Turned Off, Fed Up, Dropped Out: Can the United Church of Christ Become a Home for Disaffected Evangelical Millennials and Other Church Dropouts?

Chris XenakisRev. Chris Xenakis is a UCC pastor currently serving Groton Community Church (UCC) in Central New York. In addition, he is an adjunct lecturer at SUNY-Cortland, teaching courses this year on world politics, democracy, U.S. foreign policy and multiculturalism. Chris has written numerous books and articles, which can be found on his blog.

Young Evangelicals are leaving the church in droves—and their exodus has bracing implications for us in the United Church of Christ.

Not that anyone could have predicted their departure in 1972; that’s when sociologist of religion Dean M. Kelly published an influential study entitled, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. Essentially, Kelly argued that, in the words of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Evangelical churches grow precisely because they do what liberal congregations and denominations [do not]—they make serious demands of believers in terms of doctrine and behavior” (“Why Conservative Churches Are Growing,” Christian Post, April 26, 2011.

As it turned out, a lot of those serious demands were exclusive and harsh—and living up to them proved unsustainable. Today—forty-five years later—Barna Group President and pollster David Kinnaman, a self-professed Evangelical, tells us that many Evangelical congregants and former churchgoers, as well as the vast majority of “Unchristians” (who don’t ascribe, or no longer ascribe, to any organized religion) “are skeptical” if not “hostile and resentful toward present-day Christianity.” They “have little trust in the Christian faith, [or] esteem for the lifestyle” of churchgoers. They view Christianity as “weary and threadbare,” and are offended by conservative Christians’ “swagger”—how Evangelicals “go about things and the[ir] sense of self-importance” (David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2007), pp. 9, 13, 16, 22, 24).

Indeed, a 2005-2006 Barna Group study concluded that “the most common perceptions” of those outside the church toward Christians and Christianity are antihomosexual, judgmental, and hypocritical. These were followed by: old-fashioned, sheltered and out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of other faiths, too focused on converting people, and confusing. “This is what a new generation thinks about Christianity” (Unchristian, p. 25).

Tellingly, many Evangelical Millennials and “Gen-Z’ers”—young adult churchgoers —“share the same negative perceptions as outsiders” (Unchristian, pp. 31-32); in a related poll of 18-29-year-olds with Evangelical backgrounds, young churchgoers “describe[d] their individual faith journeys” in words that were startlingly similar to those of Millennial outsiders. “Most of their stories include significant disengagement from church—[and/or] from Christianity altogether” (David Kinnaman with Aly Hawkins, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2011), p. 9).

Young church dropouts find the church to be shallow; anti-science; repressive, judgmental, and rigid about sexuality; and hostile toward doubters and skeptics. They view the church as exclusive—Millennials “estee[m] open-mindedness, tolerance, and acceptance,” yet the church exhibits none of those qualities. “Young Christians believ[e] that churches are not safe and hospitable places to express doubts” (You Lost Me, pp. 11, 71, 92-93).

Thirty-eight percent of young Christians believe that “churches are not accepting of gays and lesbians;” indeed, “out of twenty attributes that [the Barna Group] assessed, both positive and negative,” as they relate to Evangelical Christianity, the perception of homophobia topped the list (You Lost Me, pp. 175-176, and Unchristian, p. 90).

According to 2014 Barna Group survey data, 43 percent of Americans are churchless today. In addition, 33 percent of Americans are “de-churched”—they “were once active in church but are no longer” (George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Tyndale Momentum, 2014), p. viii). Kinnaman believes that “the dropout phenomenon” of today’s Millennial generation is qualitatively different from, and more ominous than, past “young adult disengagement” from the church: given the widespread social acceptance of not attending church, as well as Millennials’ “access to all kinds of information and worldviews, many young adults no longer believe that the local church and Christianity provide the only or even [the] best avenues to spiritual growth” (You Lost Me, pp. 23, 70-71).

“Young Christians embrace less of a rules-oriented spirituality than older Christians,” Kinneman added. “Eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-olds are more likely than [older Christians] to believe that there are many different paths to God,” and “that most or all religions teach essentially the same spiritual truths” (You Lost Me, pp. 164, 176).

“There is not a single demographic for which church attendance is on the increase,” the Barna Group President concluded. “And because young adults have the highest levels of church avoidance, their children are less likely to attend churches,” and more likely to “avoid churches in adulthood” (Churchless, p. 9).

