“The Churchless”: Not Just Atheists

If “twenty percent” leaves you troubled—it’s doubled!
The “churchless” are very near forty percent!
It’s all in the way things are measured—so, treasured
Assumptions of culture are apt to get bent!
A third claim they’re Christians! The label’s a fable,
Cos frankly, they say it from habit, or less
They don’t go to church, and their bible is liable
To sit there, unread, like it came off the press

The atheists make up a quarter—these sort are
The skeptical types, and they’re sharp as a tack!
Some 16 percent just stopped showing—quit going
To church at one point and then never came back
The rest of them, given their druthers, are “others”
Like Muslims or Jews, or some seeker in search;
Not “godless” but “churchless”, we see them as heathen
They’ll all go to hell if they’re not in our church.

There’s a new term, including more than mere atheists, more than just heathens, but which is an important addition to our vocabulary, because someone has a new book out.

If you’re dismayed 20 percent of Americans are “nones”—people who claim no particular religious identity—brace yourself.

Try 38 percent, the figure religion researcher David Kinnaman calculates when he adds “the unchurched, the never-churched and the skeptics” to the nones.

He calls his category “churchless”—the same title Kinnaman has given his new book. By his count, roughly four in 10 people living in the continental United States are actually “post-Christian” and “essentially secular in belief and practice.”

I must admit, I am a little bit confused, though. That 38% includes some strange bedfellows:

About a third (32 percent) still identify as Christian. They say they believe in God, but they’re wobbly on connections. Kinnaman calls them “Christianized but not very active.”
• 25 percent are self-identified atheist or agnostics. Kinnaman calls them “skeptics.” And their ranks have changed in the last two decades. The percentage of women is up to 43 percent from 16 percent since 1993. Highly educated and more mainstream than before, “this group is here to stay,” he said.

• 27 percent belong to other faith groups such as Jewish or Muslim or call themselves spiritual but not religious.

• 16 percent are Christians—people with a committed relationship with Christ, Kinnaman said—who don’t go to church anymore.

32 plus 25 plus 27 plus 16… ok, that’s everybody (of the 38%). They are not all atheists, though–somewhere between fewer-than-25% (many agnostics won’t identify as atheists) to over 50% (if we arbitrarily include the “accidental atheists” from the first category), and some are explicitly and admittedly “true Christians”–others (category 3) may be every bit as devout, but in a different religion. So… what is the common denominator? They are not going to church. Some are believers, the majority claim tribal identity with Christians… so why is the “churchless” category important?

The article doesn’t actually say–it simply describes the categories. And I am not nearly cynical enough to suggest that it comes down to the fact that it is much harder to put your money in when they pass the plate.