How many people are really leaving the church today? Who are the people leaving and why are they “Dechurching”? According to our guest today, Dr. Ryan Burge, the shift away from religion is as large as the First and 2nd Great Awakenings combined, but in the opposite direction. Dr. Burge explains why this issue is so pressing today and how we can best respond.

Ryan Burge is an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University. He is the author of numerous books and journal articles and is a pastor in the American Baptist Church.

Episode Transcript

Sean: How many people are really leaving the church? Who are the people disengaging the church, and why are they, quote, de-churching? According to our guest today, Dr. Ryan Burge, the shift away from religion is as large as the first and second great awakenings combined, but in the opposite direction. This is what we're going to unpack today with our guest, Dr. Ryan Burge. I'm your host, Sean McDowell.

Scott: I'm your co-host, Scott Rae.

Sean: And this is Think Biblically from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. Dr. Burge, let's jump right into your book. I've read a lot of books on people and young people disengaging the church, and I found yours one of the best, super helpful. But maybe we could start by defining the term de-churching for us.

Ryan: Yeah, so it's a measure of two questions. One is, at your most frequent, how often do you go to church? And people there would have to say they went monthly or more, so monthly, weekly, or more than once a week. And now you're asking how much they go now, and they say seldom or never. So, they would have to go at least once a month at some point in their life, and now they go seldom or never. That's the classification scheme we use for the concept of de-churching.

Sean: Okay, now we're going to discuss your other book, “The Nones.” How is de-churching different from the term “The Nones,” just for clarity?

Ryan: Yeah, so when we think about religion, we call it the three Bs. It was actually invented by a Wheaton professor. Behavior, belief, and belonging. De-churching is a behavior measure. It's about what you do when it comes to religion, not what you believe. Belief measures like, what do you believe about God or Jesus or the Bible or heaven or hell? That's a belief measure. Behavior measures like, how much do you go to church? How often do you pray? And then there's a belonging measure, which is, what is your present religion, if any? And we give you a bunch of options from Protestant to Catholic to Mormon to Orthodox to Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic. That's a belonging measure. So, when we talk about the word nones, N-O-N-E-S, that is measuring someone's religious belonging. Who do they socially identify with when it comes to religion? When we talk about de-churching, that's a behavior measure, right? So, there are some people who have de-churched who still call themselves Protestants or Catholics. So, on one measure, they're a none, and now on another measure, they're not. That's the thing—we talk about religion. Only 6% of Americans don't believe, don't belong, and don't behave. So they're nones, nones, nones on all three dimensions.

Sean: Wow.

Ryan: And de-churching is just looking at the behavior piece of that whole setup.

Scott: But Ryan, just to be clear, the de-churching and the nones, neither of those are addressing the belief factor?

Ryan: Yeah, honestly, the belief stuff, this is going to sound awful coming on a podcast with you guys—but from a social science perspective, yeah, belief is really not that important from a political science and sociology perspective. Because to me, when I have my sociologist hat or my social science hat on, what I think the most important question is, who are your people? When you see yourself in social space, who do you associate with?

So, think about this: Amongst people who never attend religious service, when we ask them what they believe about God, about 20% said God doesn't exist. And about 20% said God doesn't exist. So, even amongst never attenders, they're evenly divided on the question of whether God exists or not. That's why I think belonging is a more important question, honestly, because it says, who are my people? Who do I throw in with? Even if I never attend service, but I still identify as a Catholic, that matters a bunch because I still see myself as a Catholic, and Catholics are my people. So, belief—and we know even in the Catholic Church, most Catholics don't follow Catholic doctrine on all kinds of things, whether it be abortion, same-sex marriage, contraceptives. And even amongst evangelicals, the doctrine of same-sex marriage has been the same forever, and yet a majority of young evangelicals are in favor of same-sex marriage now. So, the belief thing doesn't really seem to be doing as much work as the belonging and behavior piece.

