When research company’s Barna president David Kinnaman published his 2011 book You Lost Me, we heard from many people (especially church leaders) who were shocked to learn that 59 percent of young adults with a Christian background had dropped out of church at some point during their 20s—many for just a time, but some for good.
Eight years later, research for Kinnaman’s new book Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon reveals that the church dropout problem is still a problem. In fact, the percentage of young-adult dropouts has increased from 59 to 64 percent. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. 18–29-year-olds who grew up in church tell Barna they have withdrawn from church involvement as an adult after having been active as a child or teen.
It is not all bad news, however. Through more than a decade of interviewing teens and young adults, Barna researchers kept encountering a small but significant number of young Christians who run counter to the overall trend. So, using the same research parameters as in You Lost Me (18–29-year-olds with a Christian background), Kinnaman and the Barna team fielded new research to study the countertrend. Yes, most Christian twentysomethings spend at least some time disconnected from a faith community. But what about those who stay? What, if anything, do they have in common?
In Faith for Exiles, Kinnaman and his coauthor, Mark Matlock, get to know the one in 10 young Christians for whom they’ve coined the term “resilient disciples.” “From a numbers point of view,” Kinnaman says, “10 percent of young Christians amounts to just under four million 18–29-year-olds in the U.S. who follow Jesus and are resiliently faithful. In spite of the tensions they feel between church and everyday life, they keep showing up.”
So what does it mean to be a resilient disciple? As defined in Faith for Exiles, individuals in this group: have made a commitment to Jesus, who they believe was crucified and raised to conquer sin and death; are involved in a faith community beyond attendance at worship services; and strongly affirm that the Bible is inspired by God and contains truth about the world. In addition, they agree with one or more of the following statements that speak to the exilic conditions in which their faith still thrives:
I want to find a way to follow Jesus that connects with the world I live in.
God is more at work outside the Church than inside, and I want to be a part of that.
I want to be a Christian without separating myself from the world around me.
These highly engaged young Christians are the exemplars of Faith for Exiles, who are concerned for and thoughtful about how their faith in Christ intersects meaningfully and missionally with the world around them. “We kept probing the data to discern the story behind their resilience,” Kinnaman adds. “What can we learn from them? What makes them tick? What practices distinguish them from the norm?”
As the infographic above shows, resilient disciples highly prioritize their life of faith inside and outside their place of worship. “These sisters and brothers are young adults who model the outcomes hoped for by the broader community of faith,” Kinnaman notes. “By getting to know the resilient disciples, we can find out what formation experiences and relationships are most effective for growing resilient faith in exile.”
Five experts discuss the ways this emerging demographic is helping them rethink preaching, parenting, and service.
Generation is a moving target. There is no single, set authority on it, so sociologists classify generations based on major cultural shifts or world events that seem to differentiate one range of people from another. Not everyone agrees that these cohorts are the most helpful way to classify people, but it’s hard to argue there is no discernible difference between those in the US who grew up before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and those who remember only a post-9/11 reality.
Though this latter cohort—referred to by sociologists as post-millennials, iGen, or most commonly, Generation Z—may resemble previous generations in many ways, their worldview breaks from their predecessors in a few key ways. Depending on where you draw the line (most mark the start of Gen Z between 1999 and 2001) the oldest members of this generation are now entering college. In many churches, they’re graduating from student ministries and participating in the life of the church as young adults for the first time.
How should pastors think about this emerging demographic? Should Gen Z push us to adopt new approaches to ministry, or will they help us appreciate our tried-and-true methods like never before? Pastor Maina Mwaura convened a panel of experts to learn about what pastors should expect from Gen Z. Their conversation touches on the exciting opportunities these young people bring to the church, the challenges they will face, and the ways in which they may help pastors better shepherd everyone.
