Are You the Unchurched?: How to Develop an Authentic Relationship with God Inside or Outside of Church
published by Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers (July 12, 2022)
Here's an excerpt ...
Are You ‘The Unchurched’?
Recently, we have seen several studies about a group of Christians who have been defined as ‘The Unchurched.’ Unchurched defines a group of people who identify as Christian and yet have not attended church in more than six months. They are also known in our community as the “Submarine Christians” (so called because they only surface a few times a year), or “CEO’s” (which stands for Christmas and Easter Only). Other members of this group may not set foot in any church until a wedding, baby blessing or funeral draws them in. And, these are the people who voice concern about the church burning down simply because of their presence.
Christian research institutes started to study unchurched Christians, because church as an institution is dying. Churches have lower attendance and as a result most cannot stay afloat without the offerings and tithes of parishioners. As society changes, the role of formal religion in family life has become less significant. In most parts of the country, people who would still identify themselves as Christians, do not attend church on a regular basis. Many young adults have grown disillusioned with the church. In the past, teens and young adults would stop attending church regularly as they began to venture out and learn about the world. However, in the past, those who left church tended to return later as they had children of their own and faced major life challenges.
The recent trend is that young people do not return to church, and a new generation of children are growing up without any connection to the church. Whereas, some churches can pay insurance, bills, and staff expenses, most are hemorrhaging trying to keep the doors open for aging parishioners and a handful of families. The purpose of the research on unchurched Christians was to help pastors and other church leaders figure out what to do to attract more people into their churches and to retain their young people.
Unfortunately, the purpose of this book is not to save the institution of the church. What drives me is a desire to encourage Christians to find and nurture an authentic relationship with the God of their own understanding. You may find that relationship inside a church or on a park bench, at the beach, or while listening to a song while you are stuck in traffic. What is important is the relationship. All that is important is your relationship with God! By strengthening our relationship with God, we are compelled to love ourselves and to love other people as an expression of that love.
Whereas other books have been written about the Unchurched, I am interested in writing to the Unchurched. In my search to reach this population, I have found that earlier studies have unearthed some important common characteristics of people who fit into this category. Many unchurched Christians – both young and old – are simply independent thinkers. They are free-spirited individuals who value critical thinking. The rituals and practices of traditional church services do not have meaning to them, and so they find church attendance church boring, irrelevant and a waste of time. Some are adults who were forced to endure church as children with no context or building of their faith, and therefore, stopped attending as soon as they became adults. In many instances, the behavior of other Christians in church was the main factor driving people away. Church-going Christians tend to be described as rigid, judgmental, or hypocritical.
Overwhelmingly, young adults who were studied named hostility towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) people as the reason they do not attend church. “While most young churchgoers believe that the Bible does not condone homosexuality, their conviction about this is waning, and they are embarrassed by the church’s treatment of gays and lesbians.” Many heterosexual Christians, would prefer a worship space that is open and welcoming to LGBTQ+ Christians, especially when they have family and close friends they would like to invite to church. Many unchurched Christians call themselves “Spiritual but not Religious,” because they cannot find any energy or spirit within the church. And finally, there are among the group who are survivors of clergy or lay leader sexual abuse and find church to be a very unsafe space.
The central value identified through interviews with Christians who do not attend church is a desire for connection. They yearn for ways to form community with others with whom they can share a collective sense of purpose. They are looking for fellowship and a space where everyone will be loved and accepted. The studies concluded that churches can reach this population by having special events that bring together church members but were welcoming to all in the community. Churches need to position themselves to serve the needs of people in the community outside of church walls. Church as an institution has fallen short for many in this regard.
Research has found that ‘The Unchurched’ are Christians, who are:
- College educated
- Forward thinking
- Independent-minded seekers
- Critical thinkers
- Community oriented
- and Compassionate
Do you see yourself reflected in these definitions of the Unchurched?
If you are The Unchurched, my goal in this book is to convince you that Christianity, freed from rigid, Biblical interpretation can be dynamic, relevant and life changing. One set of concepts, Relational Theology, provide some tools for Christians to connect, or reconnect, with the God of their own understanding.
 Kinnaman, Unchristian, 101.