So what does this have to do with any of us, or with the United Church of Christ? If you suspect that I have something more in mind than schadenfreude—a misbegotten desire to gloat over the misfortunes of Evangelical churches—you’re right.

I believe that the Barna Group is onto something. Their polling captures the essential ambivalence of many Evangelicals, and particularly of Evangelical Millennials, toward “churchianity.” It helps explain the ubiquity of congregational decline.

To be sure, progressive churches, and denominations such as the United Church of Christ, have their own church dropout problem, but it is important to be aware of a broader reality—that this is not just a Mainline Protestant experience. The church dropout phenomenon cuts across all denominational strata—including Mainline, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical congregations. Even so—and this is the important point—I believe that the United Church of Christ is utterly unique; it has a special progressive niche that people are looking for. UCC churches don’t have to pretend to be Conservative, or imitate Evangelical congregations, or adopt exclusive worship styles and theologies in order to thrive!

Rather, I believe that to the extent that UCC congregations are willing to embrace a progressive theology, extend a sincere and uncompromised Open and Affirming welcome to Unchristians and Millennial dropouts, and come to terms with the change that is taking place in society as well as in their midst—through innovative outreach to their communities in ministry and service—they will be in a unique position to engage young people who are turned off and/or fed up with church, and/or have dropped out. But such outreach will have to occur on Unchristians’ and Millennial dropouts’ own terms and turf; it will not do to simply invite young people to attend a worship service or a traditional “young adults” program at the church. We ministers, as well as church leaders and congregants, must be willing to meet people where they are—in coffee shops and bars, while volunteering at the local food pantry or homeless shelter, and in the community.


28 thoughts on “Turned Off, Fed Up, Dropped Out: Can the United Church of Christ Become a Home for Disaffected Evangelical Millennials and Other Church Dropouts?

  1. Hi, Jim; Hello again, David.

    Oh, my goodness, Jim, did you just advocate excommunicating sinners? Apparently you did. When’s the last time you attended a church service where they did that? And where do they put the Excommunication Service in the Order of Worship in the Sunday bulletin? Before the morning offering, as a way to stimulate giving? Or perhaps, between the sermon and the closing hymn?

    Churches don’t do that sort of thing. Even evangelical churches don’t excommunicate anyone. I will agree with you that churches (even evangelical churches) don’t follow the conflict resolution principles set forth in Matthew 18.

    A big part of the problem, of course, is that according to St. Paul, we are all “sinners” (Romans 3:23). I am. You are. And if you look at that Romans, chapter 1 passage again, it does not only refer to sexual sins; it also condemns some of the “nicer” sins–some of the more “Christian” sins–like gossip and backbiting.

    Gracious me, who would be left in our churches if we started excommunicating sinners? Really, Jim. To repeat my earlier question, when was the last time you attended a church service (even an evangelical church service) where they did that?

    Thanks for your comment!



  2. In response to several comments…

    Christine is right. UCC “open and affirming” Churches are struggling with attendance. The UCC I attend has a Sunday attendance between 30 to 40 people. Another local UCC church is now down to an average of 25. Both have lesbian pastors. One of them has a buzz haircut and it just isn’t becoming of a pastor. People didn’t leave the church until it installed lesbian pastors. It’s obvious that FAMILIES don’t want their children to view homosexuality as the norm, and they don’t want that influence around their children. When a church lacks children in the congregation, the church is eventually doomed for failure.

    Chris quoted,

    “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    Several UCC churches have gone overboard with Galatians 3:28 claiming “gender neutrality.” That’s NOT what the passage is suggesting. It merely implies that those WHO ARE IN Jesus Christ are all children of God. We are equal in God eyes because of Christ. It has absolutely nothing to do with sexual orientation of gender neutrality.

    Chris said, “But beyond that, why is Romans 1:18-32, the most important passage in the Bible? Why is it more important than, say, John 8:1-11, in which Jesus forgives and restores a woman who was about to be stoned to death, and then condemns her male accusers with the statement, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone”?”

    Jesus is also implying that the woman’s behavior is also a sin and then tells her “to repent”…go and sin no more. The same should be said about homosexuality. However, the UCC condones this behavior and allows homosexuals to become pastors!

    I have no problem with homosexuals attending church. I would have a problem if they promote or encourage it or if they were hitting on people in the congregation. And in a way, that’s what the UCC is doing.

