The most recent study released by the Barna Research Group showed that the number of unchurch adults – those not having attended church services other than for special occasions – doubled from 39 million to 75 million since 1991. The survey, which was conducted between late January and early February of 2004 through telephone interviews, sampled some 1041 adults.
One part of the study observed 18 factors that distinguish how different unchurched adults are from the national average churchgoers. The study found unchurched adults are:
- Less likely to read the Bible (19% compared to 44%) and to pray (63% to 83%)
- Less likely to accept Jesus Christ as their savior (17% to 50%)
- In terms of theological beliefs, the unchurched adults are less likely to believe the Bible is accurate, that Jesus was sinless, that Satan exists, that salvation is comes through the grace of God, and that God is the creator and ruler of the universe.
The study also found that on average, men are more unchurched than women, constituting 55% of the unchurched. It was also found that those who are younger than the median age of U.S. adults, which is 43, and those who are single, are more likely to be unchurched.
Regionally, the coastal areas had the highest percentage of unchurched adults: 51% of the unchurched live in the Northeast or West, constituting 23% of the total number of residents in California and New York.
According to the researcher George Barna, what is needed to transform the unchurched to churched is by connecting them closer to God. He said the reason why they don’t attend church is not because they are just lazy or not informed.
“They are wholly disinterested in church life – often passionately so,” he said, “Church events cannot effectively compete with what the world has to offer. The only thing the Church can provide that no one else has is a life-changing, practical encounter – and on-going relationship – with the living God and with people transformed by similar encounters. Until such a connection is made, focusing on features, programs and benefits other than such a life-shaping encounter is more likely to lose ground than to gain it.”
He also addressed the issue of attracting the unchurched youth and that such trends could challenge existing churches to strengthen their core spiritual beliefs to effectively introduce unchruched individuals to biblical principles and practices.
Said Barna: “Millions of young adults are more interested in truth, authenticity, experiences, relationships and spirituality than they are in laws, traditions, events, disciplines, institutions and religion. The confluence of preconceived notions, past experiences and evolving lifestyles and values means that existing churches simply cannot reach millions of today’s unchurched people. The rapidly swelling numbers of unchurched people may be forcing existing churches to reinvent their core spiritual practices while holding tightly to their core spiritual beliefs. It will take radically new settings and experiences to effectively introduce unchurched individuals to biblical principles and practices.”
Barna further observed three unique characteristics that distinguish the unchurched. First is their low interest in the mainstream activities of the society such as engaging in community service activities, participating in church life, and donating money to non-profit organizations.
“The unchurched are more likely than others to be somewhat isolated from the mainstream activities of the society in which they live,” said Barna.
The second characteristic is what Barna calls non-committal nature.
“You can see this emotional and intellectual distancing of themselves through their more moderate ideology, their more ambiguous theological perspectives, a lower likelihood of embracing terms used to describe oneself (such as “generous,” “friendly” and “deeply spiritual”), a substantially lower level of self-professed commitment to their faith of choice, and their rejection of the idea of responsibility for nurturing other people’s faith,” said Barna.
Lastly, Barna noted that the unchurched are very independent as the data indicated they are less likely to marry, less likely to have children (even when married) and less loyal to organizations and products.