What If Churches Ask for More and No One Says Yes?

Jake Meador has a provocative proposal for reversing dechurching. But it may not be that simple.

More than 1 in 10 Americans—around 40 million of us—stopped attending church in the last 25 years.

New research using cell phone location data suggests weekly church attendance (defined as 36 weeks of the 47 studied) is at just 3 percent. And even where church attendance has rebounded since pandemic shutdowns, congregational involvement still lags.

A shift of this scale is impossible to ignore, but it’s certainly possible to misunderstand.

What if there’s an explanation we’ve overlooked, asked author and Mere Orthodoxy editor Jake Meador at The Atlantic last week—a reason apart from the usual headline-making factors like church corruption, abuse, and theological differences?

Drawing on The Great Dechurching, a forthcoming book from pastors Jim Davis, Michael Graham, and Ryan P. Burge, Meador argues that “the defining problem driving out most people who leave is … just how American life works in the 21st century.”

Everyone is busy. Job hours are long and unpredictable. Finances are precarious. The kids have soccer. The baby’s not sleeping through the night. The grandparents need more help around the house. A friend is visiting. I’m tired.

“Contemporary America simply isn’t set up to promote mutuality, care, or common life,” Meador summarizes, so we’re “lonely, anxious, and uncertain of how to live in community with other people.” Forever in the red on time and energy, we don’t spare any of our resources for church.

If that’s true, a church’s first impulse might be to make membership easier, to demand less of overbusy congregants so they’ll still show up. But maybe “the problem isn’t that churches …

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