    Chris said,

    “Still, I continue to wonder why this single issue, this concern about gay marriage, is so important to you, and why the fact that it is not mentioned in the scriptures matters so much. Are you perhaps suggesting that if something is not expressly stated in the Bible, or if it is not mentioned in an approving light, it is wrong or somehow invalid, and should not be believed in, or practiced?”

    It is mentioned in the scriptures. 1. The scriptures teach marriage is between a man and a woman.

    Romans 10;6-8 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.

    2. Romans 1:26-28 labels homosexuals as those with “a depraved mind.” Jude says, “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”

    Homosexuality behavior and lifestyle is clearly condemned in these passages. Marriage is clearly between a man and a woman. Therefore, the scriptures and GOD is clearly against homosexual marriage!

    The bottom line is that the church should not accept pastors who engage in ANY un-repented sin.
    We SHOULD accept sinners as long as they don’t encourage others in the congregation to participate in ANY of those sins. According to the scriptures, IF they do, they are to be given a warning. After the second warning, and if they continue, they are to be excommunicated from the church. Want the passage?


    • I just want to clarify something. I’m not saying the church should excommunicate sinners. They should only do so on the basis that the sinner is continually promoting their sins or sinful lifestyle in the church. The passage I’m referring to says to give them a warning, and the congregation is told to ‘avoid’ them in the meantime. IF after the second warning they continue promoting their ‘sin’ they are removed from the church.


    • Jim Martel,
      The problem is, you are trying to use logic against those that want the bible to say and mean what THEY believe.
      There are some people that WANT 2 + 2 to equal 5 and no matter what logic you use they won’t believe it is 4.


  3. Hi, Nik,

    I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

    I believe that we all want to follow Jesus, and be better Christians—regardless of what labels we use for ourselves or for others: Evangelical, Progressive, Conservative, Liberal, and so forth. I also believe that we all fall short in many many ways, regardless of our labels. So what’s the point of labeling?

    One of the surest signs that we are not on the “narrow path”, and indeed that we still have trouble with “condemning” others, “casting stones, the inability to love others, planks in our eyes,” and the “inability to understand God’s love” is assuming that we have these sins under control, and that they are “irrelevant” concerns for us.

    We all have such huge blindspots when it comes to evaluating our own level of holiness—so it’s easier to point fingers at others.



    • Entering the discussion a bit late, ,a couple of thoughts. When Minnesota legalized same sex marriage I did some research and had discussions in two of my three congregations on the subject on the very basis question of would it be acceptable for me to preform a same sex marriage. The main issue for people was not the legality of Gay Marriage but the question of marriage without the possibility of reproduction. Rather it was the accepted biblical definition of marriage being between a male and female thus allowing for reproduction. This led us into a discussion of what is marriage in a biblical and a modern legal sense. With modern science leading to the possibility of reproduction without intercourse thus making it possible for same sex couples to have children the discussion was forced to change of raising a child in a single sex home. When the number of hetero-couples that could not have children by natural means was considered, the discussion shifted to the reasons for marriage beyond reproduction. Which led to a discussion of marriage as a legal partnership dealing with the division of property, the making of certain decisions and marriage as a relationship for expressing God’s love with another person.. This led to a discussion I’ve had with many clergy, when we are asked to preform a wedding are we in reality acting as a servant of God or an agent of the government, when we sign the license. Many clergy thought that there are many occasions where for the couple involved we are agents of the government, authorized to preform a legal act.
      If we take religion out of the question and reduce marriage to a civil contract between two individuals what does this do to the question of the legality of same sex marriage.
      I thought one women’s response was priceless, at the end of the discussion in tears she said, If it wasn’t for the sex, I suppose it would be alright.”

      May I suggest the question should be addressed is the only reason for marriage the act of reproducing or is the ability to live in a deeply intimate and committed relationship with another person and acceptable relationship for two people, in the eyes of God?


  4. Hello, Nik; Hello, David,

    Well, I guess the question is, how do you want me to help you, and what do you consider as evidence? To cut to the chase, if the only evidence you are willing to accept is a Bible verse or a Bible passage in which the term, “gay marriage” is mentioned, I cannot help you. That term is not found in the Bible, and if that is your only standard of legitimate faith and practice, then nothing else that I say will be of any use to you, and you can stop reading right now.

