In Orlando, Florida, two pastors from Orlando Grace Church, Jim Davis and Michael Graham, were perplexed by the seemingly low evangelical presence and Bible engagement in their city despite it being home to major Christian organizations and influential megachurches. This contrasted sharply with the city’s secular image, similar to cities like New York and Seattle. Motivated by this confusion and a lack of data on church attendance trends they initiated a comprehensive study with the help of political scientists Ryan Burge and Paul Djupe.
Their research was funded by raising around $100,00 and aimed to understand the phenomenon of “dechurching,” which refers to individuals who previously attended church regularly but now do so rarely or not at all. The study involved extensive surveys and utilized machine learning to categorize different profiles of de-churched Americans. These profiles ranged from “cultural Christians” with limited religious knowledge to “exvangelicals” who had negative experiences with church institutions.
The findings revealed various reasons for leaving the church, including personal conflicts, scheduling issues, or disillusionment with church practices. The study also highlighted the diversity within the de-churched community including differences in their openness to returning to church, influenced by factors such as friendship, spiritual practices, and outreach programs. Interestingly, the research indicated that higher education and life success correlated with a lower likelihood of church dropout.
Davis and Graham concluded that the decline in church attendance is a complex issue, influenced by both personal and institutional factors. They advised church leaders to adopt a patient, understanding approach to address this trend, emphasizing the importance of relationship-building and open communication. Despite the challenges, the pastors remain optimistic about the future of church attendance and community engagement.
The Roys Report writes:
Jim Davis and Michael Graham knew something was up in their hometown of Orlando, Florida.
But they couldn’t put their finger on it.
At the time, both were pastors at Orlando Grace Church, an evangelical congregation, and saw a study showing their community had the same percentage of evangelicals as less traditionally Christian cities like New York and Seattle. Their city also ranked low on a list of “Bible-minded cities” — with a profile more akin to cities with secular reputations than Bible Belt communities like Nashville, Tennessee, or Birmingham, Alabama.
Which didn’t make any sense to them.
Orlando was home to the headquarters of Cru, a major campus ministry, along with Wycliffe Bible Translators and other major Christian nonprofits, as well as booming and influential megachurches like First Baptist and Northland Church.
“Then it hit us — it’s because our people used to go to church,” said Davis.
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