Intolerance and social conservatism top the list of reasons why people in the United States don't go to church, according to just-released research.
Mars Hill Church in Seattle originally undertook the study – thought to have cost more than $1 million – to support a book by the church's former pastor, Mark Driscoll, to be entitled The Problem with Christianity. The book was postponed following revelations about the church's leadership.
Research for the Resurgence Report was conducted through telephone interviews and focus groups and included 'de-churched' people – who attend worship services every few months or less often and regularly attended worship services as a child – and 'un-churched' people, who attend every few months or less often and did not regularly attend as a child.
Top of the list was "Some Christian groups are too intolerant", with 55 per cent respondents saying so. "The Christian religion and I have different views on social issues like abortion or gay marriage" was second with 50 per cent, followed by Christian groups' "meddling" in politics (49 per cent), "Many Christians are hypocrites" (45 per cent) and "There are lots of religions and I'm not sure only one has to be the right way" (42 per cent). There was a striking coherence between the objections of un-churched and de-church respondents.
While the respondents were not churchgoers, more than half described themselves as "spiritual", with spirituality more pronounced among women and increasing with age. Women were significantly more likely to believe in God
Asked for their impression of evangelical Christians, the answers were more likely to be negative (41 per cent) than positive (24 per cent) or neutral (30 per cent). One respondent said: "They are pretty scary and do whatever they want, and they can use the Bible as a shield for arguments." Another said: "I believe that they are way too extreme on social issues. I totally disagree with their standings on abortion and gay marriage."
In its introduction to the report, Mars Hill Church says: "Though the cultural divide between Christians and non-Christians is growing, we are still missionaries with a God-given passion to see people meet Jesus and be rescued for eternity." The Resurgence Report, it says, "represents our effort to hear non-Christians speak from the heart so that we can better love our neighbors and humbly lead them toward truth, freedom, and joy in Jesus".