VENTURA, Calif. — Nearly four of every 10 “unchurched” Americans avoid worship because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people, according to new research by The Barna Group.
The research firm that tracks the role of faith in America and provides ministry resources said that while many churches place high value on attracting people who do not participate in the life of a church, the unchurched may be different than they expect.
Rather than being “lost,” or without faith, 61 percent of non-attending adults label themselves as “Christian.” That’s lower than the 83 percent of all Americans who self-identify as Christians, but it still outnumbers by a 3-2 margin the 39 percent of unchurched who do not embrace Christianity.
Instead of being foreigners to church culture, a majority of the unchurched (53 percent) have distanced themselves from being Protestant or Catholic but at one time were associated with one of those groups. Thirty-seven percent said they stopped going because of painful experiences in a church setting.
Nearly a fifth (18 percent) answered a standard set of questions used by Barna to categorize them as “born again.”
Two-thirds of the unchurched (68 percent) believe God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe and still rules that universe today. A third (35 percent) believe the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches.
One in five (22 percent) agree that the ultimate purpose of life is to love God with all their heart, mind, strength and soul, but just one in seven (15 percent) claim their religious faith is very important in their life.
Just 14 percent — about one in seven — claim to have a clear sense of the meaning and purpose of their life.
Barna’s data indicates that 28 percent of adults have not attended any church services or activities within the last six months. That translates to nearly 65 million adults. Adding children under 18 who may be living with them, the number swells to 100 million. If the unchurched population of the United States were a nation of its own, it would be the 12th most-populous nation on Earth.
Barna says the demographics of the group also defy common assumptions. There are more unchurched women than men. Boomers and their elders outnumber the young. Conservatives are more likely than liberals to be unchurched, and whites outnumber minorities nearly 3-1.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)