reality was that the path away from church was
part of my journey toward the real god." (Renee
Altson, Stumbling Toward Faith,
Barna claims that in recent years 20 million
people have left mainline and mainstream churches
in the USA in pursuit of alternative faith
experiences (home churches, cyber churches, etc.).
By 2025, he estimates, 30-35% of Christians
in the USA will be in traditional churches, 30-35%
in alternative contexts, and 30-35% will depend on
media, arts, etc for deepening their faith.
short, Barna expects traditional church attendance
to halve over the next 20 years!
projections, if true, will dramatically change the
landscape of Christendom in America and the West.
How should we respond?
leaders in mainstream churches will simply
ratchet up their
programs and services to win back the "lapsed."
This approach, however, fails to realize that the
mass exodus is not over poor programming but
superficial spiritual experience. People are not
seeking more excellence but greater authenticity.
Intimacy drives them, not
leaders will choose to sit back and criticize the
"faithless." They will expend much energy
justifying their structures and defending their
relevance and faithfulness. Their attitude
towards the departed will reflect resignation and
shades of resentment. They'll deny the reality of
what is happening, hoping it will pass and people
will return. Let's hope they don't suffocate with
their head in the sand.
a few leaders will take the trouble to ask
questions and converse with those who are opting
elsewhere. These leaders will not antagonize or
blame the "dearly departed" but will bless them
and seek ways to partner with them in building a
network of alternative faith communities. But this
will be at some personal cost.
Sunday attendance figures or the numbers of small
groups have been the primary indicators of success
or failure. These statistics have, in turn, become
central to our identity. I don't just pastor, but
I pastor a church of 250. Or, I pastor a
church with 29 small groups. Too often we
assess our personal value based on the statistical
rather than the vocational.
dramatic rise of alternative faith communities,
however, will force many of us to rediscover the
joy of our calling rather than the joy of our
have no power over the momentous shifts happening
in Christendom. But we do have several choices we
can make. First, we can give fresh and creative
focus to authenticity, intimacy, and community
within the mainstream churches. Second, we can
support and prepare people for alternative faith
communities, rather than fear or resist this
Barna is correct, and he probably is, we face
enormous changes in the next 10 years
... changes that are already well underway.
These shifts, although unsettling for many of
us, have the potential to breathe exciting
new life into the Kingdom. Revolutionary
faith is usheringin
a fascinating new era.