Author Julia Duin gave a presentation at Trinity a few months ago (I didn’t jot the date down – it must have been during finals!) and I wanted to share some of the things I came away with.
Julia began by highlighting some of the main points of her book… for example, that church attendance is not the 44% that Gallup reports but is actually closer to 20-30%. The only churches that are growing are Catholic (which is now roughly 1/3 Hispanic), Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons (both of which use highly aggressive door-to-door recruiting techniques), and the Assemblies of God/Church of God in Christ, which are open to the Charismatic movement. All other churches and denominations are either static or losing members.
What reasons have interviewees given for the mass exodus? Here’s a short list:
- Church is a waste of time
- I’m bored
- I can accomplish more just staying home and praying for three hours
- Church is irrelevant
- Pastors live in a bubble. They don’t commute, get caught in traffic jams.
- Sermons don’t reflect ‘my world’
- The person had a bad experience with a pastor or other church member(s)
- Flip side: church members forming “wolf packs” against the pastor
- A feeling of “I’m not needed here”
- Particularly among singles and women
- Too much “seeker-friendliness”
- Everything is designed for beginners, little for long-term believers
- God somehow isn’t coming through
- Church makes you feel like a crappy Christian
- Not enough of seeing God’s promises coming true
- No transparency, leads people to suspect the worst
Some of the interesting Q&As:
Q. What are the three fastest-growing demographic groups?
A. This will vary by geographic area. Where the author lives (the suburbs of DC), the elderly, singles, and foreigners. How is the church reaching out to these groups?
Q. What advice do you offer?
A. We need to take on some of the groups that are being ignored. Don’t lose your best and most experienced people – ramp up the teaching and make it more sophisticated. The church should be geographically close – part of the community, in the sense that if you’re not there people notice. Find ways to draw people out of isolation, and don’t just target married people with children. Face-to-face meeting is important.
The “corporate model” of having professionals running each demographic department doesn’t work. It creates pastoral control freaks. For this reason the mega-churches won’t last. Intentional communities are a part of the picture for the future.
Q. What techniques are the successful groups using that work?
A. The Mormons teach their kids what to believe, the families are tight and stand by each other, and they go on missions. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reach out to people no one else wants. Both are not afraid of foreigners. The Assemblies of God/COGIC churches do evangelism and do the basics right; the Holy Spirit is permitted in worship; and there is a high percentage of daily Bible reading.
As an interesting side note, Julia mentioned that Alcoholics Anonymous is growing. They have a come-as-you-are approach, and you’re missed if you’re not there — a couple other suggestions for attracting people back to church.