A new survey has broken down America's church attendance to reflect the growing number of "church" options that have redefined how Christians worship on Sunday.
Beyond traditional church, American Christians are increasingly adopting new forms of faith community such as house churches, marketplace ministries and cyberchurches. The new Barna survey, released Monday, takes into account these "church" options and contends that popular measures such as the percentage of people who are "unchurched" – based on attendance at a conventional church service – are out of date.
"The fact that millions of people are now involved in multiple faith communities – for instance, attending a conventional church one week, a house church the next, and interacting with an online faith community in-between – has rendered the standard measures of "churched" and "unchurched" much less precise," The Barna Group noted.
As a result, the Christian polling group created a new measurement model with five types of people: unattached, intermittents, homebodies, blenders and conventionals.
Unattached are people who attended neither a conventional church nor a live faith organization during the past year. This includes house church, simple church, intentional community. Some of these people use religious media, but they do not have personal interaction with a regularly-convened faith community.
This group of people represents one out of every four adults (23 percent) in America. About one-third of the segment has never attended a church ever in their life.
Intermittents are those who have participated in a conventional church or live faith community within the past year, but not during the past month. About one out of every seven adults (15 percent) belongs in this category. About two-thirds of this group attended at least one church event within the past six months.
Meanwhile, homebodies are people who have not attended a conventional church during the past month, but have attended a house church meeting (three percent).
Then there are the blenders who attended both a conventional church and a house church during the past month. Most of these people attend the traditional church as their primary church, but are also experimenting with new forms of faith community. In total, blenders represent three percent of the adult population.
But most of America still fit the conventional churchgoer description – someone who attended a conventional church during the past month but had not attended a house church. Almost three out of every five adults (56 percent) fit this description. Participation includes attending a wide variety of conventional church events, such as weekend services, mid-week services, special events, or church-based classes.
Six out of 10 adults in the unattached category (59 percent) consider themselves to be Christian. Moreover, 17 percent of the unattached are born again Christians – defined as people who have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that they consider to be very important in their life, and who believe that they will experience Heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior.
One-fifth (19 percent) of the unattached read the Bible and three out of every five (62 percent) pray to God during a typical week.
The Barna study also identified characteristics of the unattached that might enable conventional churches or other ministries to reach out to them as Easter approaches.
Compared to regular churchgoers, the unattached are:
• more likely to feel stressed out
• less likely to be concerned about the moral condition of the nation
• much less likely to believe that they are making a positive difference in the world
• less optimistic about the future
• far less likely to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in its principles
• more likely to believe that Jesus Christ sinned while He was on earth
• much more likely to believe that the holy literature of the major faiths all teach the same principles even though they use different stories
• less likely to believe that a person can be under demonic influence
• more likely to describe their sociopolitical views as "mostly liberal" than "mostly conservative."
In addition to these characteristics, the unattached are more likely to be single, male and to have been divorced at some point. They are also less likely to be registered to vote, which The Barna Group said could be a sign that they feel less connected and influential in society.
"The numbers consistently point out that those who live without a regular face-to-face faith connection tend to be relatively isolated from the mainstream of society, tend to be non-committal in institutional and personal relationships, and typically revel in their independence," George Barna, founder of The Barna Group, commented.
"Attempting to get them involved in the life of a church is a real challenge," he continued. "The best chance of getting them to a church is when someone they know and trust invites them, offers to accompany them, and there is reason to believe that the church event will address one of the issues or needs they are struggling with at that moment."
The report is based on two nationwide telephone surveys. One survey interviewed 1,003 adults in December 2007, while the other was based on a national random sample of 1,006 adults interviewed in January 2008.