    Still, I continue to wonder why this single issue, this concern about gay marriage, is so important to you, and why the fact that it is not mentioned in the scriptures matters so much. Are you perhaps suggesting that if something is not expressly stated in the Bible, or if it is not mentioned in an approving light, it is wrong or somehow invalid, and should not be believed in, or practiced?

    Somehow, that way of thinking seems rigid and legalistic. I mean, there are so many good things that Christians and churches do and believe in today that are not mentioned in the scriptures, or even were frowned upon in the scriptures.

    Recall the patriarchy in the both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures, and the relatively low esteem in which women were held in ancient Israel. Recall too how St. Paul disapproved of women holding church leadership roles, ostensibly because Eve caused Adam to sin in Genesis 3. Today, thank God, the Church has come to appreciate the valuable contributions and leadership of Christian women.

    And think about Christian counseling and psychotherapy ministries. In biblical times, mental and emotional distress were understood in terms of demonic influence, oppression, or possession. Today, we no longer think that way.

    Something I’ve always want to know—I have not received a satisfactory answer to this question—is why do some Evangelicals elevate this single issue, gay marriage, into their most important faith concern? Is gay marriage some sort of fetish for Evangelicals? As you are quick to point out, Nik, gay marriage is not named in the Bible as such, and yet some Evangelicals are quick to label it as a sin—and as the most serious and important sin there is! They condemn gay marriage as though it were an “unforgiveable sin.”

    Indeed, many Evangelical critics seem to embrace Roman Catholic moral theology, with its “cardinal” (or “mortal”) sin—“venial” sin distinction, and they place gay marriage in the cardinal or mortal sin category. You may recall that Catholics derive this cardinal/mortal sin-venial sin idea from such scripture passages as Galatians 5:19-21 (in which gay marriage is not mentioned): “It is obvious what proceeds from the flesh: lewd conduct, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, bickering, jealousy, outbursts of rage, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I have warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

    So my question is, why do some Evangelicals focus on gay marriage, which is not mentioned in this passage? Why not focus on “lewd conduct,” “hostilities,” “bickering,” or “dissensions, factions, and envy” which are mentioned???

    And what about the Evangelical understanding that sin is neither vertical nor hierarchical, but rather, is flat? Where is the humble admission that, as St. Paul declares, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Where is the recognition that all of us (not just those “terrible” people over there in the corner, whom we have labeled as sinners) need God’s love, grace, and forgiveness?

    Please don’t be so quick to diminish God’s love, Nik. Love is the foundation of our faith. It is also the basis for Christian action. I doubt very much that prisons are full of loving people.

    Here’s how I look at marriage. It is pretty clear in both the Christian scriptures and in the Hebrew scriptures that God holds marriage in high esteem. And in the Gospel of John, chapter two, we learn that Jesus similarly blesses marriage. Further, in Galatians 3:28, Paul argues that all of humanity, in its full diversity, is blessed in Jesus: “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Following Paul’s lead, we could well add others to that list—the list is suggestive rather than comprehensive—and happily say that “there is neither African-American nor Latino nor Euro-Caucasian, neither undocumented immigrant nor U.S. citizen, neither gay nor straight nor transgendered, neither Republican or Democrat, neither Muslim nor Hindu nor Jew nor Christian, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Thus, marriage is not only for Christian people, or only for White people, or only for Americans, or only for heteronormative people to enjoy. Like the air that we breathe, and like the sun that warms us, and like the rain that refreshes us, marriage is a blessing that all people get to enjoy.

    Blessings to you and to your loved ones during this holy Advent (and Christmas) season.



    • Hi Chris,
      For me, and the evangelicals I know, gay marriage is not the central difference we have with progressives. But is is a clear example of how progressives only use the bible when it suits their personal beliefs.
      The central difference between evangelicals and progressives is salvation. At Christmas, the birth of Jesus is celebrated, but not the birth of the Savior of Luke 2:11.
      At Easter, Jesus was killed by evil Jewish leaders, not as the sacrifice for the sins of all that personally accept him. Heaven and hell? The recent UCC Interim at my church does not believe these are places that we go after death, they are what we make our own heaven and hell in the hear and now.


  5. Thank you, Nik, for your comments! Dave, it’s good to hear from you again!

    I think we are mixing apples and oranges here. What the Apostle Paul is arguing against in Romans, Chapter 1, is sexual promiscuity (e.g., visiting temple prostitutes, “sleeping around,” and engaging in “one-night-stands”), in contrast to entering into and maintaining committed monogamous relationships, whether gay or straight. Study the cultural context behind the Romans 1 passage! All people, of course, not just heterosexuals and not just gay people, are capable of engaging in sexual promiscuity.

