There’s a growing group of Americans who “love Jesus but not the church,” according to new data from the Barna Group.
And this group, according to the polling firm, is comprised of people with a genuine faith in Jesus who have not attended church in the past six months or more — a cohort that makes up about 10 percent of the population, up from 7 percent in 2004.
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“They still love Jesus, still believe in scripture and most of the tenets of their Christian faith, but they have lost faith in the church,” Roxanne Stone, editor-in-chief of Barna Group, explained in a statement. “While many people in this group may be suffering from church wounds, we also know from past research that Christians who do not attend church say it’s primarily not out of wounding, but because they can find God elsewhere or that church is not personally relevant to them.”
The cohort’s beliefs, alone, show that there’s still, on many levels, a deep spiritual connection.
Consider that 89 percent of these individuals have “made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important to their life today,” according to Barna. In some ways, these individuals are even more fervent than their “practicing Christian” peers.
When it comes to the strong belief that there is only one God, 93 percent of those who “love Jesus but not the church” embrace this sentiment verses 90 percent of practicing Christians and 59 percent of U.S. adults overall. And these individuals are just as likely as practicing Christians to say that they engage in prayer.
The group also outpaces practicing Christians when it comes to the belief that “God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today,” with 94 percent embracing that sentiment, versus 85 percent of practicing Christians and 57 percent of U.S. adults at large.
When it comes to demographics, the majority of those who fall in the “love Jesus but not church” camp are women (61 percent), white individuals (63 percent) and the vast majority are between the ages of 33 and 70.
But things start to change a bit when it comes to this group’s perception of religious truth versus those who would be counted as practicing Christians. Just 55 percent of the “love Jesus but not the church folks” disagree either strongly or somewhat with the statement that “all religions basically teach the same thing.” This aligns more with the general population (51 percent) than the proportion found among practicing Christians (68 percent).
And while 56 percent of practicing Christians read the Bible, just 26 percent of the “love Jesus but not the church crowd” report the same. Plus, just 18 percent of these individuals talk with friends about matters of spiritual importance compared to 41 percent of practicing Christians, and just 28 percent believe they have a “responsibility to proselytize” compared to 56 percent of practicing Christians and 100 percent of evangelicals.
Stone said the results show that churches need to be able to show these people why there is spiritual relevancy and essentiality to being in the pews each week if houses of worship want to make an impact among the “love Jesus but not the church” crowd.
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