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Episode 119 | October 11, 2023

The Great Dechurching with Jim Davis

What can we learn from the largest religious shift in American history?

Did you know that we’re currently living through the single largest religious shift in American history? But unlike past movements, this is the first shift away from religion. Jim Davis and his coauthor, Michael Graham, explore this phenomenon in their recent book, “The Great Dechurching.” On today’s episode, Patrick sits down with Jim to learn more about the basis for this book: the most comprehensive, qualitative survey on dechurching that’s ever been done. You’ll hear Jim explain what it...

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Patrick Miller  00:00

Did you know that we are living through the single largest religious shift in American history? It wasn't the first Great Awakening, it wasn't the Second Great Awakening No, right now we are living through the Great de churching, over 40 million people have left the church over the last few decades. And what makes this change so remarkable is that every other major religious shift in America has been a shift from your religiosity to religiosity. In other words, people are going from not being involved in church to being involved in a church. But this is the very first time in our entire history where we've had a major religious shift out of the church, Jim Davis and Michael Graham are the co authors of a fantastic book, The Great D churching. They worked with leading sociologists of religion and politics to do the most comprehensive qualitative survey on D churching. That has ever been done. When I first heard about this research. About two years ago, I was absolutely mystified, I had no idea that this was happening. And that was one reason why I treat every trade partner to help finance some of the study. But don't let that lead you to the idea that we're just biased. The research that they've done, the book that they've read, the great D churching, is being discussed in just about every major media outlet from Christianity today to the Atlantic, this data is breaking new ground, it's starting a fresh conversation. And so I'm thrilled to have my friend Jim Davis with me. Let's hop in. Jim Davis, it is fantastic to have you on the show with us today.

Jim Davis  02:32

Well, it's great to be here. Great to see you again, friend.

Patrick Miller  02:35

I've been looking forward to this interview. Because thankfully, thanks to you and your co author had access to some of this data well in advance of you publishing. And the minute I saw it, my jaw dropped, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. And I knew that this was going to be an important conversation for the church to have. But I want to start with you and your personal story. You're a pastor, what led you to become interested in D churches? And what made you think, hey, we need to do a study of this because plenty of parish say, Hey, I see a problem. I'll just write a book, you guys decided to do the research? Yeah.

Jim Davis  03:03

So I mean, what really led us to this is that we pastor in Orlando, and we saw Barna study, because it came from 2017, that was talking about how the Orlando metropolitan area has 6% of angelical in it, which is the same percentage as New York City and Seattle. And we were just kind of perplexed at how different Orlando feels versus New York City and Seattle. And we started to just realize, well, most of the people that we talk to you that don't go to church used to go to church. And that's an entirely different context. So we knew early on for our podcast, as in Heaven, we wanted to do a season on D churching. But there was just no data. I mean, it wasn't there. It would essentially be two pastors putting their fingers in the air and anecdotally trying to figure things out, and that's not what we wanted. And actually in that season, my wife was going to RTS Orlando, and she had apologetics with Justin Holcomb. And she wanted to do a research paper on detaching, and he said, that's great. But there's no research. There's nothing to do it on. And then so I think it was actually Skylar flowers that connected us to Ryan Berge, who's a social scientist, and he is the man when it comes to data and the church. And he was explaining, you know, people don't do this research and don't write books on this stuff, because you don't make any money. It's so expensive to do this stuff. And anyway, so I'm not going to go the research yet. But that's how it was birthed. This is our context. We want to learn about it. And some generous Christians made that possible. And we use the skill and experience of rainberge. And it was a really fun journey. And we learned a lot. You

Patrick Miller  04:34

certainly. So let's start with the big findings. What did you learn about the church and just large scale in the United States?

Jim Davis  04:41

So we anecdotally kind of thought that we might be in the middle of the largest and fastest religious shift in the history of our country. I mean, it just seems like everything's changing so fast as so many people are leaving church and if what was going on in Orlando wasn't just an Orlando phenomenon, and we knew it wasn't that there's a conversation that needs to happen. That's not happening. So in phase one of the study, we wanted to prove or disprove that thesis, and we proved it, we are in largest and fastest religious shift, the previous largest shift was the 25 years after the Civil War. And our shift now by percentage is 25%. Greater than that going the other direction. And in terms of numbers, I mean, it's way larger because our country is larger and more people left the church then came into the faith through the first and second grade awakenings and Billy Graham crusades combined. So 40 million adult Americans used to go to church at least monthly. That's how we're defining the church, they used to go at least monthly now go less than one time per year. And the majority of that shift has happened in the past 25 years to

Patrick Miller  05:44

find deep searching for us for just a moment, because actually, you hit on this earlier, when we think about faith, the United States, we tend to think about our people coming into the faith or people being converted, we don't tend to ask the other question, which is, at what rate are people leaving the church.

Jim Davis  05:58

And that's why we chose the name of the great D churching. Because we learned a lot of them are still Christians. But we defined the church as someone who used to go at least on a monthly basis, consistently on a monthly basis, but now goes less than one time per year. So if you go Christmas and Easter, you don't count two times a year, you're still considered a church person. So this is less than once per year.

Patrick Miller  06:20

I think that's helpful to know, right? It's not I went from going once a month to, you know, once every other month. I mean, we have a very low bar here for what it means to be the church. But he said in the first round of the study, you just figured out this thing had happened. People have been detaching, it's the largest, fastest, most rapid religious shift in American history. What did you learn in phase two of the study?