    But beyond that, why is Romans 1:18-32, the most important passage in the Bible? Why is it more important than, say, John 8:1-11, in which Jesus forgives and restores a woman who was about to be stoned to death, and then condemns her male accusers with the statement, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone”?

    What about the recognition that, as Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?” What about the recognition that, as a Navy Chaplain colleague of mine once put it, every time we point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at us?

    I am so tired of hearing Christians and even UCC people and colleagues in ministry talk about sexual sin (and, in truth, gossip about people who they believed have committed sexual sins) as though this is the unpardonable sin from which there is no possible restoration. It is as though they are buying into the medieval Roman Catholic doctrine of “cardinal sins” that entail damnation of the soul, and “venial sins” that are relatively slight sins. So we ignore the fact that Paul also talks in that Romans 1 passage about greed, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, insolence, boasting, arrogance, disobedience to parents, lacking love, and lacking mercy as acts that are just as sinful as sexual sins.

    Sexual promiscuity is not a “cardinal sin”! (Nor, by the way is gay marriage). Gossip, and lacking love, and lacking mercy are not “venial sins”.

    Nik and David, as the Thanksgiving season quickly melds into the season of Advent, I’m thankful for both of you, and for your continuing engagement in the life of the United Church of Christ. Keep reading the Vital Signs and Statistics Blog! Many more good articles are on the way in 2019!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Evangelicals will disagree that Romans 1 is only about sexual promiscuity. Here is a website that explains that point of view:

      Evangelicals do not think that gay sex is an unforgivable sin or that it is worse than adultery, bestiality, stealing, etc. The problem is when the mindset becomes that these are not sins and accept these as OK and normal. The progressive church puts up banners and supports parades celebrating what evangelicals believe is sin. It is like putting up banners and celebrating adultery or bestiality.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Please show us one example of gay marriage in the Bible? The woman at the well had men in her life. I believe that gay marriage would surely be included somewhere but it’s not. Leviticus has many things to say about homosexuality but they aren’t good. Yes! Love is more important than anything. God’s forgiveness and grace is key but if it is not found in the Bible at all… then we are just expressing our own opinions not Biblical truths.


      • Hi, Nik.

        Welcome back to the blog. I’m glad you’re reading it!

        I drafted a careful response to your question, explaining how arguments from silence have limited value, and exhaustively listing many of the important and true ways in which people today interact, love, and establish families, that the Bible doesn’t discuss. I also explained that there are a number of things that the Bible does emphasize, like welcoming the immigrant, which many Christian people ignore today. Finally, I mentioned the impact of culture; there are many practices which Christians and the church today consider mainstream, which were taboo back in the 1960s and 1970s.

        I wrote all those things in my reply to you, but I guess on a more basic level I’m wondering, what’s the point? Would such arguments really persuade you?

        So I’m changing my reply to you. I guess I’m still wondering, from our last interaction, why this is such a big issue for you? I mean, criticizing those who interpret the Bible differently than we do, and condemning those practices that we consider to be sinful–those are are such low-hanging fruit. Criticizing and condemning others may make us feel self-righteous, but every time we point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back at us. We need to remove the logs from our own eyes before we attempt to remove the splinter from someone else’s.

        Have a wonderful and meaningful Advent and Christmas Nik!



      • I’m not judging anyone when it comes to homosexuality…Just looking for solid biblical answers not opinions that throw it back on the one asking the questions. Leaders such as yourself are supposed to have them. To just throw in the word love and say everything is okay is not an answer. I’m sure prisons are full of loving people.To nicely condemn me in the name of love does not answer my questions neither. Nothing you wrote answers or addresses my questions from a biblical perspective at all. Thus far, you are only giving opinions based on how you feel not based on what the Bible actually says, which would appear quite dangerous. To love, forgive, to accept others isn’t my problem. My friendships extend to everyone. With that being said, I have searched the Bible and there are no examples of gay marriage at all only God’s condemnation, which warrants serious concern. Are you saying God is wrong? I sincerely and really want to know being that it is not found anywhere in the Scriptures. Therefore, I turn to the professionals such as yourself in case I missed it. Instead you kindly throw it back on me without giving any solid Biblical advice when what I need are answers not man made opinions wrapped in other biblical truths minus the answers to my questions. Again, what you say sounds great but does it really answer my questions about gay marriage? Thus far, I only see nice replies but with all due respect they do not answer my original questions about homosexuality at all. Thank you for your time but I’m no further here than when I replied the 1st time. I don’t want to face God and find out I was misled because I adopted teachings on this subject not found in His Word. What’s wrong with that?
        Be blessed


