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10 Facts About the Millions of People Who Have Left the Church

10 Facts About the Millions of People Who Have Left the Church
Posted by Ian Harber

We are living through the largest religious shift in American history, but unlike the first and second great awakenings, this shift is away from the church. A new book, The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back?, by Jim Davis, Michael Graham, and Ryan P. Burge, contains the largest study ever done on dechurching in America and reveals that almost 40 million adults have stopped going to church in the last 25 years. Here are 10 facts the study shows that you should know:

1. Not everyone is leaving for the same reasons.

Davis, Graham, and Burge identify five profiles of people who have dechurched for different reasons:

    1. Cultural Christians
    2. Dechurched Mainstream Evangelicals
    3. Exvangelicals
    4. Dechurched BIPOC
    5. Dechurched Mainline Protestants and Catholics

In today’s social media climate, it’s easy to hear one particular narrative and think it is the reason that everyone is leaving the church. That’s simply not the case. People have left for various reasons, from moving and not getting involved in a local church to politics to not feeling like they belong. Understanding who left and why they left will help us identify ways to reach out and better minister to them.

2. Sixty-eight percent of people who have dechurched say that their parents had at least some influence in their decision to leave.

It’s clear from the data that there has been a missed generational handoff. Commonly cited reasons were their parents’ emphasis on the culture war; their lack of love, joy, gentleness, kindness, and generosity; and their inability to listen. The most difficult age range for faith is between 18 and 25, right when children are becoming adults, leaving the home, and gaining independence. It’s imperative that we examine our family structures and parenting styles when thinking about passing the faith on to the next generation.

3. Baby boomers are dechurching (35 percent) at about twice the rate of millennials (between 17 and 25 percent).

This might be surprising if you get all of your information from TikTok, but the data shows that more baby boomers are leaving church than millennials. This is partly due to the fact that there were more boomers who were churched that could dechurch. But this is also largely due to the other responsibilities of someone’s life—work, family, and other interests—starting to crowd church out of their schedule until they leave it behind entirely.

4. Twenty-two percent of Republicans, 23 percent of Independents, and 29 percent of Democrats who used to go to church have stopped.

This might be surprising to both sides of the political aisle for opposite reasons. Both conservatives and progressives most likely view the other side as the one leaving religion behind, but the truth is that both sides of the political aisle are dechurching at comparable rates. Democrats are leaving the church slightly more, by 7 percent, but Republicans are also dechurching at an astonishing rate. Dechurching is one of our nation’s rare bipartisan issues, with both the left and the right becoming increasingly secular.

5. The more educated someone is, the more likely they are to stay in the church.

In another narrative-buster, one of the best ways to stay in the church is to get educated. As it turns out, the more education someone has, the more trust they tend to have in institutions and the more they value participating in them. But this also means that Christianity has moved far from its roots of being a religion that appealed to the poor in society. Churches are incentivized to organize around middle- and upper-class nuclear families. There is a huge opportunity here to reach out and care for the poor.

6. Sixty-two percent of people who have dechurched still believe that Jesus is the only way to God.

The majority of people who have left the church still hold the orthodox belief that Jesus is the only way to God. That means that Christians aren’t losing their faith as much as the church is losing Christians. This is encouraging, as we don’t need to make a case for the divinity of Jesus as much as we need to make a case for being joined to Jesus’s body, the church.

7. Fifty-one percent of people who have dechurched are willing to go back to church.

Similar to the above stat, more than half of those who have dechurched are willing to go back to church. This is great news! Most people only need a simple invite from a friend in order to consider returning. Far from needing in-depth apologetics and huge outreach programs to win people back to church, we just need to notice who isn’t with us anymore and extend a friendly invitation to return.

8. Mental health issues are a major factor in the lives of dechurched people.

A sad reality that the study showed was the mental health struggles of those who have left the church. Thirty-nine percent reported anxiety, 34 percent reported depression, 35 percent reported loneliness, and 25 percent reported suicidal thoughts. Studies continue to show the health benefits of attending church in large part because of the community and sense of meaning that it brings to one’s life. We would do well to be sensitive to the struggles of people who have left the church and minister to them accordingly.

9. Twelve percent cited disagreements over politics with clergy or congregation as a significant reason for dechurching.

Political disagreement is certainly a large factor for people leaving, but not as large as you might think. Only 12 percent of people cited disagreements over politics as their reason for leaving, and those who did consider it a significant issue. This appears to be another instance of the vocal minority. It’s enough to pay attention to and consider, but maybe not as large as social media makes it out to be.

10. It’s projected that over 1 million youth at least nominally involved in their church today will choose to leave the church every year for the next 30 years.

The long-term ramifications of this dechurching are high. If the trend continues, we could see 30 million more youth who are in our churches today walk away over the next 30 years. It’s imperative for us to take the results of the study published in The Great Dechurching seriously and incorporate it into our ministries so we don’t miss another generational handoff.

Despite these findings, there is still much to be hopeful for. Christ will build his church. The harvest is plentiful. People are still hungry for God, restless in a culture that leaves them with more questions than answers, more expectations than grace, and more emptiness than meaning.

We have an opportunity to proclaim the gospel again and welcome people back into God’s family. The church will always stand as a community of love in an exhausted world. Maybe this season of pruning will lead to a harvest of revival in the heart of God’s people.

Want to hear more surprising stats from Jim Davis, one of the authors of The Great Dechurching? Check out our conversation with him on our podcast.


Posted by Ian Harber

Ian is a marketing manager at Endeavor and is a digital marketing practitioner with 10 years of experience. He has written about faith and technology, deconstruction and reconstruction for The Gospel Coalition and Mere Orthodoxy as well as appearing on podcasts such as Reconstructing Faith, The Alisa Childers Podcast, Love Thy Neighborhood, The Living Room Disciple, Everything Just Changed, and more. Additionally, Ian has contributed to the book, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church (TGC, 2021) and is the author of an upcoming a forthcoming book about deconstruction with InterVarsity Press (2024). Ian lives in Denton, Texas with his wife, Katie, and son, Ezra and is a member at The Village Church Denton.

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