of Christ in the United States” published by 21st Century Christian.
“We will face the same challenges as others in a post-denominational world because we look, smell and act like a denomination, even though we lack the kind of denominational structures that characterize others,” said John Mark Hicks, a Restoration Movement scholar at Lipscomb University
in Nashville. “Nevertheless, our congregational polity offers some opportunity for transcending this label and becoming a place where people can find Jesus without denominational baggage or hindrance.”
Struggling rural areas — a traditional stronghold of Churches of Christ — and falling birth rates probably account for some of the numerical drop, said Ed Stetzer, president of evangelical LifeWay Research
The changing culture is a factor, too, Stetzer said.
“Growing secularization, the decline of nominal Christian identification and a growing sense that tolerance means not evangelizing would all have a big impact,” he said.
Another factor that partly skews the data: The 1990 count included thousands of members of the International Churches of Christ
— once known as the Boston Movement.
But starting with the 1994 directory, the ICOC congregations chose to identify as a separate body.
Inevitably, declining overall membership sparks debate over doctrinal differences, worship practices and other internal issues.
Researchers dub that group the “nones.”
As Harold Shank sees it, three realities strike at the heart of Christianity: creation, sin and redemption.
But modern-day America emphasizes evolution over creation, scoffs at the notion of sin and sees no need for redemption, said Shank, president of Ohio Valley University
in Vienna, W.Va.
“Numerous biblical books are written to people who existed in a culture that despised what they believed in,” he said. “And we have yet to make that transition of, ‘How do we minister to a culture that is so different and rejects who we are?’”
Here in Tulsa, the workshop’s breakout-session speakers included James Nored.
“It is God who touches hearts, brings people into our path and causes evangelistic growth,” Nored told The Chronicle.
“There is a lot of doom and gloom out there about the decline of Christianity in the U.S.,” he added. “While this is certainly happening, there are still many opportunities all around us.”