This Washington Post article discusses the findings of a study conducted by pastors Jim Davis and Michael Graham, who were alarmed by the declining church attendance in their hometown of Orlando, Florida. They discovered that their city had a similar percentage of evangelicals as less traditionally Christian cities like New York and Seattle. Despite being home to several major Christian organizations and influential megachurches, Orlando felt different from other cities.
Davis and Graham decided to investigate the phenomenon of people leaving churches, which they referred to as “dechurching.” They raised funds and collaborated with political scientists Ryan Burge and Paul Djupe to conduct one of the largest-ever studies on this topic. Their study found that about 15% of Americans were dechurched, meaning they had attended church at least once a month in the past but now attended less than once a year.
The research yielded profiles of different types of dechurched Americans, including “cultural Christians,” “mainstream evangelicals,” “exvangelicals,” “dechurched BIPOC Americans,” and “dechurched mainline Protestants and Catholics.” These profiles had diverse reasons for leaving their churches, such as moving, convenience issues, lack of love in the congregation, negative experiences, or changes in belief.
The study also categorized dechurched Americans into two major groups: the “casually dechurched,” who stopped attending due to logistical reasons like moving, and the “church casualties,” who left due to conflict or harm. Each profile had unique reasons for leaving and potential motivations for returning to church, with some seeking friendship and others interested in spiritual practices and outreach programs.
One significant finding was that Americans with higher levels of education or success in life were less likely to drop out of church. This raised concerns about the church’s ability to cater to a broader demographic and not just those on the “success path.”
Despite these challenges, Davis and Graham remain hopeful about the future and offer advice to church leaders. They emphasize the need for patience and stress the importance of cultivating “relationship wisdom” and maintaining a “quiet, calm, and curious demeanor” as they navigate the changing religious landscape.
The study’s results have garnered attention, with data from the research featured in The New York Times and other publications. It reflects a growing awareness of the decline in congregational life in the United States and the need for a thoughtful and nuanced discussion about religion in society. While the findings are sobering, Davis and Graham believe that there is a path forward for churches to address these challenges and eventually reverse the trend of dechurching.