The panel consists of Brooke Hempell: Senior vice president of research at the Barna Group; Allen Jackson: Senior pastor at Dunwoody Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and served as professor of youth ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for two decades; Jody Livingston: Youth ministry veteran of 20 years in the Atlanta metro area; James “Jimmy” McGee III: President and CEO of The Impact Movement, a campus ministry for black students around the country; and Dan Scott: Director for 252 Kids and 252 Preteen curriculum at Orange and author.
Let’s start with the basics. Who do we mean when we talk about “Generation Z”?
Hempell: Barna draws a line at 1999. Anyone born in 1999 or later—currently 19-or-20-year-olds—are Gen Z. And that goes down to somewhere in elementary school. We haven’t decided where to draw the line between Gen Z and the generation after them.
Over time we’ve started drawing the generations smaller and smaller, in terms of years, because the world is changing so fast. When we talk about Gen Z, we’re mainly talking about early college students, high schoolers, and middle schoolers right now, but some younger kids will probably make the cut, too.
I am a parent of young Gen Zers. My daughter was born in 2007, the year the first iPhone came out. That’s a pivotal year for this generation. Members of Gen Z in the US are very different from the generations before them. They are the most diverse generation we’ve seen yet. This year’s kindergarten, first-grade, and second-grade kids are the first cohort of elementary students where the minority ethnicity populations are larger than the white ethnicity populations.
What does that do to their perceptions of the world, especially in the context of the church?
McGee: Gen Z, in particular, wants to see change. They aren’t sheltered. Older Gen Zers saw Philando Castile bleed out in front of his girlfriend all over Facebook. There’s a collective trauma building up in this population. Gen Z, on the whole, sees ethnicity as something to be celebrated.
Gen Zers, like millennials, don’t care much what’s said in church on Sunday morning if they don’t see it walk over that chasm into Monday through Saturday. They want to see the impact of faith and identity apart from a Sunday morning experience. If they don’t see transformation in society, they’re going to question the reality of what we say we believe. Millennials have brought to Gen Z the idea of an integrated reality. They want to see how their faith speaks life into the places where they work, where they play, where they worship, and every aspect of their humanity.
Whether we’re ready for it or not, Gen Z is going to force us to engage the issues that matter to them.
Livingston: In previous generations, you had more of a top-down influence. That still exists, but because this generation is so tech savvy, the influence is flipping a bit. Generation Z is now starting to push the older generations in influence. As the church, we have to be ready for that.
Hempell: If we want to help them navigate the integration of their faith with their everyday experience, churches are going to have to make a lot of changes. When students go into a typical Protestant church, they look at the congregation and the leadership, and these churches don’t represent the diversity present in their world. For those who haven’t grown up with a church background, that’s going to feel strange. This is a generation where so many have not grown up in the church, and you can imagine them walking into a church and thinking, What is this bizarre place where everyonelooks the same? I don’t think this is for me.
Jackson: There are a lot of other spaces, though, that are just as segregated. What about college campuses? I don’t think they’re unfamiliar with spaces that don’t represent their generation. The bigger problem is that they haven’t been in the church at all.
We used to assume a Judeo-Christian starting line. I wrote a book a long time ago that said, “Just because somebody is not a Christian doesn’t mean they’re stupid. They have heard of Jesus, they have heard of Christianity, and they have heard the basic points of the biblical story.” But that’s not necessarily the case today. It’s feasible that, because their Gen X and millennial parents didn’t have much to do with the church, their kids may not have heard God’s story at all.
They don’t know the differences between Islam and Mormonism and Christianity. They’ve vaguely heard of Jesus and Mohammed and Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi. But they aren’t sure how they all fi t together or what country they’re from. So their faith is fragmented at best. We in the church use words we think they should know, but they don’t. So if we want to help them integrate their faith, we have to stop assuming they have one.
Does it worry you that many members of this generation don’t have Christian faith as their starting point?