Jim Davis  06:39

So phase one is how big is the problem? Phase two was really where are they going? And why are they leaving. And then phase three was diving into what exactly is happening in evangelicalism,

Patrick Miller  06:51

I think we're going to jump into some of the data from Phase Two here. But you outlined incredibly well, in your book, you tell stories, it's very engaging. So let's hop in because again, this book is starting in enormous conversation, and it's being discussed in secular outlets and in Christian outlets. And in the book, you describe the five most common kinds of D churching people. And so I want to just have you describe each of these groups, one by one, I'll ask some questions. But before we do that, Kim, just tell us how you discover these five groups. Where do they come from? Did you guys just make some guesses? Yeah,

Jim Davis  07:21

that's a really good question. Because Mike and I didn't just put a bunch of paper on the desk and try to figure out things ourselves, we use what's called machine learning. It's an algorithm that takes common answers and puts these profiles together. So it said, Here are these profiles, then we had to go and understand the profiles and understand what are we looking at here. And so that was a lot of work with the help of Ryan Berge, of course, Mike Graham is a analytical genius, as you know. And so together, we looked at these profiles and began to understand them.

Patrick Miller  07:50

I think that's important, because we look at these five different profiles, which will be cultural Christians, de churched, mainstream cultural evangelicals, XV. angelical, is D church bipoc. I don't have to keep going. As we look through them, I think someone could come to the conclusion that you were just guessing, like we've done the research. So we can go out and find how are bipoc people responding to this and then create a profile around them. And the reality is, it's actually the inverse, the AI went through using machine learning and said, Hey, these are the five most common profiles. And so these are the ones that you really need to pay attention to. So this is not some sort of ad hoc, take the data and see what we want to build out of it. This is the best data and it's using, again, AI to give us these profiles. So let's look through each one individually. I want to start with cultural Christians. Can you just tell us who cultural Christians are, you know, maybe common racial, geographic, age, gender, all those demographic things? But tell us who are they? Yeah, so

Jim Davis  08:42

the cultural Christians, this is we're talking about 8 million people, 8 million Americans who detracts from an Evan Jellicle. Church, they're largely white. They don't have any pain points with the church, they have positive feelings toward the church, they might show up on Christmas every other year, they might get married in a church. But this group, only 1% of them believe that Jesus is the Son of God. So what it feels like is Jesus's parable of the weeds and the wheat. He says, Don't be surprised there will be those who look like they're in the kingdom, but they are not. It feels like that's this group. They really weren't Christians to begin with. So it shouldn't surprise us when they leave, and they left for more casual pedestrian reasons.

Patrick Miller  09:21

What do you mean when you say casual?

Jim Davis  09:22

If you listen to social media pundits and the New York Times you might think that all D church people leave the church because the church did them wrong. They deconstructed they want nothing to do with the faith anymore. But that's just not what we're looking at. It's not monolithic. And so, we realized, actually, only about 10 million of the 40 million are what we call D church casualties. They do have a pain point. Something did happen. They intentionally left the church and while we don't want to minimize that, that's 10 million people. 30 million people left more unintentionally. That's why we call them to casually de churched I gotta give Skyler flowers credit for that term, but it's just really helpful to undo stand this is not monolithic, and three quarters of the D church left casually.

Patrick Miller  10:04

So let's go back with the cultural Christians who said have casually D church? Why did they d church specifically? I mean, what do you mean when you say hey, they're casual D churches and this is what it looks like.

Jim Davis  10:14

So the number one reason for D church in America, are you ready for this? I moved. That was the number one reason interesting. life transitions were a big reason. I mean, I

Patrick Miller  10:25

thought you were gonna say kids sports. That's where my head was going.

Jim Davis  10:28

I do think kids sports is a major factor both in this group and the Dietrich's mainstream evangelicalism, which we'll get to, but these kinds of reasons life got busy. I had other priorities for my time and money. Nobody's upset with the church, but it's like I decided to prioritize these other things is

Patrick Miller  10:44

that almost sounds like we were saying is they didn't make a conscious choice. Like I don't wake up one day and say, Hey, I'm going to stop going to church. Now. I think I'm done with church, they just kind of fell out of it, they casually stopped attending, and is that why you call them cultural Christians, because the Christianity isn't really expressed in Hey, I have orthodox beliefs, or I have practices in my life that we would expect a Christian to have. It's just, oh, I'm an American. And I guess I'm a Christian. And like, most other people around here are,

Jim Davis  11:08

they grew up going to church, the culture is what pushed them to go to church. And it doesn't seem like the gospel ever really took hold. And so COVID would be another reason they got out of the habit for some reason. And it kind of makes sense. If you don't really believe the gospel, if the Holy Spirit is not inside you, then it's not going to take that much, especially as the culture changes, and doesn't push you toward church attendance, the way that it used to that you wouldn't go,

Patrick Miller  11:35

I can certainly as a pastor, think about people who have left the church in this way, again, not a conscious choice. I'd still say if I catch correct, these people would still say I'm a Christian. It's not as though they would say, Oh, I don't believe in Jesus anymore. Is this happening in specific geographical regions? I can imagine maybe on the east coast or the west coast, you have fewer people who grew up going to church. And so it's probably hard to find people who would see themselves as being cultural Christians. Is this in a particular place? While it is happening

