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The Barna Research Group reports that in the United States about 10 million self-proclaimed, born-again Christians have not been to church in the last six months, apart from Christmas or Easter. (Barna defines "born-again" as those who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important today, and believe they will "go to heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.")

Nearly all born-agains say their spiritual life is very important, but for 10 million of them, spiritual life has nothing to do with church.

About a third of Americans are unchurched, according to Barna's national data. Approximately 23 million of those—35 percent of the unchurched—claim they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their lives today.

I can easily put a face on that number. I think of Duncan (not his real name), a guy I got to know through coaching kids' basketball. When Duncan found out I was a Christian, he quietly let me know he was one too.

"Julie and I met the Lord through a Bible study," he said. At the time, he and Julie attended a Lutheran church. He stopped going when they got divorced. I was invited to the service when he got remarried, to Rene, in a lovely outdoor ceremony. I don't think the Lutherans quite connected with Rene, though. It's been years since the two of them have attended church.

Is Duncan a Christian? He thinks he is. He would even say that faith is important to him. But like 23 million other Americans, faith doesn't necessarily involve church.

Duncan is not a new phenomenon. We have always had people who kept their distance from the church, even though they professed faith. We have never, however, had them ...

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January 2005

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