Jackson: It does. But it’s a good worry because for a long time churches had certain advantages. Football wouldn’t practice on Wednesday nights because that was a church night. And Sunday morning was a church day. That isn’t true anymore. There used to be a respect for Sunday, but now joggers will come into the lobby of our worship center looking for water. There’s no such thing as a protected day.
The new normal for church attendance is one-and-a-half times a month. That means I only get to see some of our families 18 times a year.
So you’re saying we have to be flexible when it comes to dealing with this new norm.
Scott: Yesterday my son needed a book. He needed it right then, so I couldn’t use Amazon. I had to go to Barnes & Noble. But I didn’t want to risk not finding it. So I went online, to their digital channel. I saw that the book was at the Barnes & Noble across the street. So I ordered it to pick up later. I started digital, but then I had a personal touchpoint where I talked with someone who recommended a second book. I ended up leaving with two books because of the relational touchpoint.
When it comes to engaging Gen Z, we need digital and physical connections. One is the invitation, and the other is the follow up.
Jackson: We’ve been surprised that our older adults have adopted the streaming platforms. When we launched streaming, we thought it was going to be for college students or for families that travel. But our senior adults have adopted the technology in percentages even greater than our younger adults.
McGee: The way we grow our influence with Gen Z is by increasing our number of encounters with students. You cannot help them change directions from a distance. You don’t earn that right unless they know you. We’ve all seen groups of students on their phones texting while sitting next to each other. They long for intimacy.
Jackson: And that’s not new with this age group. Because the assisted living places are full of people who are exactly the same. They’re pining for human connection. No matter how much someone processes digitally, there is something important about human touch. God built that into us no matter our age.
What should pastors know about how members of Generation Z relate to their parents?
Scott: The kid’s activity is always going to win. If they have a sporting event, they’re doing the sporting event. If they have a dance recital that weekend, the dance recital is going to win. We can argue whether that’s right or wrong, but right now that’s the reality. Parents prioritize their student’s relationship to the team over individual things at church. They assume their student can get what the church offers throughout the week. They can read a book or catch up on a podcast.
How do we influence families who only come to church once a month? Attendance is not the issue. It’s engagement. How do I get the parent to feel like they’re a part of our community? How do I get the child to feel like they’re a part of a small group where a caring adult can invest in them, where a youth pastor can look out for their best interest and give them wisdom from God’s Word? How do we get them to engage, give, and serve?
Jackson: Opportunities to serve are key. That priority is something Gen Xers gave to the millennials, and millennials gave to Gen Z: To serve is to be engaged. Sometimes it’s easier to act your way into believing than it is to believe your way into acting.
Scott: That can be a great initial touchpoint. A parking attendant may have no concept of faith, but the service opportunity can engage him into a community.
Jackson: Something cool happens if that parking lot attendant is 13 years old, and they’re on a team with people who are 45 and 65.
Scott: Now you have a mentor-ship.
Jackson: You have an inter-generational team. That is something churches have that other groups don’t—the ability to foster inter-generational relationship. It doesn’t happen at college because there’s a hard line between professors and students. But at church, volunteers are of all ages. One of our best youth volunteers is 75.
How can pastors connect members of Generation Z with these service opportunities?
Livingston: If they don’t understand the “why” and they feel like what they’re doing is not making a difference, they don’t care. That will be a defining characteristic of churches that successfully reach this generation. We do a better job of talking at students than with students.
For this generation more than any before them, conversation and the power of story are important. I ask my daughter about Instagram, “Why are you taking a picture of the carpet and putting text across the top of it when you could just text? Or, heaven forbid, make a phone call?” It’s about the story. That is an amazing opportunity for the church because we have the life-changing story of the gospel.
Our old tools like the Roman Road and giving people an outline of Bible verses aren’t going to work as well as they use to. When I convey the gospel to students, I have to show them what it looks like in their lives and the difference it makes.
Jackson: In defense of the Roman Road, what if that’s the mental outline for the story? You don’t want a 12-year-old making up their narrative of what the gospel should be. At some point we have to return to the authority of the Bible.