Jim Davis  11:59

in every geographic area? There's no geographic area, political spectrum, denomination age group, no one's immune from the churching right now. But yes, where there are more Christians, there's more opportunity to the church. So large southern cities, you're gonna see it more than say, New Hampshire,

Patrick Miller  12:17

I want to move on to some of the other profiles. And one of the things you said struck me, which is that only a quarter of D church Christians are D church and casualties they left because they were hurt or angry or frustrated. Three quarters are casually determining I got too busy just an event in my life. It's not a big deal. That's not the narrative that I'm used to hearing in media, in fact, what I hear in Christian media, to secular media, but I mean, across the board, I hear the story of one out of four people, not three out of four people when it comes to the conversation of why people are leaving churches. Am I wrong? No.

Jim Davis  12:47

I mean, that's what we've been seeing. And I think the secular left and secular right, have different narratives. You know, the secular left wants to blame white evangelicalism for this a secular right wants to blame the culture for this. And while probably both have some merit, it's not as monolithic as the extremes would want us to believe. Part of me

Patrick Miller  13:07

wonders. If I leave the church because I'm hurt. The odds that I will maybe leave loudly broadcast my pain out into public are much higher than if I will have casualties. I mean, after all, if I look casually, I still see myself as a Christian, why do I really have to say to apartment owners, just hey, who's gonna speak up? And who's gonna say something? Well, you're probably more likely to do it if you're a church casualty, but also wonder to what degree it just immediate incentive. I mean, which story is more interesting, a story of someone who's been hurt by the church or a story of someone who said, Gosh, soccer games are on Sundays, and I just don't have time for it anymore.

Jim Davis  13:38

Right? People want to read about, you know, Josh Harris or others like that more than they want to read about the soccer mom with three kids and seven sports leagues. Are these people willing to come back to church? So 51% of the teachers, Evan Jellicle, which is about 15 million people, they would say they're willing to come back today, this group would be the second most willing, but it's kind of doubtful unless the Holy Spirit does something. They're saying they're willing, because they have positive feelings. They had a good experience, but it's going to take us sharing the gospel with them. And hearing that in them. See my dog under my desk. She's asleep and barking She's asleep.

Patrick Miller  14:19

Hey, we have to leave that in the podcast. I'm sorry, Jim. I get dog bark. It makes everybody laugh.

Jim Davis  14:25

So where were we? Oh,

Patrick Miller  14:28

we were talking about people's willingness to come back to church. It sounds like what I'm here to say is, hey, if they're not unwilling, but there's no motivation, like why I mean, what would be the purpose of this?

Jim Davis  14:36

It's not something that they feel as strongly as, say the D church, mainstream evangelicalism,

Patrick Miller  14:41

how do we help activate cultural Christians in particular, and I think about apathy unfortunately, what often comes to my mind is, well, you probably have to face a life crisis that wakes you up, because there's not much other people can do to shake you awake. It really

Jim Davis  14:54

reminds me of I lived in Oxford, Mississippi for six years in Starkville, Mississippi for four years and I saw a lot of that there. And we sit in Orlando too. But it does it takes life confronting them with some of the general things that even though they wouldn't say that Jesus is the Son of God, if they were pressed, they pray to Jesus or a Christian God. But in our ministry to them, we have to look at them as non Christians, and help confront them with the contradiction and certain things that they say alongside of other things that they believe in. Do

Patrick Miller  15:25

you say someone doesn't believe that Jesus is the Son of God? I have no qualms about saying, well, you're probably not a Christian by any historic orthodox definition, right. And

Jim Davis  15:35

we use basic Nicene Creed, we have orthodoxy scores for all these groups. And we use basic Nicene Creed orthodoxy, to assess that. But when you ask them what it will take to bring them back, they'll say things like if my friends go, if there's a good pastor, if God tells me to in some significant way, those are the reasons that they give. So

Patrick Miller  15:55

we need to start broadcasting the voice of God into people's heads and

Jim Davis  15:58

may pray that their Bibles float in front of them. So

Patrick Miller  16:02

we have this one group of people that casually D church, their cultural Christians are not Orthodox Christians, they grew up going to church, probably they're not antagonistic towards the church. They have positive views of the church in general. But they're apathetic about Jesus. They're not Orthodox Christians, and yet still open if someone invites them, or if God speaks to them to reconsidering. Let's move on to your next profile, which is the de churched. Mainstream cultural evangelicals. That's your biggest mouthful. So you might have to explain what that yes, was

Jim Davis  16:32

a D church, mainstream evangelicals. Cultural Sorry, there. Yeah, D church, mainstream evangelicals. So this group is going to look a lot like the cultural Christians in that are largely white, they casually D churched. But the big difference here is that 98% of them believe that Jesus is the Son of God, their overall orthodoxy scores are higher than the average person who still goes to church, by all accounts, this group, they are Christians, they want

Patrick Miller  17:00

to lean in there, you're saying this group has a higher orthodoxy score, they pass the Nicene creed has any higher rates than most people who are attending church.

