How to Reverse the “Great De-Churching”

I read some alarming data about the Church in America this month.  In the 2023 book, “The Great De-Churching”, authors conducted new research and discovered some sobering data about parishioners leaving the church.  They start this book by saying,

“IN THE UNITED STATES, WE ARE CURRENTLY EXPERIENCING THE largest and fastest religious shift in the history of our country, as tens of millions of formerly regular Christian worshipers nationwide have decided they no longer desire to attend church at all.

These are what we now call the de-churched. About 40 million adults in America today used to go to church but no longer do, which accounts for around 16 percent of our adult population. For the first time in the eight decades that Gallup has tracked American religious membership, more adults in the United States do not attend church than attend church. This is not a gradual shift; it is a jolting one.” (The Great De-Churching, Davis and Graham, 2023, pg.1)

The book goes on to say these 40 million ‘de-churched’ have mostly left our congregations in the last 25 years!

The sub-title to this book is “Who’s leaving, Why are they going, and what will it take to bring them back?”.  These questions are what I hope to talk with you about over the next couple of weeks in “Words from the Rector”.   I want to start sharing with you some of the findings in this book to motivate us to pray and ask God to stop the great exodus of people in Detroit, and America, away from their faith and the Church.

There is some incredibly encouraging news in this book as well.  As we ask, “What will it take to bring them (the De-churched) back?” I want to share with you actions suggested in this book, derived from the data, that we are already working on at Mariners’ Church.  Christiane and I have found much of what they discovered in the data to be true in our ‘on-the-ground’ experience, as we have worked to expand His Kingdom in other parts of the country, as well as  here in Detroit.

The largest category of people that have left the church are “Cultural Christians”, comprising 52% of all those in the study.  They are referred to as Cultural Christians because few show evidence that they are actually believers. “Only 1 percent in our survey embrace the truth that ‘Jesus is the Son of God’, and just 22 percent believe ‘the Bible is the literal Word of God’.” (Ibid, pg. 43)

Leaving the church starts to accelerate for the Cultural Christian around 18-25 years of age and continues through their early professional years.

Why did they leave?  Glad you asked!  Let’s listen to the experts:

“Many of the reasons Cultural Christians gave [for leaving the church] are heavily social…[they] need consistent, real-world, and increasingly close friendship to be drawn back to church…Cultural Christians largely need your dinner table. [italics mine]  They probably won’t oblige your nudge or invitation to return to church, as they need more relational connectivity than that.”(Ibid, pg. 50)

Over the last 10 years Christiane and I have noticed this “relational connectivity” trend more and more as we have lead churches and started ministries.  We could tell you story after story of exactly what this study has found: Relational and social touches, especially through the dinner table, is how churches will grow.

It’s exactly what led us to start The Tent, a multi-state non-profit, which Christiane continues to lead as the Executive Director, even as she helps me lead Mariners’ Church. The Tent was born out of a desire to create a sacred space through dinner conversations and build together a supportive community. I will expand on this concept in the upcoming letters.

Last week we had a “Tent” dinner conversation with part of the Mariners’ Church outreach committee.  It was a wonderful time with excellent food and conversation.  We hope it served to them as an example of what we want to be doing with friends, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances over and over again in the years to come!

You may remember the first “Words from the Rector” we wrote from the story about our dinning room table having to be carried up 4 flights of stairs.  The point of the story was how difficult, but how ultimately impactful, relationships around the dinner table can be.

Let me take you back to the final paragraph of this article back in May.

“As you will hear from us time and time again, we are made in the image of God, therefore relationships with others are some of the first chances those far from God can see Him ‘in flesh’ – Christ in us. It is important that as we point people to the One who can perfectly love them, that we can reflect a portion of the love He gives us. In loving people well, we will see them drawn, not to personalities or programs, but to Him. Hope to see you soon around a table!”

Please start to pray and consider who you would like to see around the dinner table in your sphere of influence. It could be a big opportunity for them to see Christ in you, and be drawn to knowing Him better.

Blessings and peace,

Rev. Todd