How to Get Unchurched Americans Back Into Pews

It's a misnomer to think that 60 percent of the country is now showing up to church every week, says a church consultant.

"It's a whole lot less than that."

New Church Specialties founder Dr. Larry McKain was responding to the Barna Group's latest report on the unchurched population. The study indicated that 33 percent of American adults have not attended a religious service of any type in the last six months. The percentage has remained roughly the same over the past decade.

The actual percentage of people who regularly show up in a church on Sunday morning in the United States is not over 20 percent, McKain estimates.

Where are the Christians?

In South America, the dynamic level of spirituality has led one church to grow from 1,000 members to 8,000 in four years. The church plans to grow to become 50,000 members in the next 8-10 years, says McKain.

In Africa, evangelical Christians numbered less than 5 million in 1900. Today, there are at least 370 million, according to the church planting and coaching consultant.

And in China, Christians there are trying to mobilize 100,000 believers that will give their lives full time to missionary service. That number exceeds the 60,000 full-time Christian workers, primarily sent by an agency, that are scattered throughout the world, according to McKain.

McKain and a team from New Church Specialties just launched a two-year international research project in January where they will study 10 key countries and areas in the world where Christianity is exploding.

Meanwhile, in the United States, people are leaving the church because they don't like the music, they don't feel the church meets their needs, or they feel the church is full of hypocrites, says McKain.

"Most of those reasons are very short-sighted and self-centered and unbiblical," he says.

A LifeWay Research study had found earlier that 59 percent of formerly churched adults left their church because of changes in life situation or they simply got too busy to attend church.

Whatever the reason, many people are leaving and today, the unchurched population (nearing 100 million) in the United States could be the eleventh most-populated nation on the earth if it were a nation on its own, the Barna Group found.

"The U.S. church as a whole is spiritually arrogant, greatly spiritually undernourished, and it's just spiritually lazy," says McKain.

"God's going to have to wake up the U.S. church."

God's already doing that, McKain adds, but mainly through the dynamic growth of Christianity in other parts of the world.

Many American Christians believe they are the center of Christianity, says McKain. But when your study of churches is concentrated within the United States, the perspective is too small, he adds.

The best way to wake Americans up and get them back into the pews is to get them to see the world where God is at work, McKain advises. And when they see the world, they see how behind they are to churches in the South.

Coming back to the church in the United States, there still are people who are coming back to church; they're just not coming back to conventional-type churches, McKain notes.

According to LifeWay Research, 62 percent of formerly churched adults are open to attend again.

Those returning are heading to "younger" churches where the audience and style is younger, McKain explains.

New Church Specialties works with around 20 different denominations helping them train church planters and resourcing and renewing churches. Church planters that are thriving, according to NCS, are those who are doing church very differently. That could mean the emerging church, the multi-site church or even the growing phenomenon of the cowboy church. And they're highly effective because they are beginning their plant with the audience rather than with the style.

"A church that has never changed its ministry since 1950 ... those are the churches that are really having trouble," McKain says. Churches are dying by the thousands every year and a growing number of unchurched people across the nation stands to reason the country will become more secular.

The key to survival and thriving is change.

"Churches that are going to survive 20 years from now are not going to do ministry the way they do now," says McKain.

"If you don't change, you will cease to exist."