Jim Davis  17:09

Correct. They are off the charts, Orthodox, they understand the faith, it really seems like they are Christians, and they're again, 100% willing to come back today. Which is fascinating, too. This is where y'all dug in. I mean, you identified the mainstream teacher of angelical. Christian willing to come back not going for some casual reasons, and you had a pretty profound experience.

Patrick Miller  17:34

Yeah, I mean, we developed a lot of strategies to reach these people online in particular, partially, because the research you gave us showed us, these people are incredibly open to coming back to church, they don't even need much of a push, they need a nudge in the right direction. And we figured out if we can target them online, they would show up in the church, and it's led to, you know, well over 1000 people coming and being a part of our church who I think would fall into this category, or maybe the cultural Christian category. But we would have never done that had we not had the information that you were sharing. I am curious with this particular group, though, it's hard for me to imagine how someone who's orthodox casually leaves the church, maybe I have orthodoxy to tied up with and you've got an orthodox view of the church. And you know, Christianity isn't a solo project. It's a team project is a group project that helped me understand that how do these two things go together?

Jim Davis  18:22

So I mean, according to them, 22% left, because they moved to a new community. 16% said that attending was inconvenient. 15% COVID got me out of the habit, and then 15% Some sort of life change, divorce, remarriage, or something like that. So they're disrupted, and life gets busy, and they're not going to and honestly, this is gonna sound terrible come from Pastor, but I get it, like, my kids are now 1513 12 and eight. And they're getting involved in sports. And you know, even though nobody would my DNA has any hopes of going D one or Pro. It's what the kids are doing. He knows what their friends are doing. And I get the temptation, we fight that temptation, but I get it. And that's how these people have de churched.

Patrick Miller  19:05

What else are you saying is, hey, here's someone who has pretty orthodox beliefs. Obviously, their faith is so central to their life, that they can conceptualize a life without church because they're living one and they have conceptualized it. But they've almost gotten caught into the cultural stream, like the volume on that a little louder. And the cultural stream is, you need to be busy, you need to have your kids involved. When you move, you got all of these priorities, and church just isn't going to be high on that list. And so it's constantly being put off. I'll deal with that later. I'll think about it later. Is that the feel of this group? Yeah,

Jim Davis  19:34

I mean, I've got a good friend who is in this category, and he is a Christian, and he's like, Jim, I'm a believer, my family, we're believers. But we are so busy with our three boys. That Sunday mornings, the only morning we can sleep in and we want to rest and we know we need to come back we will come back but they are not going. And a lot of these people. These are the ones that just takes a nudge to come back here. And for many I've been doing this amount Personal ministry, I've gotten to where in about four or five questions I can nail where you are if you're de churched. And if somebody falls in this category, I think I'm batting 1000 on inviting them to church and they come in how many million people is this? This is 2.5 million people. And like you said, the cultural Christians, even with a nudge will come back, even though they're probably not believers, they're willing to come?

Patrick Miller  20:20

Well, it seems like with the cultural Christians, if I gathered correctly, they're almost going to need a relationship to bring them back into the church. What I'm hearing with the mainstream evangelicals is, of course, a relationship, but help them get back. But they have enough of a Christian value set that it might just take a slightly confrontational conversation from, say, Yeah, this is something that I need. And that is a pretty significant difference. When you think about the two, I was

Jim Davis  20:43

talking with a sweet Christian woman, couple years ago, and she asked if our church would ever do a Saturday night service. And for me, in my mind, I'm thinking I'm not against Saturday night services. But with four kids in my home, I think I would be disqualified from leading that because I'd never be with my kids. But I asked her, you know, what makes you want Saturday night service. And she said, Well, I've got three kids and seven sports leagues, and Sunday mornings, just not an option ever. But once a month, we can make a Saturday evening service. And so we had a conversation about priorities. And the statistical reality is that the children of the teachers will likely be unchurched. And if they're not going, regularly worshiping while they're in their homes, while they're in our homes, we shouldn't be surprised when they leave the home and don't start going. And so there are some harder loving in the context of you know, friendship kind of conversations need to happen. But you know, when we asked the mainstream evangelicalism why they might return 38% said new friends 35% said that, you know, God tells me in some significant way, which it's funny with the cultural Christians and the mainstream evangelicalism, I interpret that differently, okay, this is conjecture, we have the data, we know the percentage, but my conjecture is that the culture Christian like God would have to like have a road to Damascus kind of experience for them to come back. What I hear the mainstream evangelicalism saying is that it's conviction would grow, I think it speaks more to their orthodoxy and to their what looks to be genuine faith, that like 35% of them would say, if God called me back, I'd come and I hear more of a genuine as my conviction grows. So 34% said, they come back, if they find a church, they like, maybe they're too busy to really be looking, but if they connected well, and then 33% said, If they miss church,

Patrick Miller  22:25

like you said, as a given, like in the context of a normal friendship relationship, people in this category really can be moved by, you know, I said, a confrontational just a challenging conversation says, Hey, I love you. And I think this is what's best for you. And I think, you know, this is what's best for you. And it's what you really want deep down, that can actually have a huge impact, especially when it comes with why don't you come to church with me? I mean, that feels like one of the keys that we see in both groups is that invitation, come sit with me, come worship with me. Let's do lunch afterwards. I mean, it's easy to sit here and point fingers and say, Why are these people do churching? And then, you know, if you're on the church casualty sites, I will tell the church as far as their use of their this, they're out there this it's like, no, it is our fault. But it's our fault in this sense, if we don't have an evangelistic mindset towards people who identify as Christians, but aren't a part of the church. And if we don't own this element to say, hey, I need to invite my friends to come sit with me and be with me. We can't move the dial on this. But I mean, what good news? I mean, can you think of a more easy context, we go talk to a missionary and friends, they gotta wait 20 years of building relationships, to have a conversation about the gospel. And all you have to do is invite your neighbor and say, Hey, come sit down, it

