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Ryan Burge: The Biggest Reason Why People Are Leaving Church

“The old model used to be the life cycle effect, which is the idea that people drift away in their 20s and they get married and have kids, and they come back to religion once they have kids…But now what you’re seeing is those things that used to draw people back to church are not drawing them back to church, and people are just leaving as they age.”

“One really surprising fact is that every birth cohort is less religious today than it was 15 years ago.”

“The biggest misconception that people have about religion is that it’s full of uneducated, lower income folks who go to religion…if you look at the data, it’s actually the exact opposite of what the perception is. The average churchgoer today, the person most likely to go to church today, has a four-year college degree, makes between $60,000 and $100,000 a year, and is married with children.”

“‘Nothing in particulars’ are the people you don’t see, right? They don’t have clubs, they don’t have banners, they don’t have Facebook groups…they’re the unseen people in American society. They’re hard to find. So it actually creates a really hard problem for church leaders.”

“You’ve got to find ways to get Nones on your property in non-confrontational, non-super-evangelical ways…You’ve got to show them that you’re normal people. You’re not weirdos. You’re not trying to make them change their life radically. Today, all you’re trying to do is lift their burdens a little bit and get them through this day in a way that makes sense to them.”

“A lot of churches have huge buildings, they have huge properties. They have fellowship halls and gymnasiums. Use those resources as much as you can to bring those people in.”

“What you’ve got to realize is people don’t want to feel like they’re left out or they’re socially outcast. No one wants to go to a barbecue and sit at a table by themselves. They want to go and hang out with their friends.”

“People need friends, they want social connection. And we cannot discount the fact that, while church is about Jesus and salvation, all those eternal things, it’s also about temporal things like making connections and making friends.”

“Evangelicalism is doing quite fine, thank you…mass-attending Catholics have declined precipitously…mainline churches are down big time, but the share of evangelicals who go to church every Sunday has actually gone up.”

“[Black Protestants] are declining but very slowly. They were 8% of America in the 1970s, and now they’re about 5% or 6% of America today. Interesting fact about African Americans, when they leave religion, they do not become atheists or agnostics.”

“Younger generations of African Americans are leaving religion at the same rate, by the way, as white Americans. So they’re not insulated from the larger trend towards the Nones.”

“It used to be back in the day in the 1970s that only one-third of people raised without religion had no religion as adults. So a one-third retention rate. Now it’s two-thirds retention rate.”