In 2020, Gallup found that fewer than 50% of Americans claimed church membership, down from a postwar steady 70%. In the last twenty-five years, 40 million Americans stopped going to church.
What happened? Within the complaints of culture warriors, there’s a narrative about this country that goes something like this:
Once upon a time, the United States was founded as a Christian nation, led and populated by God-fearing church-going believers. Then a couple of centuries later, certain unbelieving elites captured major institutions, including our schools, and preceded to indoctrinate the young into turning from the Christian church (and America). And so here we are today, a nation in which church-goers are no longer the majority.
The new book The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take To Bring Them Back suggests a different narrative.
Jim Davis and Michael Graham are a pair of evangelical preachers who saw the newest figures about religion in America and wanted to look for answers about people who have chosen to leave the church. They worked with Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, who has studied and written about religion in American life. Much of what they found confounds some of the conventional expectations.
Davis and Graham assert that the last couple of decades include the largest, fastest departure of citizens from the church in the country’s history.
It took several Great Awakenings to build up religious adherence in this country Contrary to what you may expect, religious adherence in colonial America was only between 10% and 20%; experts estimate about 17% religious adherence in 1776.
The “inflection point” for the current unprecedented dechurching movement was the 1990s. For the authors, this suggests several possible causes. The fall of the Soviet Union made it more culturally acceptable to decouple being a good Christian from being a good American. The rise of the Religious Right may have turned off many folks. And the rise of the internet made it possible to find communities of doubters without facing social and familial opposition.
Davis and Graham look in detail at who is actually dechurching. The numbers are spread equally between genders. Roman Catholics, Protestants, and “other Christian” traditions have all dechurched equally. Boomers are, as a generation, the most dechurched.
What may also come is a surprise is how the dechurched map out according to education. Across the board, the more education people have, the more likely they are to stay in church.
Despite our tradition of believing that the church provides a special comfort to the poor, the authors found that the less money someone makes, the more likely they are to dechurch. The authors have a theory about this:
America is largely built for a specific type of person.
While the “success sequence” (get a high school diploma, get a job, get a spouse) is often treated as a way the universe rewards those who stick to a proper moral order, the authors turn that idea around. If you follow the sequence, they write
America’s institutions tend to work better for you. If you get off track (or never started on it), the US is a more difficult place in which to thrive.
And that applies to the church as well, which, the authors conclude, “is largely built for the nuclear family or those on that track.” It can be no surprise that those who feel the church is not built for them do not feel a strong pull to stay.
The study found that political leanings were not a predictor of dechurching. In fact, they found that particularly among evangelicals, there was more danger of dechurching on the right. This leads to another type of irony, as the authors note the phenomenon of unchurched individuals with strong ideas about orthodoxy. The book quotes Christianity Today editor-in-chief Russell Moore:
The kind of cultural Christianity we now see often keeps everything about the Religious Right except the religion. These people aren’t in Sunday school, but they might post Bible verses.
The authors found that one quarter of the dechurched evangelicals in their survey believe that the United States should be declared a Christian nation—but they don’t attend church.
The book paints a nuanced and complex picture of the problems of maintaining a connection to faith and the problems of steering a church in our current society. It does not suggest that the church’s problems can be solved by a takeover of public education. If the attacks on public education by culture warriors have made you despair of ever finding thoughtful persons of faith, this book may make you feel a bit better.
Denial of responsibility! galaxyconcerns is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.