Jim Davis  23:26

is a huge opportunity is a huge opportunity in front of us. And again, it's not just about putting butts in pews and money in the coffers. This is a generational impact kind of thing. You're not just impacting that person, but their kids, their grandkids, and if we don't is going to affect our churches and our country, I just think there's a huge opportunity in front of us.

Patrick Miller  23:47

Why it matters, we just said is your wife inside of community not only shapes your life, I mean, we have a whole episode about how being in warm relationships literally makes you live longer, but it's what makes life happy. And no shocker. That's how God designed us. And then he even made a community for us to be the church like that there's an intergenerational impact that happens on your kids. And moving beyond that there's an orthodox element here, there is no such thing as much as we'd like to talk about, you know, accepting Jesus into my individual heart. The idea of a one to one relationship between me and God that happens outside of community is not a biblical idea. That's not how it works. And so if we love people, we should, you know, challenge them to experience God where He says he can be experienced. There's, of course, inside the church. Let's talk about x angelical. This is a term that has been discussed an incredible amount over the last few years. And to be honest, some of what you guys revealed was a bit of a myth breaker. For me, it was not what I expected. So the extra angelical

Jim Davis  24:41

is we went back and forth on this term because it's so widely used and define different ways, but it's so perfectly fit what the data was showing, as a group of about 2.5 million people and this group, their D church casualties, they left the church with a very specific pain point. But what is fascinating is that like the It, mainstream de churched evangelicals, they are very orthodox that orthodoxy scores were high. 97% of them said that Jesus is the Son of God. They believe that while the orthodoxy scores aren't as high as the other one, they're still pretty high. So it really appears that while a lot of these people are leaving the church, they're not all leaving the faith. And this group, while they are done with evangelicalism as they have experienced it, they are more willing to go back to something that looks different than evangelicalism. So in our local context, so the Episcopal Church here in Orlando is conservative, they still embrace the gospel, they might do other things differently than us. But they believe the gospel, they believe the Bible, but they're a mainline church, you know, they're still a mainline church is going to bring some differences between what they are going to experience here, and a mainline church and more high church liturgy. I've seen people in my own personal ministry, who would never come back to a church like ours, but they are willing, and they are returning to a church like that, you know, there's some return to some house church movement kind of things, they would be willing to do that. I'm not saying the house church movement is the way forward but there's a willingness in a context like that, where there's just not in your average, Evan Jellicle. Church,

Patrick Miller  26:13

I appreciate you saying that, because it highlights the fact that the church's like capital C, Church's response to D churches in the United States has to be a ecumenical group project, because there's plenty of people who will not come back, like you said to a church like yours, or a church like mine, but they might go to the local Anglican church, they might get involved, like you said, in a house church movement or something else, and there's hope there as long as those are, you know, still Orthodox churches for their future. But tell us more about extra angelical, as you said that their church casualties Do you have a picture of hey, these are the kinds of things that are often the pain points for people leaving the church because just to be candid, I feel a lot more empathy for this group than I do the previous two groups. I want to reach the previous two groups, but when people are hurt by the church, I have a lot more patience and empathy than you know, soccer games on Sunday morning. Yeah,

Jim Davis  26:59

so 23% said, I just didn't fit within my congregation. 21% moved. 18% attending was inconvenient. 18% said that they didn't experience much love from their congregation. 15% I disagreed with the politics of the congregation. They personally had negative experiences in an Evan Jellicle church that's 15% 14% said they no longer believed what the congregation believed. But that didn't necessarily mean the basis of the faith that I think overlaps with the politics of the congregation. And then 13% Straight up said, I disagreed with politics of the clergy. So you see these off ramps that are, you know, whether it's hypocrisy abuse in the broader church abuse in your specific church, political syncretism, these kinds of things that have just really affected these people to the point they're intentionally leaving evangelicalism. Well,

Patrick Miller  27:51

that feels like another major difference. The other two groups did this casually. And this is very much a choice. I've done with evangelicalism, I'm out. And even as you you know, read that it sounds like that's a pretty wide array of pain points. I mean, some of those sound a little bit ambiguous, like I didn't feel loved or I didn't fit in, you know, what does that mean?

Jim Davis  28:08

The hard part in a study like this, is that we already have 600 data points. And we can only drill in so much before we're going to lose the ability to pull people. But there are a ton of studies here that still need to be done, we get asked questions often in our answer is, man, that's a great thing to look into. It was beyond the scope of what we set out to do and were able to do, but our hope is to start a national conversation. We have no illusion that we've buy the book and we fix the process. But we do believe that engaging with this book is going to help church leaders be able to engage in a conversation and bring their experience and their talent to it in a way that Mike and Ryan and I could.

