December 10, 2014—Fewer Americans are attending church. So, who are these new churchless Americans? Are there significant demographic or psychographic differences among those who attend church and those who don’t?
Since 1984, Barna Group has collected data and provided insight about the intersection of faith and culture, including exploring the behaviors and attitudes of those unconnected to churches. During the past three decades, Barna has conducted tens of thousands of interviews with unchurched people. Based on those interviews and the resulting “tracking data,” here are 10 facts about the “churchless” in America.
1. The number of unchurched people in America would make the 8th most populous country in the world.
As of 2014, the estimated number of people in the U.S. who Barna Group would define as “churchless”—meaning they have not attended a Christian church service, other than a special event such as a wedding or a funeral, at any time during the past six months—stands at 114 million. Add to that the roughly 42 million children and teenagers who are unchurched and you have 156 million U.S. residents who are not engaged with a Christian church. To put that in context, if all those unchurched people were a separate nation, it would be the eighth most populous country in the world, trailing only China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the remaining churched public of the United States (159 million).
2. In the past decade, more people in the U.S. have become churchless than live in Australia or Canada.
Barna tracking research has seen significant shifts in church involvement over the past decade. During that time, the number of adults who are unchurched has increased by more than 30%. This is an increase of 38 million individuals—that’s more people than live in Canada or Australia.
3. The vast majority of America’s churchless have attended a church.
Very few of America’s unchurched adults are purely unchurched—most of them, rather, are de-churched. Only about one-quarter of unchurched adults (23%) has never attended a Christian church at any time in his or her life, other than for a special service such as a wedding or funeral ceremony (though this number is on the rise; in 1993, only 15% of unchurched adults had never been connected to a church). The majority of unchurched individuals (76%) have firsthand experience with one or more Christian churches and, based on that sampling, have decided they can better use their time in other ways.
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