More than one-third of America’s adults are secular in belief and practice
While barely half of the unchurched surveyed could name a single favorable impact of the Christian community in America, nearly three-fifths could identify a negative one.
by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group
With the aid of more than two decades of tracking research—a sort of cultural time-lapse photography—Barna Group has discovered real and significant shifts in unchurched attitudes, assumptions, allegiances and behaviors. We’ve identified five trends in our research that are contributing to this increase in the churchless of America.
This new study of the unchurched population comes in conjunction with the release of Churchless, a new book from our veteran researchers George Barna. Churchless draws on more than two decades of tracking research and more than 20 nationwide studies of the unchurched.
1. Secularization Is on the Rise
Nearly two-fifths of the nation’s adult population (38%) now qualifies as post-Christian (measured by 15 different variables related to people’s identity, beliefs and behaviors. Read more about our post-Christian metric here.). That includes 10% of Americans who qualify as highly post-Christian. Another one-quarter is moderately post-Christian (28%). Examined over time, our research shows that the proportion of highly secularized individuals is growing slowly but steadily.
In other words, in spite of our “Christian” self-descriptions, more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice. If nothing else, this helps explain why America has experienced a surge in unchurched people—and presages a continuing rise in this population.
Among the churchless, the proportions skew even more heavily: Overall, more than three-quarters of unchurched adults fall in the heavy-to-moderate range on the secularization scale. That compares to about one out of eight among the churched.
As you might expect, the data show some striking generational differences when it comes to secularization. The pattern is indisputable: The younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is. Nearly half of Millennials (48%) qualify as post-Christian compared to two-fifths of Gen X-ers (40%), one-third of Boomers (35%) and one-quarter of Elders (28%).
2. People Are Less Open to the Idea of Church
Barna research shows that the unchurched are becoming less responsive to churches’ efforts to connect with them. For example, conventional wisdom says the best way to get people to visit a church is to have friends invite them—and the conventional wisdom is right. The churchless we interviewed were most open to “a friend of yours inviting you to attend a local church,” with one-fifth expressing strong interest and nearly half willing to consider a church based on this factor. An invitation from a friend is the top-rated way churches can establish connections with the unchurched…
However, while the conventional wisdom remains true today, the road ahead shows challenging signs…