BY MIKE MCMANUS

BY MIKE MCMANUS

In the early-1990s two out of ten Americans did not attend church. “Today the churchless make up nearly half of the adult population” (49 percent) reports the Barna Group, a polling company. This is sobering news a week before Easter.

It is also a disturbing trend. For decades, Gallup reported that nearly twothirds of Americans were members of a church or synagogue and 40 percent or more attended weekly.

Barna is reporting that only 49 percent attend once a month or more!

About 156 million are unchurched. Not surprisingly, it is the young who don’t darken church doors. More than half of Millennials, born between 1984 and 2002 are unchurched compared to only 28 percent of Elders born before 1946.

According to Churchless, a study by George Barna and David Kinnaman, a quarter of the unchurched are atheists who do not believe in God, or are agnostics, who are not sure, but may be open to that possibility. Barna lumps these two groups together as “skeptics.”

The skeptics are nearly a quarter of the population (23 percent). They are better educated, nearly half of whom have a college degree. And a surprising percentage are women. In 1993, only 16 percent of atheists and agnostics were women, but that figure nearly tripled to 43 percent in 2015!

What leads people to disbelief ?

First, is a rejection of the Bible, a conviction that it is not holy or inspired by God, but is simply a book of wellknown stories and advice, with no more authority than any other book. They believe the Bible deserves no special treatment or consideration.

Second, skeptics have a lack of trust in the local church. They believe church members are “not personally connected to each other in meaningful or life-changing ways.” Their value to the community is the “limited times they serve the needy.” Skeptics also think churches stand for the “wrong things — wars, preventing gay marriage and a woman’s freedom to control her body.” Finally, they view churches as led by people who have not proved “their love of humankind, and are thus not deserving of trust.”

Third, skeptics are influenced by celebrity personalities who are anti-religious such as Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and others.

However, a majority of the churchless are not skeptics but “non-practicing Christians.” They claim Christianity as their faith, but they haven’t been to church in a long time. They are potentially reachable by committed Christians.

Barna reports more good news about the unchurched. Three-quarters own a Bible and six of 10 prayed in the last week. Two-thirds say they’ve tried to grow spiritually in the past month by talking with family and friends about faith or watching religious TV shows.

This is a mission field that can be reached! Compare their openness to spiritual issues with the near impossibility of converting Muslims or hard core atheists.

Your next door neighbor may have had a bad experience with a particular church, which is why they stopped attending. The fact they are likely to have prayed last week and tried to grow spiritually — means they would be open to an offer you might make to take them to church on Easter!

Easter is a more important holiday than Christmas. If Jesus had not appeared alive to his followers — his birthday would be no cause for celebration.

I love the Gospel of John’s story of Thomas, who was not present the first time Jesus appeared to his disciples. When they told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them…Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hand. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

“Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

“Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed’” (John 20: 24-29).

It is our responsibility as Christians to invite unbelievers to hear this Gospel preached on Easter.

Barna’s numbers can be reversed.

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Michael J. McManus is president of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist.


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