Church Renewal During the “Great Dechurching” of America

Written by Bill Whitt
September 26, 2023

Why are so many Americans giving up on church? A new survey has some insights which have implications for our work in church renewal.

Where did everybody go? If your church’s pews are less full than they were a few decades ago, you are not alone.

  • New research shows that 40 million American adults stopped attending church over the last 25 years. That means more than 1 in 7 adults who used to attend church no longer do. For context, that is more people than became Christians in the First and Second Great Awakenings and all the Billy Graham crusades combined.
  • For the first time in eight decades of Gallop polling, more adults in America do not attend church than do. We are living through the fastest and largest religious shift in the history of our country.

Why are so many Americans giving up on church? A new survey has some intriguing insights.

Five Surprising Facts About the “Great Dechurching”
Finding 1: People Don’t Want to In Inconvenienced
  • The majority of the people surveyed did not leave church after much careful theological study or a deeply hurtful incident. They simply wandered away casually.
  • Three-quarters of people reported they left the church because they moved, got married, had kids, etc. Church became just too inconvenient for them.
Finding 2: Most Dechurched People Still Believe
  • Among evangelical Christians who have left the church (“exvangelicals”), 97 percent said they still believe Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, church drop-outs scored better on a test of orthodox beliefs than evangelicals who still attend church!
  • For many, it was their belief in Christian teaching that actually pushed them out of the church. Why? They saw that the church was not practicing what it was preaching.
Finding 3: Politics and Religion Haven’t Mixed Well
  • The survey found that 18 percent of people left because of political disagreements with their congregation, and 16 percent left because of political disagreements with their pastor. For some, the church did not speak about politics enough; for others, too much.
  • Davis and Graham suggest, rightly or wrongly, that many have confused primary and secondary issues.
Finding 4: Some Have Been Hurt
  • While it is not the primary reason people are leaving their congregations, 10 million people have stopped attending church because of the hurt and suffering they encountered there.
  • One scandal after another has rocked the church world over these years. Abuses of power and coverups have taken their toll on the church’s credibility.
Finding 5: Most Exvangelicals are Willing to Come Back!
  • About 51 percent of dechurched evangelicals say they are willing to go back to a church.
  • They are looking for healthy relationships and a church that both preaches the gospel and lives it out!

What are the implications for our work in church renewal? I firmly believe that healthy, gospel-centered congregations will be in prime position to receive these rechurched evangelicals. (Did I just invent a new word?) All it may take is dedication to living out the Good News… and a simple invitation to be part of what God is doing!

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