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Lifeway Research: Most Pastors Know of Deconstruction, Fewer See It in Their Pews

Photo by Haley Hamilton (via Unsplash)

For some pastors, the only construction projects they worry about are building renovations, but others say they’re facing churchgoers who are tearing down aspects of their faith.

A Lifeway Research study of U.S. Protestant pastors finds almost 3 in 4 (73%) are familiar with the concept of deconstruction, and more than a quarter (27%) of those say people in their churches have deconstructed their faith.

When asked how familiar they are with “the concept of an individual deconstructing their faith in which they systematically dissect and often reject Christian beliefs they grew up with,” 25% of pastors say they are very familiar, 21% say familiar and 27% say somewhat familiar. While 12% say they’re not that familiar with the concept, 14% say they haven’t heard the term before, and 1% aren’t sure.

“In recent years many Americans have stopped associating themselves with Christian churches,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “While surveys have shown that many who don’t attend or claim to belong to a church still maintain many Christian beliefs, for a noticeable minority, the journey away from the Christian church begins with a change in beliefs.”

Age and education are key indicators of how knowledgeable a pastor may be about the concept. Younger pastors, those 18-44, are the most likely to say they’re very familiar with deconstruction (36%), while pastors 65 and older are the least likely to possess that same level of familiarity (12%). Pastors with doctoral degrees are the education level most likely to be very familiar (43%), and those with no college degree are the least likely (8%). Pastors without a college degree are also the most likely to say they’ve never heard the term before (27%).

Additionally, African American pastors (24%) are more likely than white pastors (13%) to say they’ve never heard of deconstruction before. Female pastors are twice as likely as male pastors (22% vs. 11%) to say they’re completely unfamiliar with the concept. Pastors in the West (20%) are more likely than those in the Midwest (11%) to say they’re completely unaware of deconstruction.

Deconstruction Zone in the Pews

Among pastors who are familiar with the concept of deconstruction, around a quarter say they’ve recently seen the effects in their congregations. More than 1 in 4 (27%) U.S. Protestant pastors who have heard the term before say they’ve had attendees of their church who have methodically deconstructed their faith in the past two years. Close to 7 in 10 (68%) say that hasn’t been the case for them. Another 5% aren’t sure.

“The use of the term ‘deconstruction’ emerged in the last few years and has been used both by those questioning their own beliefs and those desiring to help them find the truth,” said McConnell. “Despite the growing awareness among pastors, it may be easier to find people in the midst of deconstructing their faith on social media than within churches.”