The Growing Number of Unchurched

How do we plug the dike?

I write about this topic a lot. I have no idea if it makes a difference, but I don’t see things getting better in the Church until somebody recognizes a few things. So I’ll keep jousting.


Everybody knows churches struggle today.


Most of the dialog about this phenomenon takes place in clergy circles. They look for answers. Some think they have them. There is little proof that the few successful church growers will sustain their success beyond their personal involvement.


You see there are two types of Christians—those who occupy the tiny altar side of the chancel rail and those on the deep and wide pew side.


On the chancel side: Clergy talk to clergy. Clergy write for a clergy audience.


Things are not much different from the other side of the chancel rail. Laity talk to laity. Not many laity write about the issues though! It’s dangerous!


The problems of today’s Church cannot be addressed without this changing and yet despite all the calls for change and transformation this dichotomy remains unchallenged.


There will not be more people in churches until people feel more a part of what’s going on.




I’ll refer to a blog post I read this week. The Church’s Hidden Back Door, by Thom Schultz.


This post references data from a study by Josh Packard, Ph.D., Exodus of the Religious Dones.


The topic is the unchurched—more specifically those who were once part of the happy Christian family.


I am one of the unchurched, although 2×2 is an active faith community. We just don’t fit in where we used to fit in for 120 years. We know why we are unchurched. We were locked out in 2006. Our property was deemed more valuable that our people. The synod that locked us out is still trying to shut down our ministry even though they declared us officially closed years ago. That thorn in their side.


Our experience validates all the reasons people feel disenfranchised from Church as listed by Schultz.


Schultz cites four.


“I feel judged.”

Not imaginary in our case. We were judged—by people who don’t know us and have no authority to do the judging.  The number of clergy gurus who confidently publish their judgments attest to this approach having widespread acceptance.

“I don’t want to be lectured.”

In the limited dialog we had with our regional body leaders, we weren’t exactly lectured. We were talked down to. But then most of the dialog went on behind our backs. This leads us to the Schultz’s next point.

“Christians are a bunch of hypocrites.”

The Bible forbids what happened to us on so many levels. But the learned clergy can’t see it for preaching.


And last . . .

“Your God is irrelevant to my life.”

I don’t think any of our 82 locked out members feel that God is irrelevant. We are a pretty faithful bunch. But the actions that were perpetrated upon us in the name of God are unrecognizable to us under any faith system.


Our most problematic finding. No one cared that we were there in the first place—and we are most definitely not welcome to come back.

Laity talk to laity.

But as I wrote, laity talk to laity. I’m hearing that our experiences, although among the most drastic and dramatic among many similar cases, are not alone.


Smart lay people go to church and aren’t part of a dialog about important issues. They are expected to listen to one person— usually the same person week after week—talk about issues that they deal with every day. Have a problem with what they say? You might be invited to express your views in private. Then again, you might not. Those in the pulpit don’t expect to be challenged.


Judgment is everywhere in the church. It’s in doctrine. It’s in how we welcome outsiders. It’s in who we ask to volunteer and serve.


Decades and centuries of preaching a gospel of inclusion and equality and laity are still treated as subjects.


There are biblical verses that cover these things. They are easily overlooked. Addressing them might create dialog!


And so, clergy seek answers among clergy.


Laity seek answers for a while. And then head for the door.


There are better things to do.

Learn from Business: Emphasize Retention

The key takeaway from Schultz’s post is something that businesses know and address daily.


Finding new members is far more difficult and costly than keeping old members.


Yet many a pastor or bishop heaves a sigh of relief when the those who might challenge them, on any level, disappear.


In this regard, the Church shoots itself in both feet. You see new members look to see how old members are treated. They are smart. History repeats.


My advice: Clergy, start talking to us, for the sake of the Church, please. And listen.


You’ve had decades to find answers within the chancel.


How’s that working for you?