Patrick Miller  28:53

Let's do the extra angelical mythbuster. When I think about an extra angelical I tend to think about someone who's probably a millennial, maybe a little bit highly online, you know, they're reading decolonizing, your faith, the deconstructing your faith deconstruction type people, probably maybe similar mix of men and women, maybe a little bit more women, probably kind of even split of like ethnicity, so not all white. So kind of this young, multi ethnic, millennial Lee, they've kind of bought into the cultural Kool Aid. That's what I imagined. That's actually angelical in my head. Now give me the real picture.

Jim Davis  29:30

The average age of an extra angelical is 53. Overwhelmingly females like 65%, female 35% Male, but their average age when they do church was 34. So they did churched largely earlier as a whole group. Of course, many people are still determining this category, but as a whole, this was happening in the early 2000s. This extra angelical group is growing. It's 82% White, which is actually a lot less than the other two groups were like 98% White, 13% black, it said Interesting in a lot of areas, but this group would have below average income below average education. So this is one of those groups that by and large, we've learned D churching is largely a lower education, lower income phenomenon. It's a group for whom American institutions tend to not work great anyway, American institutions tend to work well, if you're on the American path, you know, you go to college, then you get married, then you have a baby, and you stay married. If you stay on that path, American institutions work better for you than if you don't. And it's no surprise that the church in America has, in many ways come to resemble American institutions, rather than the early church that works best for those that got off the path. But

Patrick Miller  30:46

it highlights the point of how we respond well, you know, do we have space in our small groups, ministries, whatever is happening for those who have gone through divorces for those you know, who had a child before they got married? For those who are working in blue collar jobs, or maybe lack a college education? like can they actually fit in there, they walk into the building where they see anyone like them, or they feel like people want to be around them. And unfortunately, I think a lot of churches that may not be as much the case as we would hope.

Jim Davis  31:14

Well, you know, it's really interesting, actually a Sunday, this Sunday, we had a woman come in, she looked to be maybe a little bit younger than me. She had three kids, she didn't bring the kids the first time she's visited. She's divorced, and had a number of tattoos on her white woman. And she came in with a Mrs. We're talking September in Orlando here and she had a big cover on her so that no one could see her tattoos, she was very nervous to come back. And she had had a bad experience. And Sunday was her very first time back. And so I see her and I'm seeing this extra angelical category. And I'm just thrilled that she's here. But the average x of angelical is going to be independent to center left not far left, and they're going to be more allergic to racial issues to political syncretism, they're going to sniff that out a lot faster than the other two groups. Reading the

Patrick Miller  32:08

book, in many ways broke a lot of false narratives that I had in my head, for example, how many people were church casualties versus casualty churching, for example, how willing people are to come back. And then of course, you have exams like the excellent Joe Cole, where people are less willing to come back. But the demographics of this group, again, weren't quite what I expected. And it's a warning to not let the not just the internet, but media in general, to shape your narrative of reality. Because if you were calibrating your church ministries to I'm not trying to knock on Christianity today, but you bit Christianity today, or the New York Times, to what they were saying previous to this book, you would have miscalibrated, you would have missed the measure missed the mark of what people actually needed. And it's what I love about this book is they say, Hey, here's what the information is. And we can love and care for these people and say, you know, so what, to the narrative that sells, because these are people and we want to love them, I want to move on to our next group, we were just talking about a group of people that you said are again, typically lower middle class, less educated, and I'm pretty sure our next group is going to be our most well educated, and most thoroughly middle class group in the entire study. And this is the d church bipoc. And so for people who don't know bipoc stands for black, indigenous and people of color. So this is an entirely non white group. So tell us about the bipoc group.

Jim Davis  33:22

Well, what's most fascinating to me is that we did not let the algorithm see race as a factor or read it from the algorithm. So race was not something it was able to use to group people, even so it produced this group that was 0%, white, it was 76%, black, 13%, Latino. And this group, like the cultural Christians had a very low orthodoxy score, in terms of believing that Jesus is the Son of God was about 13%, that would say Jesus is the Son of God, like 29% believe the Bible is the literal word of God. One of the things we learned this part is not shocking, but the season of life, it's hardest to maintain your faith is between 13 and 30. So it's basically three stages, their high school, for a lot of people College, and then young, professional years, this group was more effective in that age range than the other groups. And again, we're getting into speculation, but I think about a minority person growing up in a majority white evangelical context. And it makes sense to me that it would be harder for them at this stage of life, and particularly if it doesn't seem like they have the Holy Spirit inside of them.

Patrick Miller  34:35

Can I pause you there? Because I want to make sure I got that right. So this group of D church bipoc Most of them D church from majority white evangelical churches,

Jim Davis  34:46

well, they d church they identified as Evan Jellicle. And we had other options like the historical lecture. So just by doing the numbers that would put most of them in a majority white space, although you know, I say that And there are some Pentecostals that would have been more of a Latino space. But this group, what we do know is that that age range was harder for them. And because of that, this group de churched, bout 20 years ago, largely. And again, like you said, they're the most well educated highest income earners were solidly over the $200,000 a year bracket. And so imagine a black man in Atlanta, who graduated college started a business did very well, and really just hasn't gone back since the business got going. This is what I