Livingston: Sure. I’m not saying we cast aside those outlines of Scripture. It’s important for them to understand where the truth is based. So I tell the biblical story from a foundation of truth that is greater than all of us, and I invite them into something bigger than themselves. That’s where it resonates with this generation, because they desperately want to make a difference.
Scott: We start by engaging them in a conversation: “Hey, let’s talk about this. How does this resonate with you?” That is how they learn. They collaborate. They rarely have a teacher lecture to them for 30 minutes. That only happens at church.
McGee: But the reality is, it’s not just how they learn; it’s how we all learn. We remember what we say better than what is said to us.
Gen Z wants to dialogue. And that’s what we see in the biblical text. It’s full of conversation. It’s not didactic. It’s engagement.
Livingston: I do still believe in the Word of God powerfully preached with strong, clear application. That’s where we often miss the mark in lengthy preaching. We give a lot of information without clear application.
Scott: Or they’ve already checked out by the time you get to the application. In the world of 18-minute TED Talks, you learn something, and you know exactly what to do with the information. The Bible story’s not over until people know what to do with it.
Are you saying pastors will have to start limiting their sermons to 18 minutes?
Scott: Not necessarily. I’ll listen to a 50-minute podcast, but only if that podcast is a conversation. It features a special guest. TED Radio Hour includes four talks woven together through a narrative. So I think you can have a 30-minute sermon, but it’s worth thinking about how it’s presented.
What is one piece of advice each of you have for pastors about Generation Z?
McGee: Meet people where they are. I don’t try to corral students where I think they should go. I meet them where they already are. I mean that physically, but also intellectually. When we talk to students about stewardship, we don’t just talk about money; we talk about the fact that God has given us space and time. How can we be good stewards of those things?
Jackson: In an information age, pastors must teach the value of Scripture. To differentiate between the many words we hear and read on a daily basis and the words God gave us is a difficult task. We need to elevate Scripture above other information.
Generation Z excites me. Many have never been to church, so they don’t have the baggage of “I don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites.” There’s a wide-eyed wonder when the Good News is heard with fresh ears and when it’s told with integrity and realism and approach-ability.
Livingston: We need to listen. I hear that from Gen Zers a lot: “You’re not listening to me.” I hear that as a parent, and I hear that from my students. “My parents just don’t listen to me.” And some of that is just normal teenage posture. But the church has a lot to learn from this generation. We have to run to them, not from them, placing ourselves in their paths and listening. Because until they feel heard, they’re never going to give credibility to the church.
Scott: Members of Gen Z don’t think like older generations think, and they definitely don’t think like we thought when we were their age. Listening to U2 for the first time in 1988 is very different from listening to Post Malone in 2018. How we communicate with them matters. We should engage them in such a way that makes them want more. Make your messages intriguing, like a Netflix binge watch. Forget the bells and whistles, and connect ancient truths to matters at hand.
Hempell: Pastors need to be aware of mental health concerns with Gen Z, specifically anxiety. Youth pastors tell me, “I’ve experienced cutting in my youth group, but I didn’t know the phenomenon was so widespread.” They think it is a fluke, but it’s normal.
Where does that anxiety come from?
Hempell: It’s the way technology rewires your brain. And it’s social media feedback. The culture moves really fast, and there’s so much to take in that they can’t get their heads around it. In many cases they lack confidence in their identity.
That’s where the church has so much to offer, because if this generation really doesn’t know much about God—that they’re made in his image—then they don’t know the beauty, hope, and peace that comes from having a purpose and a loving Father.
Anxiety levels will continue to grow, and they won’t be limited to certain types of kids. According to the American Psychological Association, 23 percent of adult Gen Zers report they have been diagnosed with depression, more than any other generation. So the church needs to be prepared to meet them with the hope that God gives us.
