Monday, March 09, 2015

BookPastor >> "Churchless" (George Barna and David Kinnaman)

The fastest growing group in Christianity is the unchurched group, where people call themselves Christians but are not attached to any Church. This book publishes a summary of surveys and data done on the reasons why and gives some surprising suggestions. 

This review was first published under Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: Churchless: Understanding Today's Unchurched and How to Connect with Them
AUTHOR: George Barna and David Kinnaman
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2014, (224 pages).

As churches in the West continue to shrink, one begins to wonder which group then is growing? Answer: The unchurched person. For every one person who stops attending any church, it adds one more to the growing pool of people called the "unchurched" or according to Barna and Kinnaman, the "churchless." Simply put, a churchless person is one who is not connected at all to any church. The statistics are grim. Out of people who call themselves Christians, only 47% are actively a part of a Church, which means they go to Church on a regular basis on the minimal. A whopping 53% are the unchurched, of which about 35% are de-churched; 12% purely unchurched; and 8% minimally churched. If we analyze the terms closer, the mood is depressing.
  • "Actively churched" are those attending church at least once a month
  • "minimally churched" are those attending church several times a year
  • "de-churched" are those currently taking a break from going to church
  • "purely unchurched" are those who have never gone for a church service.

This book provides the data collected from 20524 American adults between the years 2008 and 2014, and examines their "perceptions, beliefs, behaviors, choices, experiences, expectations, and hopes." The purpose of the study is to enable us to take a snapshot of our cultural contexts, learn to navigate the complexity and to discern our role in transforming it. Some of the observations include:
  • Secularism is on the rise
  • More people are becoming busy that they have no time for church
  • Digital outreach are "rarely finding traction" with the unchurched
  • Rising skepticism about churches' contribution to society
  • Increasing resistance to church; among the unchurched, indifference is high
  • In the past ten years, number of unchurched adults in America has increased by 60%
  • About 3 out of 4 unchurched adults have a pretty good hope for the future without need for any church affiliation
  • Many unchurched consider themselves Christian, except that they do not identify themselves with church
  • Top three reasons why unchurched stay away from church: Boring, No reason, busyness.
  • How media is influencing and propagating a negative image of church
  • On Bible, many of the unchurched own Bibles, but they don't really know their bibles, neither do they see any usefulness.
  • For most, prayer is a one-way conversation
  • Their view of God's reputation is mediocre
  • They trust in Christ but not the local church
  • and many more
Some of the more hopeful observations about the unchurched include:
  • The unchurched desires to make a difference in their community, and churches do well to connect with them via common projects that bless the community
  • Their desire for real community
  • They are serious about family life as a high priority
  • Connecting with them where they are will present a positive face of church
  • Their passion for environment, recycling, and things making positive impact to society
  • Passion for volunteerism
  • For skeptics, they are more likely to be concerned about money matters, health, and other physical goals.

The authors also put together a chapter on the declining number of young adults, and give six reasons why they dropped out of church. Apart from the statistical analyses and the observations about the contexts, the authors have put together a very helpful "Forward Thinking" section that brings smiles and hopes for readers. This is by far the most compelling reason to get this book. It is one thing to put together data and analyze them. It is yet another to offer a positive perspective in which we can be more knowledgeable about what is happening, and wiser in learning how to let God lead us to be the channels of blessings we are called to be. Every observation can be seen from a positive outreach perspective. Learning to scratch where it itches, is a good way to begin the process of connecting with the unchurched. Toward the end of the book, the authors argue passionately that churches still matter and readers ought to be concerned both with the unchurched as well as with the Church. Below are some of the great ideas promoted:
  • Corporate worship needs to proclaim God more that simply going through a routine
  • Bible teachings must connect with people instead of mere information about God
  • Prayers need to be directed more to God rather than spoken to congregation
  • Worship awe and wonder must be present in each worship service
  • Community with people remains key to the experience of church
  • That the Good News speaks to the unchurched, that we need to love the unchurched person
  • Adopt church strategies without being manipulative
  • Share Jesus by loving the individual, engaging them genuinely
  • Be selfless in service
  • Learn to suffer with the hurting and the needy
  • Be effective interpreters of culture
  • Be prayerful and hopeful

The statistics may not seem to be news to some of us, but we all need to be reminded that we can do something about it. Learn and network with churches that are already trying to reach the unchurched, Share the findings. Exegete the culture. This book will help us do just that. As Max DePree has once said: "The first task of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant." This book helps us do that first task, with many pointers to help us do what is in between. I suppose, the part about gratitude is very much in thanking the people who had offered their responses in the surveys, and for us to be thankful that we still have a chance to be the Church that God has called us to become.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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