Patrick Miller  35:33

love about the book is it does all kinds of myth busting, and what we assumed to be the case and one theme that I'm seeing coming through, just as we're talking is the theme of exclusion and embrace. When a church either intentionally or unintentionally makes people feel as though they're out of place, when you have been talked about lots of people sharing, they fell out of place, eventually the lead whether that's because of my socio economic level, you know, I don't have clothes that are as nice as these people's clothes, I don't drive cars as nice these people, I've got things happening in my life that that family over there that you know, you guys have been married for 10 years, you don't seem to have any problems can't identify with because I've been in two marriages. And I've got three kids from three different dads and like, that's a really hard challenge. I feel like I can fit in here. And what I'm also hearing you say is that there's an immense challenge for people of color who were in possibly majority white spaces, and makes perfect sense to me. Yeah, it might feel really hard to feel like you fit in there. It's a theme I'm seeing coming through in almost every single one of these is, do we have churches that make people who could feel different in that context, whether it's economics, or race, or whatever it is, are we intentional about helping them feel welcomed and cared for because the end result is determining that's fascinating to me? Well,

Jim Davis  36:39

and I think what has changed in my mind, we can see these at risk categories. So if you're moving, if you're between the ages of 13 and 30. If you are in one of these life changes, you become a single parent for whatever reason, like now we have this radar going off, you're more at risk for D churching. What can we do? You

Patrick Miller  36:59

know, you're making me think about now this, unfortunately, wouldn't cover lower income earners who can't buy houses. But wonder if there's some Christians listening to this, who are realtors, or maybe you own an apartment complex, or some sort of housing units, duplexes, whatever it is, if you are listening to this, I would just challenge you to make part of your welcome package to the person who moves into an apartment or house or that buys the house that you're working with your realtor to leave a welcome package that invites them to come to your church. The best invite would be come with me. But you know, the second letter saying, Hey, we've got a place for people like you here. And this would our church does for people like you mean, that can be a huge step. If we know that moving is such a significant thing. I mean, this is if I was in the housing business, my radar be going off right now.

Jim Davis  37:41

And school administrators and teachers alike. They're the first point of contact for so many new people, and we're talking about people arriving. But even when people leave, you know, so many churches, don't follow up with them and pray for them. So we have some very important resources on the arrival front. But I would say the sending is so important. Because when someone's pastor said, I've found a church that I think you should, you know, these three churches you should try and sometimes that pastor will contact me and to be on the lookout for this person or make it text introduction. I mean, those kinds of things just make such a huge difference. And sadly, I think a lot of pastors and church leaders just feel like well, they're not with us anymore. So I don't care

Patrick Miller  38:22

with the discharging bipoc group are they willing to come back to church in would they find that the casualties are casually leaving the

Jim Davis  38:29

you would see both. So when we talk about why they left, you see both casual and casual t you see them doubting God's existence, you see them saying the congregation didn't do enough good in the community, there was a scandal, but then you also see I had other priorities from out of time and money, I moved some sort of life transition. So this one's more mixed in are they willing to come back to church, they are willing the reasons that they said they would be willing 33% said new friends so there's that theme or if they moved in wanted to make new friends 27% If they're lonely and want to make new friends 27% if their child wants to go 22% If a friend invites me 21% If their spouse wants to go 18% a good community 20% So you see that theme here. And then 18% said if I feel the distance from God, so this one even though there's a belief issue belonging so you have this sociological categories of belief belong and behave. And even though there is a belief issue with this group, the belonging is felt. And so there's an opportunity here with this group, I wouldn't just say hey, invite them to church, I'd invite them into my home first, get to know them and then talk about our community group or church or plugging the kids in somewhere, whatever.

Patrick Miller  39:46

This has obviously been a theme that community matters, friendships matter. This is the means by which God has already given us to bring people to be a part of our community. We need to tap into those means we need to be life giving communities where people feel welcome and invited But it's interesting that it also makes you think about the narrative aspect, which is, if your narrative about D churching, or people leaving the church is that the main reason people do this is because they're hurt and they're angry? Well, when someone tells you, I haven't been to church in a long time, you are going to default in that narrative. They go, Hey, you're probably hurt, I need to be careful. I need to be slow. And it sounds like from what you're saying, Actually, we might not need to be nearly as careful or slow as we in fact, moving fast and say, Hey, like, Let's build a relationship and come be a part of my life and come be a part of my church. It sounds like most people are very, very open to it. And if you were cautious or slow or worried that you might miss out on the opportunity to embrace these people who are open to coming back.

Jim Davis  40:42

I would say be intentional intentionality is the thing for some people is going to be slower, based on their experience for some people is gonna be faster. But I think we should always be intentional.

Patrick Miller  40:52

Let's hit our last group in the study. And this is the de churched mainline Protestants and Catholics. So just for our listeners, I think most people know what Catholic means. But could you explain what mainline Protestant is the

Jim Davis  41:03

Big Five, your mainline denominations was PCUSA, the Episcopal Church, I'm going to botch the other ones, United Methodist Church, there are two more but those historic churches from the early years who've largely crept left, you know, more progressive in their theology, there may have also been that politically, but when I use the word, progressive, I'm talking theology. And so really the main line, when we talk about mainline D churches and Roman Catholics, they're almost identical. And together, they make up about 20 million people. So that's a lot, but they're almost identical. They're going to be more on the secular left politically, they really began the D churching. In the 90s. And a lot of reasons why the 90s was an inflection point. But they did churched first, and they have average incomes, average education, a lot of their statistics look the same. The only difference is that unsurprisingly, Roman Catholics were more affected by scandal. Although when you look at their orthodoxy scores, which are low, our hunch is that that was the excuse they needed to leave. And it wasn't actually the reason that they left. That's not gonna be true for everybody. But I think that's true for a number of people.

