Churchgoing in the South is a social assumption, a point of civic and cultural pride, a starting point for conversations with complete strangers: “Where do you go to church?”
Not going often results in a stigma reflected in the billboard alongside Interstate 65 in Prattville: “Go to church or the devil will get you!”
People who don’t go to church may be a lot more familiar with Christianity than many church leaders believe, staying away from the pews because of bad experiences, not because they’ve never heard about Jesus, according to recent surveys by the Barna Group.
Although churches frequently say they try to attract people who are “lost,” most Americans not attending worship services — 61 percent — consider themselves Christians, Barna reports. About 39 percent say they are not Christian. About 18 percent of people not attending church identify themselves as born-again Christians who have made a personal commitment to Jesus that’s still important in their lives, according to Barna, which specializes in research about evangelical Christians.
Research shows that most unchurched people — more than four out of five — were formerly regular participants in church life, many of whom departed after an ugly incident that hurt them deeply, Barna reported.
The Rev. George Hollis, pastor of Cahaba Valley Church, said he has seen cases at other churches where members left in anger over improper relationships, fights between choir members and a conflict over who would be scout leader.
“It can be so many things,” Hollis said. “I bet it’s mostly not theology.”
This is the fruit of being in the “Bible Belt“, where theology is less important than hurt feelings and the unchurched still claim to be Christians!