The Catholic Church is larger than any other single religious
institution in the United States, with over 17,000 parishes that serve a
large and diverse population. In spite of its size and influence, the
church in recent decades has faced a number of significant challenges,
from a decline in membership to a shortage of priests to continuing
revelations that some Catholic clergy sexually abused minors and (in
many cases) that their superiors covered up these actions.
Here are seven facts about American Catholics and their church:
1 There are roughly 51 million Catholic adults in the U.S., accounting for about one-fifth of the total U.S. adult population, according to Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. That study found that the share of Americans who are Catholic declined from 24% in 2007 to 21% in 2014.
2 Catholicism has experienced a greater net loss due to religious switching than has any other religious tradition in the U.S.
Overall, 13% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics – people who say
they were raised in the faith, but now identify as religious “nones,” as
Protestants, or with another religion. By contrast, 2% of U.S. adults
are converts to Catholicism – people who now identify as Catholic after
having been raised in another religion (or no religion). This means that
there are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every convert to the
faith. No other religious group analyzed in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study has experienced anything close to this ratio of losses to gains via religious switching.
3 Catholics in the U.S. are racially and ethnically diverse.
Roughly six-in-ten Catholic adults are white, one-third are Latino, and
smaller shares identify as black, Asian American, or with other racial
and ethnic groups. The data also show that the share of U.S. Catholics
who are Latino has been growing, and suggest that this share is likely
to continue to grow. Indeed, among Catholic Millennials, there are about
as many Hispanics as whites. (For information on the demographic
characteristics of U.S. Catholics, including age, education, income and
more, see “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”)
4 Compared with some other religious groups, Catholics are fairly evenly dispersed throughout the country:
27% live in the South, 26% in the Northeast, 26% in the West, and 21%
of U.S. Catholics live in the Midwest. Since many American Hispanics are
Catholic, the continuing growth of this community as a share of the
U.S. population is gradually shifting the geographic center
of U.S. Catholicism from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and the
West. Indeed, three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics reside in the South
or West, while six-in-ten non-Hispanic Catholics live in the Northeast
or Midwest. Overall, the share of U.S. Catholic adults who reside in the
Northeast and the Midwest declined by 5 percentage points between 2007
and 2014 (from 53% to 48%), while the share of Catholics who live in the
South and West grew by an equal amount (from 47% to 52%).
5 Many U.S. Catholics say they want to see the church make significant changes. For
example, six-in-ten say they think the church should allow priests to
marry and allow women to become priests. And nearly half of U.S.
Catholics say the church should recognize the marriages of gay and
lesbian couples. Support for these kinds of changes is lower – though
still substantial – among Catholics who attend Mass regularly than it is
among those who attend Mass less often.
6 Politically, Catholic registered voters are evenly split between those who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (47%) and those who favor the GOP (46%).
In their partisanship, U.S. Catholics are deeply divided along racial
and ethnic lines. Most Hispanic Catholics identify with or lean toward
the Democratic Party, while 54% of white Catholics today identify with
or lean toward the GOP.
7Large majorities of U.S. Catholics have admired Pope Francis throughout his tenure, but there are growing signs of discontent. In 2014, 54% of American Catholics gave Francis “excellent” or “good” marks for his handling of the church’s sex abuse scandal. But in a Pew Research Center poll conducted in September 2018 – shortly after recent reports about sex scandals in the U.S. Catholic Church – the share of Catholics saying this had fallen 23 points, to 31%. The recent survey also found that the pontiff’s overall approval rating among U.S. Catholics had dropped to 72%, down from 84% in January of this year.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Christian and
Jewish Americans prepare to celebrate Easter and Passover, respectively,
Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who report belonging to a
church, synagogue or mosque at an all-time low, averaging 50% in 2018.
U.S. church membership was 70% or higher from 1937 through 1976,
falling modestly to an average of 68% in the 1970s through the 1990s.
The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a
20-percentage-point decline since 1999 and more than half of that change
occurring since the start of the current decade.
