Drawing on data from eighteen nationwide surveys conducted over six years, and including more than 20,000 Americans, The Barna Group's latest work, Churchless (Austin, TX: Tyndale, 2014), helps church leaders understand the churchless in America. They define the churched as those who are connected to the church, even if only tangentially, and the unchurched as those who have either disconnected from church or never were connected to a church in the first place (page 6).
The introductory chapter asserts that American culture is undergoing radical shifts. The percentage of the churchless in the country, which is currently around 43%, has risen sharply and yet the church has an obligation before Christ to understand and pursue them in love. So, how are we to do that? The Barna group suggests that “loving, genuine relationships are the only remaining currency readily exchanged between the churched and the churchless” (4).
The remainder of the book, then, offers wisdom about the shape this love should take. But particulars aside, we can say that things are as they've always been - the love of Christ is spread abroad by the love of Christ as the Holy Spirit empowers his people to hear, speak, and act.
Having said that, in order to love well, we must know the people we aim to love. Therefore, Barna distinguishes between four groups:
- The purely unchurched - these are people who have never attended a church.
- The de-churched - these are people who used to attend a church but no longer do. They tend to go in cycles of attending and not attending, but whatever the particulars of individual cases, their number is growing rapidly.
- The minimally churched - these are people who attend at Christmas and Easter and a few other occasions.
- The actively churched - these are people who attend church at least once per month
The book concludes with an affirmation of the place of the church in the Kingdom of God and of the culture. Here the Barna Group offers a number of suggestions as to how the church can engage the culture with wisdom, love, and effectiveness.
While I disagree with the Barna Group's assertions at various points, I think it's a helpful work that can empower local leaders to understand and love their towns and cities. And besides, it's an easy read, so I suggest you buy the book and read it!
May Jesus be glorified as we seek to know and love the churchless!