You may know that the Barna Group, like the Pew Foundation, is one of the largest research groups that studies religiosity.
You may also know that they have spent a good deal of time looking into the “Nones” – people defined as having no particular religious affiliation.
But what you may not know is that they recently discovered that when people are asked about their faith, they – in an unprecedented way – tend to add a qualifier. “I’m Christian, but I’m not closed-minded” is a common refrain.
It’s as if, more than ever, people feel the need to explain or justify their faith with a descriptor that separates them from some other group, real or imagined.
This is evident on social media as well. The Twitter feed #ImChristianBut has had a big following over the past few years. And the YouTube video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” has over 32 million views.
In their newest report, Barna has decided to label this fast-growing segment of the population as “those who love Jesus, but not the church.” According to Barna, these folks are Christians who say their faith is important to them, but haven’t attended church in six months or more.
Roxanne Stone, editor in chief of Barna Group, describes the “love Jesus, but not the church” crowd as still believing “in Scripture, and most of the tenets of their Christian faith. But they have lost faith in the church.”
All of us who have spent time in churches can not only sympathize, but genuinely empathize with the concept that churches are very fallible. And sometimes, when they operate outside of Christ-likeness, churches can even hurt people.
But, and this is an important but, it is tremendously inconsistent with Scripture to try to follow the risen Christ outside of the community of followers that He calls His body.
That this group does not see this inconsistency makes perfect sense. You see, they tend to not read Scripture.
In fact, according to Barna, believers who have thrown in the towel on church are half as likely to read Scripture and a quarter as likely to pick up spiritual books.
Even Pope Francis has called this idea of loving Jesus without the church “an absurd dichotomy.”
Laura Turner at Fuller Theological Seminary says, “We do not get to separate ourselves from the Church, as Christians. We do not get to claim non-religiosity simply to fit in, or to feel better about ourselves. As a friend of mine put it, to say that you love Jesus but hate religion is akin to saying you love your best friend but hate his wife. That relationship will not last.”
But you knew that.
We, in the Church, do not believe that the Church is Jesus’s hobby, his little weekend project. It is the gathering of those who believe in Him and His resurrection power, and who together, seek to act on His behalf in the world.
To discard that in an attempt to be faithful is like throwing out … well, you know.