This article compares church membership data for the 1998-2000 and
2016-2018 periods, using combined data from multiple years to facilitate
subgroup analysis. On average, 69% of U.S. adults were members of a
church in 1998-2000, compared with 52% in 2016-2018.
The decline in church membership mostly reflects the fact that fewer
Americans than in the past now have any religious affiliation. However,
even those who do identify with a particular religion are less likely to
belong to a church or other place of worship than in the past.
Trend Toward No Religious Preference Key Factor in Declining Membership
Since the turn of the century, the percentage of U.S. adults with no
religious affiliation has more than doubled, from 8% to 19%.
Although some of those who do not identify with a religion
nevertheless indicate that they belong to a church, the vast majority of
nonreligious Americans do not. In 1998 through 2000, one in 10
Americans with no religious preference said they belonged to a church,
as did an average of 7% in the past three years.
As such, there is an almost one-to-one correspondence between not
being religious and not belonging to a church. Consequently, the
11-point increase in no religious affiliation accounts for the majority
of the 17-point decline in church membership over the past two decades.
Fewer Religious Americans Are Church Members
Although there has been a steep increase in the proportion of
Americans who do not have a religious attachment, they remain a small
minority of the U.S. population. Three-quarters of Americans, 77%,
identify with some organized religion, though that is down from 90% in
1998 through 2000.
The still-sizable proportion of religious Americans also contribute
to declining church membership, as fewer in this group belong to a
church than did so two decades ago. At the turn of the century, 73% of
U.S. adults with a religious preference belonged to a church, compared
with 64% today.
Fewer Religious Americans Belong to a Church
Figures are the percentage who say they belong to a church, synagogue or mosque
Have a religious preference
Do not have a religious preference
It is clear then, that the nature of Americans’ orientation to religion is changing, with fewer religious Americans finding membership in a church or other faith institution to be a necessary part of their religious experience.
Generational Change Helping Push the Decline in Church Membership
Religiosity is strongly related to age, with older Americans far more
likely than younger adults to be members of churches. However, church
membership has dropped among all generational groups over the past two
decades, with declines of roughly 10 percentage points among
traditionalists, baby boomers and Generation X.
Most millennials were too young to be polled in 1998-2000. Now that they have reached adulthood, their church membership rates are exceedingly low and appear to be a major factor in the drop in overall U.S. church membership. Just 42% of millennials are members of churches, on average. Changes in Church Membership by Generation, Over Time
Traditionalists (born in 1945 or before)
Baby boomers (born 1946-1964)
Generation X (born 1965-1979)
Millennials (born 1980-2000)
By comparison, 20 years ago, 62% of members of Generation X belonged to a church, when they were about the same age as millennials are today.
The low rates of church membership among millennials conform with the
generation’s weaker attachment to religion in general. On average, 68%
of millennials identify with a religion in the 2016-2018 church
membership surveys, while 29% do not. In all other generations, at least
79% have a religious affiliation, with correspondingly lower
percentages expressing no faith preference.
The percentage of millennials with no religion may be continuing to
grow, as an average of 33% in Gallup surveys conducted in 2019 to date
say they have no religious affiliation.
Not only are millennials less likely than older Americans to identify
with a religion, but millennials who are religious are significantly
less likely to belong to a church. Fifty-seven percent of religious
millennials belong to a church, compared with 65% or more in older
The lower rate of church membership among religious millennials
appears to be more a product of generational differences than of
life-stage effects. In 1998-2000, 68% of Generation X respondents were
church members when they were roughly the same age as today’s
Given that church membership, and religiosity in general, is greater
among older adults, the emergence of an increasingly secular generation
to replace far more religious older generations suggests the decline in
U.S. church membership overall will continue.
Membership Decline Steeper Among Catholics
Gallup has previously reported that church attendance has dropped more among Catholics
than among Protestants. Consistent with this, the decline in church
membership has been greater among Catholics. Twenty years ago, 76% of
Catholics belonged to a church; now, 63% do.
