Skip to site content

Churchgoing Population Declines

New research indicates that baby boomers are ditching church at a higher rate than ever before.

“The number of churchgoing Americans who have quit attending has grown to 14 percent of the population in the past decade, up from 7 percent, and millions of them are baby boomers who were part of the ‘Jesus Movement’ of the 1970s,” reported the Washington Times.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
The Times suggested that many religious groups focus on seeking new converts rather than trying to win back those who have left the flock.
 
According to Adherents<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />.com, Southern Baptists, who make up America’s largest Protestant denomination, claim 16 million members.
 
But according to Thom S. Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky., only about 8 million actually make it to church each week.
 
“The harsh reality, once they leave, is that it’s anywhere from five to 10 times more difficult to get them back than to get them first in, by any measure of resources,” Rainer told the Times. “Therefore, many churches, once they’ve gone out the back door, take a very pragmatic approach. It is something for which [Christians] should be very much in agony over.”
 
Walking Away From Faith was author and professor Ruth A. Tucker’s answer to why many people leave the church.
 
“They say, ‘Christianity doesn’t make sense,'” Tucker told the Times. Those who stick with Christianity, Tucker said, “do so through a decision of the will.”
 
Some leave because of a “crisis of faith” that leads to agnosticism or antagonism, she said. Others simply think church is irrelevant in their daily lives.
 
Rainer disagreed.
 
He told the Times that the most common reason people leave the church is because it is too similar to their everyday lives. “They are searching for a spiritual community, radically different from their workday environment, that demands higher commitment,” he said.
 
Rainer said the most important thing churches can do to retain converts is to require “member preparation” classes before baptism or enrollment. Churches with such classes “have a retention rate 14 to 20 times higher” than those that do not, he said.
 
Or, churches can simply swap rolls of inactive members with other congregations, like Rainer said he did in his pastorate. “I swapped the inactive list with a Methodist pastor,” he said, “and we each had tremendous success in reclamation of others.”
 
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.