Patrick Miller  42:15

And how many people fit into this profile? The

Jim Davis  42:17

main line and Roman Catholic together is 20 million people. There's a lot of people, a lot of you it's half of the 40.

Patrick Miller  42:24

This is this is significant size group. And when it comes to return to church, how are they doing? Are they willing to come back? So

Jim Davis  42:30

because phase three really Dovid evangelicalism and we have more data on evangelicalism, so for these groups we have why they left, but we don't have why they would come back. And that's one other study that would be great for someone to do. It was just beyond the scope of this one.

Patrick Miller  42:47

You're obviously pastor, you care about the church. And I think we should all love Jesus's bride. This information is tremendously helpful for anyone who cares about the church. I'm curious, it's kind of a final note, if you had to tell church leaders, hey, here's the one or two things you could do that would make a massive difference in reaching the church people in your community? What would those be?

Jim Davis  43:09

I would back up and say, you know, there's a front door and a back door, I would examine the back door first.

Patrick Miller  43:15

What do you mean when you say that?

Jim Davis  43:16

So why are people leaving your church that needs to be addressed first, if everybody's rushing out the back door, then yes, we can bring people in the front door to keep the seats full, but the problem hasn't been addressed. It's like a leak and a shift. You can pump the water out, but there's still a problem. And so I think the truth is our friend, I think churches need to take a long look in the mirror and understand and some of the reasons people left our church and we've agreed to disagree. We're not trying to be all things to all people. But there's some ways that we had to take a look in the mirror ourselves. Before we would effectively I think be a good home for the church. Then there's there's the dog again. And once we've done that, I think it really embracing what we're calling medium walls. And so in my context, we will call that church membership. Other churches call it different things but you have churches that have no walls where you go in and it's total anonymity. There's little discipleship, high entertainment, you know, low ceilings on what is going to be taught because we don't want to offend anybody or send them away. And the back doors to this churches are fairly wide. And then you have the high walls, you know, the kind of cultish, shiny happy people, whatever. So but what we're saying is churches would do well to know their people know how to pray for their people be able to think about how do we both Shepherd and equip have a strategy for that? And if the ages of 13 to 30 are the highest high risk time then what we're doing is we're stepping back and we're trying to come up with what is our church's plan to come alongside the parents but from ages one to 18? What does it look like to be sending people, men and women into the world who are discipled and ready to be sent out into that world?

Patrick Miller  44:55

That's fantastic wisdom to focus on the back door before we figure out the front door. I would encourage anybody reading this, whether or not you are pastor, a church leader or Christian there every Sunday in the pews, I think that this book will surprise you and challenge you, but perhaps above all of us, and what made me so thankful for it is that it gave me hope. It reminded me not only that Jesus is in charge, and Jesus loves His church, but that even when things seem most dire, we are having the largest, most rapid movement away from Christianity and American history, there's still tremendous hope that people might come back. And I think what gives me the most hope is that if they come back over to the right to have a renewed, revitalized Christianity that isn't just cultural isn't just a country club, but is motivated and animated by the love of Jesus. So, Jim, thanks so much for being on the show. If people want to find the book, where can they find it?

Jim Davis  45:44

Anywhere, there's books, Amazon, you can buy the book anywhere right now.

Patrick Miller  45:48

So check out the great D churching. And I think you guys have or are planning on coming out with a resource for churches.

Jim Davis  45:54

Yes, d is available, we actually have what we call a recharging toolkit, it's 20 ways to assess how we're doing both in the back door and the front door. It's available at D for churches to take a look in the mirror. And the hope is that it will help all of us become more fruitful and what we're called to do.

Patrick Miller  46:11

I don't want to gush too much. But our church and our leaders have looked at some of that. And we've also we're reading the book as a church staff team, because it's fantastic. And so especially if you're a ministry leader, this is something your whole staff should be reading. I joked when I came out like this is probably the most important book of this year, maybe the last two or three years. I don't say that lightly. And I read a lot of books. So thank you, Jim, for your guys's work on this. It's a fantastic gift to us all Would you mind praying for everybody listening, and the D church people in their lives?

Jim Davis  46:38

Man, I would love that. God, I am deeply thankful for this opportunity. I'm thankful for the crossing Church and the contributions they've made to this study. And our heart isn't just to feel good about full buildings and full coffers. Our heart is that people would be impacted by you. And we know that that will not happen outside of your Holy Spirit moving in their lives. And so we pray for that. We pray that you would equip church leaders and members to embody the fruit of your spirit in their daily lives because they are you were planning to, to reach the nations and we pray for those who have de churched who are Christians that they would be brought back, that they would find the community that they are made for and God we pray that those who are not Christians would know you. We want to live in a society where we are lavished with the blessings that you want your people to have. And we pray that more and more people would experience that. Then we pray this in the power of your Holy Spirit in the name of Your Son Jesus. Amen.

Patrick Miller  47:44

Thanks so much for being on the show with us today, Jim.

Jim Davis  47:47

Thank you, Patrick.

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