Meanwhile, 67% of Protestants, down from 73% in 1998-2000, are
members of a church. Much of the decline in Protestant membership is
attributable to the increasing percentage of Americans who simply
identify their religion as “Christian” rather than as a specific
Protestant denomination such as Baptist, Lutheran or Methodist. Gallup
classifies “Christian” respondents as Protestants but, as might be
expected, nondenominational Christians are less likely to belong to a
church (57%) than Americans who identify with a specific Protestant
There are insufficient cases to provide reliable estimates on church
membership among other religions, but the data suggest that membership
in a place of worship has been stable among Mormons (near 90% in both
time periods) and Jews (in the mid- to low 50% range in both time
periods) over the past two decades.
In contrast to the variable changes in church membership among
generational and faith subgroups, the declines have been fairly similar
among most other demographic subgroups. However, the rates have differed
by party identification, as Republicans show a relatively modest
decline in church membership of eight points since 1998-2000 (from 77%
to 69%). In contrast, Democrats show one of the largest subgroup
declines, of 23 points, from 71% to 48%.
Full data for subgroups are shown in a table at the bottom of the article.
The rate of U.S. church membership has declined sharply in the past
two decades after being relatively stable in the six decades before
that. A sharp increase in the proportion of the population with no
religious affiliation, a decline in church membership among those who do
have a religious preference, and low levels of church membership among
millennials are all contributing to the accelerating trend.
The challenge is clear for churches, which depend on loyal and active
members to keep them open and thriving. How do they find ways to
convince some of the unaffiliated religious adults in society to make a
commitment to a particular house of worship of their chosen faith?
Roughly one in four U.S. adults are religious but not members of a
church, synagogue or mosque.
Church leaders must also grapple with the generational slide away
from religion. Millennials are much less likely than their elders to
indicate a religious preference, and presumably the nearly one-third of
millennials without a religious preference are unlikely to ever join a
church. But the roughly two-thirds of millennials who do express a
religious preference may one day be convinced to join, perhaps as more
get established in their lives, including having families, which can be
an impetus to becoming a part of a faith community.
In addition to the ongoing trends toward declining religiosity,
Americans who are religious may also be changing their relationship to
churches. They may not see a need to, or have a desire to, belong to a
church and participate in a community of people with similar religious
These trends are not just numbers, but play out in the reality that
thousands of U.S. churches are closing each year. Religious Americans in
the future will likely be faced with fewer options for places of
worship, and likely less convenient ones, which could accelerate the
decline in membership even more.
If your church is at all engaging the middle class, the upper middle
class, or a suburban demographic, an interesting trend is developing.
The middle class is shrinking, but as this New York Times report shows, it’s shrinking (in part) because more of the middle class is becoming upper class. Both US and Canadian personal disposable incomes are at all time highs.
There are simply more affluent people than there were decades ago,
which may in part explain why so many “average’ people indulge their
obsessions with granite counter tops, designer homes and decent cars,
even without being mega-wealthy.
Naturally, this leaves a huge theological void about ministry to and
with the poor, but it helps explain what’s actually happening in the
suburbs and increasingly with the re-urbanization of many cities as the
affluent move back downtown. Please…I’m not arguing things should be this way. I’m simply showing that this seems to be what’s happening.
And again…people with money have options. Technology options. Travel
options. Options for their kids. And, arguably, that affluence may be
one of the factors moving them further away from a committed engagement
to the mission of the local church. It’s perhaps fuelling some of the
reasons outlined below.
2. Higher focus on Kids’ Activities
A growing number of kids are playing sports. And a growing number of kids are playing on teams that require travel.
Many of those sports happen on weekends. And affluent parents are choosing sports over church.
More and more families of various ages travel for leisure, even if
it’s just out of town to go camping or to a friend’s place for the
weekend or a weekend at the lake.
