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2003 PE Report

Americans find comfort in ‘nesting,’ but connecting is another matter (December 22, 2002)

Viewer discretion advised: Reality-based programs stoop to new low (December 15, 2002)

A/G among fastest growing faith groups (December 8, 2002)

Christians play crucial role in foster care (November 24, 2002)

A/G churches remember with outreaches (November 17, 2002)

Elderly face added woes from credit card debt (November 10, 2002)

PE Kidz News from BGMC (October 27, 2002)

Cyber-evangelists find innovative ways to share gospel (October 20, 2002)

Risks, stigma accompany wearing of tattoos (October 13, 2002)

Women lead on-campus ministries (September 29, 2002)

Tobacco, alcohol, gambling industries find underage Internet client base (September 22, 2002)

Marijuana, cocaine have abusive company: Ecstasy, meth and prescription painkillers (September 15, 2002)

September 11: A day that changed American Christians forever (September 8, 2002)

Congress, courts clash over Internet filtering issue (August 25, 2002)

People with disabilities bless churches (August 18, 2002)

Short-term youth binges can result in long-term habit (August 11, 2002)

Christians aim to preserve traditional marriage (July 28, 2002)

Payback time: Christian volunteers motivated to give back to community (July 21, 2002)

Urban training centers minister
to ever-growing population
(July 14, 2002)

E-mail rumors dupe multitudes, hurt credibility (June 30, 2002)

Not so innocent: PG-13 films increasingly push sex, language limits (June 23, 2002)

Skipping church: Why are some Americans staying home on Sunday? (June 16, 2002)

Fudge fellowship: Pastor's wife treats tavern clientele (June 9, 2002)

Persevering nomadic church finally reaches promised land (May 26, 2002)

Tragedy brings A/G church, community closer to God (May 19, 2002)

Couples find God's calling in adopting, raising children (May 12, 2002)

A/G chaplain ministers to women in maximum-security prison (April 28, 2002)

Youth center offers alternative to teens (April 21, 2002)

A week without television (April 14, 2002)

Technological know-how aids San Jose church outreach (March 31, 2002)

Cincinnati racial reconciliation brings inner peace to inner city (March 24, 2002)

District's fund-raising efforts aid pastors planting churches (March 17, 2002)

GED program an effective ministry (March 10, 2002)

Building relationshipis at heart of women's ministries outreach (February 24, 2002)

Single-minded devotion: Unmarried ranks offer ministry opportunities (February 17, 2002)

Bethany College honors black minister pioneer (February 10, 2002)

A/G quarterback wins Unitas Award (January 27, 2002)

Camp Melody plants song of love in boys' hearts (January 20, 2002)

Pastor breaks giving record after 10 days atop billboard (January 13, 2002)

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories

Skipping church: Why are some Americans staying home on Sunday?

(June 16, 2002)

By John W. Kennedy

On Sunday mornings, Steve*, a 28-year-old father of two in Missouri, says he can usually be found in one of two places: a city park playing with his children or on his couch in front of the television set watching sports.

"I work in a high-stress job five days a week and have home maintenance things to do on Saturdays," Steve says. "It’s hard to want to spend my Sunday mornings at church. My weekends are precious, so I use Sundays to relax and spend time with my children."

Steve used to be a regular attendee at an evangelical church. But as he reached adulthood he says he "grew wiser," and became skeptical of leaders and laypeople at his church.

"Some people need emotional rest and they get it at church, but some of us don’t," Steve says. So, four years ago, he stopped going to church and says he has never looked back.

Indeed, most Americans have attended church at some point in their lives. More than 80 percent of Americans, according to findings published last month by U.S. News and World Report, claim to be Christian. A poll published by the magazine indicated that 64 percent of Americans say religion is "very important" in their lives.

Yet Gallup polls published in the past 60 years show that weekly religious attendance has remained fairly constant. In a March Gallup poll, 44 percent said they had attended in the past seven days.

A generation ago, even non-Christians viewed Sunday morning as a time reserved for church activities. No more. Those who don’t go now find a host of alternative Sunday morning activities in an increasingly secularized society, from baseball and soccer games to shopping at the mall.

But there’s more to it than that. Church growth expert Lyle Schaller, 59, of Naperville, Ill., says pastors must compete for attention in an increasingly technologically savvy age. "The message frequently needs to be extraordinarily well delivered in communication skills or wrapped in entertainment," he says. "People born after 1960 in particular are not so much looking for worship services as much as worship experiences."

In addition, many mainline churches have lost members who no longer see the denomination as being consistent in teaching biblical truths. Several denominations have lost members due to ambiguous or liberal stances on issues such as ordaining homosexual clergy.

In Exit Interviews: Revealing Stories of Why People Are Leaving the Church, William D. Hendricks interviewed three dozen disillusioned people who had stopped attending services at mainline Protestant, Reformed, independent and charismatic churches.

"The one element that the church brings that no other institution in society can bring, of course, is God," says Hendricks, 47, founder of The Hendricks Group, a Dallas-based consulting firm. "Underneath it all, while they may be attracted to a particular worship format or youth program, the reason people go is because of an insatiable hunger for God. If they don’t find that expectation satisfied in the church or if God is talked about in ways that don’t make sense to them, sooner or later they become disillusioned and look for an excuse to leave."

Of the three dozen he interviewed only one rejected God outright. The rest described a spiritual faith void when not meeting with God’s people. They continued searching for ways to meet that need, whether that meant ordering tapes from a parachurch ministry or watching an evangelist on television.

Hendricks says churches may create an expectation that can be difficult to deliver, such as publicizing that a sense of community or family is available to all churchgoers. He cites one case study in which an attendee spent six months hospitalized and, despite repeated requests, no one from the church visited him. Once people drop out, they often will sit by the phone for weeks waiting for a call telling them they are missed, Hendricks says.

"There are enormous expenses and efforts that go into evangelism and outreach to bring people in the front door, yet in some churches when someone goes out the back door they don’t receive a phone call," Hendricks says.

Sometimes people bring unrealistic expectations of what church is about. To be a part of a church means people must do more than sit back as spectators waiting for their wants to be met, Hendricks says. Those who leave permanently usually never took the first step to find out how they could exercise their spiritual gifts in the body, he says.

According to Hendricks, relationship and responsibility are the key factors to staying in church. For instance, participating is becoming part of a small group. Volunteering is carrying out some regular function, such as bus ministry or nursery worker. "If I know someone is counting on me and I can see that my efforts are making a difference in what’s going on, it’s difficult to walk away," Hendricks says.

In large part because of dwindling rural populations, there are fewer churches from which to choose. There are 319,000 houses of worship in the United States and Canada, 40,000 less than a decade ago according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. And the average congregation size is dwindling, down to 90 from 102 a decade ago, according to Barna Research Group.

Steve says the only reason he would consider attending church again is if his children expressed an interest. "If my kids had a good experience that would allow them to make their own decision about their faith, I’d be open to that," he says.

The challenge for churches in America, according to experts, is to find a way to convince persons like Steve that going to a Sunday morning service is not just something to consider if there’s nothing better to do – it’s integral to a cogent relationship with Christ.

*Name changed.

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