New Book Says America Is Growing More And More ‘Churchless’


The Number of Churchless Americans Has Jumped by Nearly One-Third in Just 20 Years.

A new book, ‘Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them,’ by George Barna and David Kinnaman, provides the details behind the decline.

  • In the early 1990s, about two out of 10 U.S. adults were churchless.
  • In the early 2000s, it was three in 10.
  • Today, the churchless make up nearly half the adult population.

In spite of America’s “Christian” self-description, there is a growing sense among North American Christ-followers that the culture is changing faster than we can keep up with or respond to—and we’re not always sure how to live faithfully in a world that feels like it’s headed off the rails. Not too many years ago, church attendance and basic Bible literacy were the cultural norm. Being a Christian didn’t feel like swimming against the cultural current. But now?

The book ‘Churchless’ confirms that the world has, indeed, altered in significant ways during the last few decades. It’s not just your imagination. Real data confirm how drastically the moral, social and spiritual lives of Americans have changed and are changing.

Learn more about ‘Churchless’ and/or purchase the book, here.

If Unchurched Americans Were Their Own Nation, They’d Be the Eighth Largest on Earth

  • About 156 million U.S. adults and children are churchless.
  • Churchless Americans = Bigger Than Canada, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa & New Zealand . . . Combined
  • Only China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the churchgoing half of the United States are larger.

The raw number of unchurched people in the United States is staggering. Most of what gets counted as “church growth” is actually transfer growth, rather than conversion growth—that is, people transferring their allegiance from one church to another, not transitioning from non-Christian to Christ-follower. If churches hope to grow by discipling new believers, we must improve our ability to attract those who are intentionally avoiding a connection with a church.

Younger = More Churchless

  • The younger you are, the more likely you are to never have been to church.
  • More than half of Mosaics (born between 1984 and 2002) are unchurched, compared to one-third of Elders (born before 1946).
  • Twenty years ago, 18 percent of skeptics—that is, atheists and agnostics—were under 30. Today, 34 percent are Mosaics.

The younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is. Nearly half of Mosaics—also called Millennials—qualify as post-Christian (48%), compared to two-fifths of Busters or Gen-Xers (40%), one-third of Boomers (35%) and one-quarter of Elders (28%). Tracking data allows us to trace the increase of anti-church attitudes and behaviors over the past 50 years. And as today’s young adults show, there is no end in sight.

But . . . There’s Good News, Too

  • Three-quarters of unchurched people own a Bible.
  • Six in ten churchless adults prayed in the past week.
  • Two-thirds say they tried to grow spiritually in the past month by talking with family and friends about faith or watching religious TV programming.

Over the past three decades, Barna Group has conducted tens of thousands of interviews with unchurched people to discover their hurts, needs and hopes, with the aim of equipping the church to become more effective at connecting with them.

Churchless is an up-to-the-minute snapshot of the perceptions, beliefs, behaviors, choices, experiences, expectations and hopes of a nationally representative body of churchless adults. Based on our data, Churchless compares the backgrounds, behaviors and beliefs of the churched and the unchurched.

But more than that, Churchless points to how you can build spiritually meaningful relationships with your unchurched family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Because the truth is, most of them are already looking for a connection with God.

Below, key statistics found within the book ‘Churchless.’















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1 comment

  • Gregory Greene">WRN Editorial Staff
    3:33 pm

    “It’s scary to think of persecutions, though,” I ventured.

    Oliver agreed.

    “Yes, it’s a frightening prospect. However, it could also be a blessing of sorts. The Christian church retains its original form and purpose only for as long as it’s being persecuted. Look at the early church: for three centuries, it remained undivided and true to the apostles’ teachings, and it became the majority religion in the pagan Roman empire because the heathens could see that Christians, living their faith, had something infinitely more valuable and emboldening than what they themselves had. The persecutions targeted church leaders more than other Christians, and only the brave, compassionate, and selfless became leaders and teachers.