And when people are out of town, they tend to not be in church.
4. Blended and Single Parent Families
Fortunately, more and more blended families and single parent families are finding a home in church.
So how does this translate into attendance patterns?
Church leaders need to remember that when custody is shared in a
family situation, ‘perfect’ attendance for a kid or teen might be 26
Sundays a year.
Similarly, while the affluent might not be in church because of access
to reliable transportation, single parents (who, not always, but often,
struggle more financially) might not be in church because they lackaccess to reliable transportation.
So here’s the strange twist. People who have a car are often not in church because they have a car. People who want to be in church are often not in church because they don’t have a car or because it’s not their ‘weekend’ for church.
Sadly, people who want to get to church simply can’t.
People are looking less to churches and leaders to help them grow spiritually, and more to other options.
We live in a era in which no parent makes a visit to a doctor’s
office without having first googled the symptoms of a child’s illness
and a recommended course of treatment. Just ask any family physician.
It drives them nuts. (Google, doctors will tell you, is not a complete
replacement for medical school.)
Similarly, when was the last time you bought a car without completely researching it online?
In an age where we have access to everything, more and more people
are self-directing their spirituality…for better or for worse.
Similarly, another characteristics of the post-modern mind is a declining trust of and reliance on institutions.
The church in many people’s minds is seen as an institution.
I don’t actually believe that’s what a church is. I think it’s a
movement…not an institution. But many churches behave like an
institution, and the post-modern mind instinctively moves away from it
as a result.
8. Failure to see a Direct Benefit
People always make time for the things they value most. If they’re not making time for church, that tells you something.
Even among people who say their love the church and who say they love your church,
if declining attendance is an issue, chances are it’s because they
don’t see a direct benefit. They don’t see the value in being there week
That could be because there isn’t much value (gut check). Or it could be because there is value that they simply don’t see.
Either way, failure to see a direct benefit always results in declining engagement.
I’ll talk about this more in the podcast interviews and in the next posts, but when someone merely attends church, the likelihood of showing up regularly or even engaging their faith decreases over time.
At our church, I find our most engaged people—people who serve, give,
invite and who are in a community group—are our most frequent
More and more as a leader, I value engagement over attendance.
We’re launching into the book of the Bible many people have grappled with. Apocalypse, or what people call “apo-” is something like “away from” or “apart”, as in “apostate”, one who stands apart from the faithful, or “apostle”, one who is sent out on a mission; and so apocalypse is bringing something out of concealment. It came over time to be used specifically for revelations about the end of the world. Is that what the entire book is?
What is needed in examining Revelation is an interpretive reading of that book such that the sum total of the whole is greater than the individual parts. Not that an ancient text, biblical or otherwise, has more than one meaning, which is the claim of post-modernity. Instead, what is called for is the realization that we as humans, with finite understanding, need each other’s insights, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, in order to grasp the intent of God’s Word. Applying the analogy of the parts and the whole to Revelation permits one to state it this way: The four interpretations in this volume represent the interpretive parts while its readership, aided by the Spirit, forms the whole.
In addition to being apocalyptic and prophetic in nature, Revelation is encased by an epistolary framework – in other words, like letters. And it’s hard to take letters and make them apocalyptic. The prescript (1:4-8) contains the typical letter-like components—sender, addressees, greetings, and the added feature of a doxology. The postscript (22:10-21), in good ancient letter form, summarizes the body of the writing, as well as legitimates John as its divinely inspired composer. The combined effect of the prescript and the postscript, not to mention the letters to the seven churches of the Roman province of Asia (chaps. 2-3), is to root Revelation in the real history of its day.
For our lesson tomorrow, read the introduction and presentations of the 4 main views of Revelation:
Study just a little bit, and have fun.
See you at breakfast,
Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth take a stand, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh, and against his Anointed, saying, let’s break their bonds apart, and cast their cords from us.