Tag: church affiliation

Slip, Slidin’ Away

paul_simon_20075Paul Simon writes great lyrics, and Slip, Slidin’ Away is one of my favorites.   Which brings me to the Pew Forum report on Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the US.  “What does Paul Simon have to do with religious affiliation,” you ask?  Well, Slip, Slidin Away could be the new theme song for America’s religious habits.

The Pew Forum identified 5 reasons the unaffiliated left church.  Number One on the hit parade was: Just drifted away.  Which isn’t exactly Slip, Slidin’ Away, but pretty close.  An average of 71% of all unaffiliated respondents said they “just drifted away” from the faith.  Former Catholics hit the average with exactly 71% of them saying they drifted away; former mainline denominations did somewhat better with only 65% saying they just drifted away.  But the prize goes to former evangelicals (yes, folks like us).  A whopping 74% of previous pewsitters said they “just drifted away” from their evangelical faith.

Of course, there is a lot more to the report than this one statistic, and I’d encourage you to read the whole thing.  You can even download a pdf to send along to others who might be interested.

But, my interest is this — What is happening to these folks? Church attendance is plummeting, and now apparently part of the reason is that former members are drifting away.

How does that happen?  Does it begin by missing first one Sunday service, then another, and another.  And, if no one notices, then they think no one cares.  Are we doing a really poor job of keeping up with each other in our churches.  We might add a new “allelon” to the batch of biblical “one anothers:”  Keep up with one another.

Paul Simon’s lyrics are particularly ironic when you consider the Pew report:

Slip slidin’ away, slip slidin’ away,

You know the nearer your destination,

the more you’re slip slidin’ away.

Art imitates life once again.  Thanks, Paul.  Watch the video of Paul Simon performing our new theme song.

The unaffiliated and the unattending

Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion reports that less than 11% of the US public considers themselves unaffiliated with any church or other religious group.  That figure is about 4% — or 10-million people — less than previously thought.  And, the unaffiliated hardly ever attend church — about 89% of them answer “never” when asked how often they attend religious services.  You can download the Baylor study here.  

Could these unaffiliated be the “hardcore” unreached?  What would it take to break through the unaffiliated facade.  When you consider that 5% consider themselves atheists, the potential for breaking through this barrier becomes more difficult.  

The other question we have to ask ourselves is — Who are we reaching?  Are we just trading members from one congregation to another?  Is that a bad thing, and if not, what are the positives of “swapping” members?

Now here’s another wrinkle — weekly church attendance is now down to 17.5% of the population and declining.  Apparently even those who say they are affiliated with a religious group are attending less and less.  And, “regular” church participation now means “three out of eight Sundays” according to David Olson, in his book, The American Church in Crisis.  

So, here’s my question:  Since there are fewer unaffiliated people than we thought, but fewer of the affiliated are attending regularly, what should we do?  Should churches focus on retaining members as much as they do on reaching new people?  What do you think and what is your church doing in one or both areas?

Millennials and the church: Is there hope for reaching them?

Millennial Makeover I just finished reading Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics. The authors, Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, contend that Millennials will reshape American politics, possibly as early as this election in 2008. Millenials are the newest generation, born 1982-2003, and were given their generational name by the book, Millennials Rising: The Next Generation, published in 2000.

I was so captivated by Millennial Makeover, that I ordered 4 books by Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of Millennials Rising, and the experts in the field of generational studies. I’ll pull together some thoughts on all these books as I read through them, but let me tell you why I have this new, urgent interest in this newest generation. Read this paragraph and I think you’ll understand:

Overall, only 12 percent of Americans describe themselves as atheist or agnostic or don’t identify with any particular religious tradition. This number is up by just four percentage points since 1987. But age differences in lack of religious belief or affiliation are striking. Within the oldest American generations, the last remaining members of the GI and Silent Generations, just five percent are secular or unaffiliated. That number rises to about one in ten among Baby Boomers to 15 percent of Gen-Xers, and nearly one in five (19%) among Millennials — almost four times the percentage of nonbelievers as existed within the GI and Silent Generations. — Millennial Makeover, p89.

One out of five Millennials — almost 20% — claim no religious affiliation or belief. We have our work cut out for us, we of the church clan. But, it will have to be a different kind of work than we have ever done before. I’m creating a new category (Millennials) and will post thoughts about Millennials and the church in the days ahead.

I am very interested in what you and your church are doing to reach this generation that is now 5-to-26 years of age. Are existing churches going to reach Millennials? Will it take completely new forms of church, like the emerging church scene, to engage this generation? What do you think? What solutions do you see? Or, do you think we’ll continue to lose ground with each new generation?