      • It does not matter to progressives what the bible says about gay marriage or any other subject. They simply chose to accept the parts of the bible that support their personal beliefs, and ignore, reinterpret, or that God has changed his mind (“God is still speaking”) about the parts that contradict their beliefs.
        You cannot always succeed in convincing someone that 2 plus 2 equals four, if they want to believe it is five.


    • Hi, Chris.

      From the start, I haven’t condemned anyone in any of my replies so the casting of the stones, woman at the well, inability to love others, planks in my eye, etc…are irrelevant to the questions I’ve asked. Questioning my ability to understand God’s love, mercy etc…are also irrelevant being that those are not issues for me. I guess I’m just trying to make sure that I am taking the narrow path and not the wide one you appear to be promoting. I’d rather be safe than sorry. I wish you all the best.

      Merry Christmas!


  6. Hi,

    I’m honestly and sincerely trying to understand how the gay community fits into Scripture? Romans 1 clearly speaks against it. A pastor willing to marry a gay or lesbian couple despite what Scripture literally teaches is of great concern more so for the pastor than the couple itself in my opinion. I’m all for befriending and sharing Christ with anyone regardless of sexual orientation. I just can’t see how any Church expects to be blessed when they twist Scripture in their favor to appease people more than God who states that He is clearly against homosexuality.


    • It is simple. Progressive Christians believe and use the portions of the bible that support their personal beliefs. Examples would be love one another, help the less fortunate. But simply ignore or say that God has changed his mind about things that don’t match the way they would like things to be. That is what they mean by “God is still speaking”. That is why progressives believe that all religions have equal paths to God, no need for personal salvation through Christ, gay sex accepted as normal. Even at Easter you will never hear the reason Christ died and rose. You will hear about “new beginnings”, butterflies, etc,


  7. I live in western Mass and have found that UCC congregations are struggling to stay open. Membership has declined dramatically. Evangelical church membership on the other hand, is exploding to the point that churches are adding services to accommodate the growth.


      • Hi, David,

        Thanks for your brief comment.

        I read the “11 Reasons Why Progressive Christianity Will Soon Die Out” article that you cited. It was really, really interesting; thanks for recommending it.

        Nevertheless, I disagree with the universal characterization that the article’s author, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, makes of all progressives. (It reminds me of the statement attributed to Arnold Toynbee to the effect that most people have not rejected Christianity, but rather, they have rejected a poor caricature of Christianity.)

        In the article, Father Dwight Longenecker correctly admits that he “paints with broad strokes;” in fact, most of the things he says do not apply to the UCC congregations that I have served over the past twenty-eight years. One of the great truths about the United Church of Christ is that we are not so much a liberal church as we are a diverse church. Sure, we have liberal Christians in the UCC. And we have conservative Christians as well, and these good folks worship side-by-side every Sunday. (So for example, in response to just one of Longenecker’s points, I do not believe that the Scriptures were influenced by paganism, and I suspect that most of my congregants, in four UCC churches over the past three decades don’t believe that.)

        As I said to Christine, the researchers who discovered that Evangelical churches are losing members just like progressive churches are, are Evangelicals.

        I guess it makes sense: People do not only go to church to find correct teaching and good theology. A more important reason people go to church is to find unconditional love and acceptance–and those things are hard to find in the United States when churches are homophobic, racist, sexist, and wed to partisan politics.

        However, David, I am emphatically not saying that progressive churches and UCC churches are perfect. Far too many themselves fail to exhibit unconditional love and acceptance to the folks who come in the door.

        Chris Xenakis


      • In my experience, UCC is only diverse because older Christian members have not left due to long family history with the church. UCC CLERGY is not diverse. That would mean a significant percentage of clergy would be evangelical. LOL. Perhaps you could explain why conservative Christians would continue to attend a church that teaches the basics of their beliefs are wrong. Such as forgiveness of sin and Salvation and eternal life is only provided by the personal acceptance of Christ. Our constantly hear much of the bible ignored or reinterpreted to meet the progressive’s beliefs.

