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Column: LET’S STOP SPLITTING! – The Back Door

By: Mike Kelly
Retired Pastor

According to Gallup’s data, church attendance among Christians went from an average of 42 percent of U.S. adults attending religious services every week or nearly every week 20 years ago to just 30 percent in 2023.

While Protestant churches have declined in attendance about 4% in 20 years, Catholic and Orthodox churches have declined between 9-12% in the same period.

At first blush it appears that people are simply no longer interested in attending a regular church service, so they don’t go to church.

The obvious conclusion is that the unchurched don’t see the value of going to church. If church were more inviting or offering something the unchurched wanted, maybe the decline would end, and we’d see growth.

Therefore, the solution is to make going to church more attractive. And that is true! But it is not the entire solution.

Jim Davis and Michael Graham write in their new book, “The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back?” that there is another issue to be dealt with besides the “front” door…the one that attracts new people.

“More people have left the church in the last 25 years than all the new people who became Christians from the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and Billy Graham crusades combined,” Did you get that?

Church attendance is going down but, unlike we typically think, it’s not just the front door that is the issue as much as it is the back door…the door where the churched people leave the church to stay home.

As any insightful businessperson will tell you, getting new customers is critical but keeping the customers you already have is essential to survival.

It appears that churches are getting new people, but they are losing their own people at an even faster rate.

Twenty years ago the average church was 128 people on a Sunday morning. In 2020, just before COVID the average church was 88 and today, just two years after COVID, the average attendance is 60.

If we want to help the church to grow, we need to find out why people are leaving. Why is the average attendance nearly half of just 20 years ago?

Davis and Graham identified two groups of formerly churched people: “The Casually Unchurched” and “The Church Casualties”. The “Casually Unchurched” are those who went because it was not a big deal to go, and they had historically gone but then they moved away and didn’t feel enough loss at not having a church to look for another church.

They were more cultural Christians who didn’t really get the vision of what a Believer is called to do. They lacked any passion for loving God or for loving people.

They aren’t closed to attending another church but don’t have the drive to really go “church shopping”. A good friend or even a new friend inviting them to church might be all it would take to get them re-involved.

The “Church Casualties” group is another matter. They left because their church could not meet their needs. Maybe they needed a safe place and the church they attended turned out not to be safe.

Some left because of cultural issues like Gender Identity, different political views, even clergy misbehavior and church scandals. Others because of negative experiences and lack of friends.

They simply did not “feel the love” of brothers and sisters or even of God. And some left because they quit believing. If you attend church, ask yourself what part are you playing in keeping the churched in church? Are you looking for the loner who is too shy to reach out but needs a friend?

Are you looking for the one who is covering up their hurt with a mask every week but is dying inside? Are you looking for the one who is in a crisis of faith?

Are you asking God to lead you to the one who needs encouragement and a hug? And as for the Casually Unchurched who are new in the area or who you know to have just quit going to their church, are you inviting them?

According to a Lifeway Research poll, 82% of people would attend church if a friend invited them. 82%!! That means that four out of every five people invited to church will likely say yes.

Any salesman would give his proverbial eye teeth for a positive response percentage like that. The risk is minimal, but the rewards are eternal.

Church leaders need to continue to find new and creative ways to reach the Unchurched but those of us in the pews need to take responsibility for those who are there but just hanging in.

And if you are one of those, take one more risk and ask someone to help you meet the need that is pushing you out the back door.

No church is perfect, and every church may not be for you, but make the effort to find the one God has that will draw you in, heal your issues and equip you to be used in His Kingdom.


Mike Kelly is the founding pastor of Bryan’s Grace Community Church (retired) and Board Chairman of Bryan’s Sanctuary Homeless Shelter and Williams County’s Compassion (free) Medical Clinic.


The post Column: LET’S STOP SPLITTING! – The Back Door first appeared on The Village Reporter.

Source: The Village Reporter

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