    “We still have this situation in parts of Africa and Asia, and Christians from there put all of us who live securely and comfortably to shame. As soon as it’s safe to belong to some religion or denomination, its ranks of leaders fill up with politicians, bureaucrats, and businessmen, just like any other organization. The death-defying evangelists are beatified, sidelined, forgotten, or declared heretics and killed, and the original gospel is relegated to pre-sales work and to draw crowds on big holidays, where it’s always proved its worth.

    “From that point onward, clergy simply become peddlers of guilt.”

    “That’s a rather sweeping statement,” I observed. “How about a bit of commentary?”

    “A code of behavior—even an onerous one—and the supervision needed to maintain it can be sold for money, as long as the promised reward is attractive enough. Just look at the martial arts, as an example. On the other hand, who’s going to pay you for advertising a free gift? Well, that’s evident from any marketing campaign: only the giver of the gift. So preaching salvation as a free gift by the grace of God and the blood of Jesus requires living on faith, something professional church leaders and clergy aren’t very good at.”

    ”Oliver,” I said, “please explain this thing about a free gift!”

    “OK. Let’s think of it this way. Let’s say that humanity lives on a malfunctioning space ship, headed right into the sun. The captain, at great cost to himself, has prepared an escape pod. Everyone is invited to board it when the time comes to leave, but only a few turn up to get the free ticket.”


    “The ship’s trajectory isn’t straight but elliptical, so it takes discernment to understand where it’s going. The on-board entertainment insists on the approach of ‘eat, drink, and be merry.’ And it’s evident that those who have been to get the ticket are so grateful that they have become unselfish. That’s too high a price to pay: one doesn’t just quit looking after one’s personal interests while the going is good.”

    “I’m following,” I confirmed. “But there’s bound to be some nagging doubts among those who have heard about the problem but can’t be bothered to take a stand. Maybe they’re still waiting to be persuaded?”

    “There’s a whole industry out there catering to any such uncertainty. ‘Join our group, follow our fashions, obey our rules, and pay us money, and we’ll numb all your fears and, yes, if it comes to that, we’ll get you on board that pod in the end.’”

    “That would be the peace-of mind industry, or what?”

    “Precisely”, Oliver confirmed. “And, sad to say, most religions and most Christian churches are willing members of that industry.”

    “But that isn’t the way it works, right?”

    “No. You have to go to the captain yourself and make a commitment in order to pick up your ticket. Nobody can get it for you. This is the best kept secret in all Christianity. Letting it out would mean the end of living comfortably for the clergy. Only a few denominations make it known, but they often put on a big charismatic show instead, to ensure that they’re still seen as indispensable by their members.”

    “So when do we impact?”

    “For each one of us,” Oliver said, “that’s when we die. If the world comes to an end as the Book of Revelation says, a lot of us will die at the same time. But it’s the very nature of the thing that we don’t know when our time is up. That’s how it’s meant to be, because hedging your bets and waiting until the odds are right doesn’t work. We only get the ticket if we commit ourselves completely and never look back.”

    I wanted to get back to the parallel with the martial arts industry.

    “Some would take offense at such a direct comparison between religion and business,” I noted.

    “Hypocrisy, by its nature, is defensive,” Oliver confirmed. “But the analogy is accurate. Clergy are in the business of evaluating people’s actions and outward appearances, and selling a cure, much like the weight loss industry.

    “In an officially accepted church, the objective of a preacher is no longer to share a message at any cost to himself, but to make a living, preferably in a comfortable manner. Although such a priest or pastor liberally claims the same authority Jesus gave his apostles when he first sent them out to preach, he normally isn’t prepared to live on faith as the apostles had to do.

    “So if you’re a people person in need of a job, and you chance upon a belief system, led by amateurs, emerging from struggles and persecutions, this is what you do. You take its original message of faith—ancient mythology, the Gospel of Jesus, the revelations of Mohammed, the writings of Marx and Engels, whatever—and transform it into something entirely different: a code of conduct, against which you can gauge people’s performance. Since you can’t supervise every person yourself, the code has to be uncompromising and emotional enough to lend itself to both rueful self-criticism by the individual and callous monitoring by others. In effect, you take a message of joy, victory, and triumph, and turn it into one of obligation, guilt, and condemnation by the holier-than-thou crowd.