        The Evangelical churches I have attended are not homophobic, racist, sexist, and wed to partisan politics.
        It is not homophobic to believe in sex is to be only between one man and one woman that are married, as clearly taught in the bible.
        You can love the sinner and not the sin. Of course there are not a lot of adulterers having parades celebrating their adultery. By the way, there ARE evangelical gay people.
        The Southern Baptist Church I have started attending has more black people attending than the progressive UCC church which I am a member of, located across the street. And far more young people.

        Last week when a fire destroyed the homes of about 20 community members, it was the SBC church that was loving the less fortunate with delivery of food, household items, a car given to a family that lost theirs, and over 50 clean-up volunteers. And then they went across the street to clean the UCC church cemetery and church grounds that had wind damage. With a few exceptions, the UCC members that say they are all about loving the less fortunate did nothing.


      • I am posting this comment on behalf of Rev. Chris Xenakis due to a technical glitch. I am looking into it.

        Hi, again, David.

        I guess my reaction to, “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” is that to many people these days it sounds condescending–even if you don’t mean it that way; it sounds a lot like “Hate both the sin and the sinner.”

        As you know, that expression is not found anywhere in the Scriptures; Jesus never said it; on the contrary, Jesus ate and drank with sinners—he participated in some of the very things that the Jewish leaders of that time considered to be sinful.

        And as I suggested to you in my last reply, most people go to church looking for unconditional love and acceptance. If they don’t find it in church, they are not likely to stick around. They will leave. Which is what is happening in a lot of churches.

        (By the way, restricting marriage to a sacred relationship between a man and a woman is perhaps the very essence of homophobia.)

        What you say about conservative and Evangelical churches growing was true once—and there was a best-selling book written by Dean Kelly and published in 1972 entitled “Why Conservative Churches Are Growing.” Your argument hews pretty closely to the argument of that book. It may have been true in 1972, but conservative and Evangelical churches are no longer growing.

        If your church or the Evangelical churches in your town are growing, that’s terrific—and in fact, it sounds like you should consider joining that SBC church–it sounds wonderful from the way you describe it!!!! But sadly, such churches are in the minority; they are the exception nationwide.

        I urge you to read David Kinnamon’s “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (Baker, 2016). The author is Evangelical; his research is solid; and the population and churches he is writing about are Evangelical.

        Blessings to you, David!

        Chris Xenakis


    • Hi, Christine. It’s really wonderful that Evangelical church membership is exploding in your area. But that’s not happening everywhere–and the Barna research shows that Evangelical churches are losing Millennials (and some Baby-Boomers) who are turned off by many churches’ homophobia, racism, politicization, and rigid theologies. This is happening throughout the country. I should add that the Barna polling team itself is Evangelical; David Kinnnaman is a born-again Christian; he has no liberal anti-Evangelical axe to grind.

      Of course, you are right–many UCC congregations are also struggling to stay open, and unfortunately, far too many UCC congregations are also struggling with racism, homophobia, sexism, and rigid, scolding, theologies that chase people away.

      Thanks for commenting Christine.

      Chris Xenakis


  8. The area in which I live use to have quite a few UCC churches. In the last 5 years, most have switched back to the Reformed Church denomination. Liberal politics took over the UCC and churches started dropping out of the UCC denomination.


  9. During the period the UCC lost 50% of its members, the EVANGELICAL Free Church of America membership increased over 700% and the Southern Baptist membership increased over 50%.
    Young (and old) evangelicals are leaving the UCC and going to churches that are truly evangelical.


  10. Summery: UCC leadership “bible” is of radical left politics they believe attracts their members and potential members they wish to attract. The historical bible is used when a verse can be found they think supports their politics, but is ignored or reinterpreted (“God is still speaking”), when in conflicts with their political agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, David. I learn a great deal from you and from everyone who takes the time and effort to submit a comment. I will admit, this blog post contains some pretty sharp criticisms of the church and the Christian experience. But the utterly remarkable thing is that I am not the one issuing these criticisms—they are coming from Evangelical young people themselves, who are disappointed with the church and their understanding of the faith! We’ve come a long way from Dean M. Kelly’s insight of the early 1970s! Incidentally, are you familiar with the Barna Group? David Kinnaman, George Barna, and the other researchers who examined the data I cite are not given to “radical left politics;” they would describe themselves as deeply-committed, theologically-conservative “Bible-believing Christians.”


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