    “To make the scheme fly, you have to come up with just the right mix of euphoria over belonging to the in-group and remorse over one’s inevitable failings. When you’ve got this straight, you also have to cater to births, marriages, deaths, and other rites of passage, plus provide a regular supply of holidays and celebrations according to the seasons. It’s always a good idea to take over the feasts of the old order and rename them after your own saints and potentates; this tends to keep the people happy through the transition. The result is a lucrative profession that provides peace of mind for everyone involved. This is the way the early church met its end in the fourth century.”

    “Very complex, compared with the original idea of a free ticket,” I observed.

    “Like a different story altogether,” Oliver replied. “The reason is that there are three parties involved, not two.

    “If only you and God were concerned, it would be a no-brainer. God wants you in his kingdom; you don’t want to go to hell. You accept his offer—case closed. But then there’s the church with entirely different interests. The church wants maximum mileage out of you in terms of your tithes to help it prosper and your participation to help make it appear relevant.

    “God’s message to you, as recorded in the Bible, is clear and simple: ‘You have come to me sincerely and in the name of my son Jesus who already bore the punishment for your sins on the cross. Those sins are now forgotten and you have eternal life. Here’s how you can help me spread the Gospel, try to make life on Earth a little nicer for those around you, and preserve your integrity and a healthy amount of self-respect for when you come to my kingdom. And, by the way, you don’t owe me anything other than gratitude.’ This message exists in the church but it’s well hidden. What you’re taught instead is this: ‘Here are all the moral rules we’ve been able to establish from Scripture and tradition. Follow them, pay us well, and we’ll get you to Heaven. You’re too small to understand God: leave that to us. Our holy, magic rituals will keep you on his good side. Amen.’”

    “Somehow it seems to me that you’re talking about the Catholic Church now,” I said. “Didn’t the Reformation change all this?”

    “Every revolution only ends up with more of the same. After the Reformation wars, it became safe and respectable to belong to the Protestant clergy, and the old business model was put right back to work.

    “The Catholic Church with its confessionals says nothing about personal salvation but encourages its members to push the envelope of morality to see what they can get away with. If you go too far, you get a penance to do, and on you go until next Sunday. Fundamentalist Protestant denominations—the kind that produces Bible-thumping, ‘born again’ Christians—foster Old-Testament style legalism and bigotry to make their members feel superior and keep the checks coming. A number of Protestant and Orthodox state churches offer respectability and nationalistic traditions combined with the feel-good awareness that members are helping finance charity and social work. The true message of salvation is as scarce as hens’ teeth in nearly all churches.

    “An established religion is more concerned with a solid social position than with changing lives. It makes both membership and salvation contingent on partaking in rituals and paying tithes, while the early church had no such conditions. It persecutes those who leave it and murders its competitors, whether heathens or heretics. It transfers holiness from the object of worship to the organization and its leaders. It dilutes faith in God with faith in the church, and strives to convince you that this faith is all you need. Although St. Paul says clearly that love is greater than faith, such a church will teach you little about love, least of all by example.

    “St. Paul, in I Cor. 1:10-15, wrote a strongly worded condemnation of divisions among the faithful, based on following different authorities. Nevertheless, this kind of church invariably throws up barricades between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ so dissent can be demonized as treason. Belonging to the church, joining its interest groups, taking part in its activities, and paying your dues become the focal points of a religion that’s concerned more with fundraising than with saving souls. No wonder so many find it impossible to accept such churches and their authority over people’s lives.

    “Organized religion doesn’t have what it takes to bring salvation to anyone. Only individuals can do that—including, of course, individual pastors.

    “Those who teach or practice this kind of religion fall under Christ’s denunciation in Mt. 6:1-17: they have had their reward. If persecutions come, they won’t be affected. But the rest of us may again get an opportunity to show what it means to live one’s faith.”

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