Scott: I mean, that's a really interesting observation, especially for a podcast that's devoted to apologetics and reason and having good reasons for why you believe what you believe. But I think what this shows is that belonging is really an important part of what draws people to Christian faith. It's not just a rational thing, but the belonging part is really important on that. So, Ryan, let me ask you, the book, “The Great Dechurching,” was written primarily by a couple of pastors. And I just want to be clear, what research did they do? Because they've got a lot of skin in the book. And you're a part-time pastor, too, so you fit that really well. So, what was your contribution to this, and what research did they do behind the scenes?

Ryan: So, they approached me saying, we want to do a very rigorous, academically credentialed study of dechurching, and we need someone with some intellectual heft, which I guess is me, but it doesn't feel like it most days. So, it was myself and Paul Jupe, who's one of my co-authors on a lot of things—he works at Denison University. He worked on writing the survey, getting it set up, sent to Qualtrics, getting the quotes all taken care of, getting all the data collected. And then it was handed off to me, and I worked in collaboration with Michael and Jim to do all the data analysis that you see in the book. So, all the graphs in the book, I made those, and all the data, I analyzed all that data. And sometimes there's a collaborative process between myself and Michael and Jim about, what do you want to see in this chapter? What are you looking for? Here's something cool I found in this data, maybe you should write about this. So, it really became, at the beginning, I wasn't supposed to be on the book, actually. I was just a consultant on the side. But as we went along, we started realizing, I'm playing a bigger and bigger role of shaping the narrative of how this book sets up and kind of pointing out things in the data that matter. And so they decided to add me as a with author. So, that's really my contribution, is really on the social side. I'm more descriptive. They're more prescriptive. And I think those two things together work really well in a book like this.

Scott: Don't underestimate the academic heft you bring to the book, though, brother.

[All laugh]

Ryan: I just make graphs, guys. That's my job at this point.

Sean: So, one of the startling things—and I use that word intentionally—from the book is this line that's also on the back cover, that the shift is greater towards de-churching than the first and second great awakenings combined but in the opposite direction. Tens of millions of regular church worshipers have decided to stop attending church. How large is this phenomena?

Ryan: Oh, I think, I mean, I'll give you some numbers. In 2008, 70 million Americans were weekly attenders and 45 million were never attenders. So, 70 million weekly, 45 million never. In 2022, it was 85 million never. So from 45 million to 85 million, that's where that number comes from. And the weekly attenders have dropped from 70.4 million to 62.2 million. So, that's down 8.2 million during that same time period. If you look at the numbers, it's almost staggering to think about how many 40 million Americans is in a population of 330 million adults. We're talking about 13, 14% of all Americans have gone to the de-churching side just in the last 15 years. I think it's the largest cultural shift in my lifetime. And not enough people are writing about it, thinking about it, and considering what it means for future American politics, American society, American religion.

Sean: Now that can sound just like a number. People can think, okay, 70 million, now, 62 million. That's a lot of people. But in the book, you guys talk about what is at stake relationally and financially and culturally. What does that 8 million disengaged from the church actually mean practically in those realms?

Ryan: Yeah, it means that a lot of pastors are going to have to answer questions like, how do you get rid of a pulpit in the next 10 or 20 years? Or a communion table or choir robes? The real estate business—I just read an article saying that one of the fastest growth industries in real estate is disposing of church properties. It's going to become a niche industry going forward of how to figure out what to do with a lot of these buildings that are sitting empty. Because you can't sell them like you would sell a condo or a house or a warehouse. It just doesn't work that way. So, it's going to radically change. I say that religion is the largest invisible social safety net in America. Closed closets, food kitchens, after school tutoring, prison ministry. When these churches close down, and there's going to be thousands of them closed down in the next 20 to 30 years, without a shadow of a doubt, they're going to close, who is going to step into that gap and make up the difference and create another social safety net? Because Americans are not, you know, we're not going to become Denmark and have this huge welfare state that's cradle to grave. If we don't do that, and religion goes away, the holes in that safety net are going to get larger and larger. And the kind of people who fall through those are the people we should worry about the most. Those who are on the fringes of society, those who struggle with addiction and homelessness and food insecurity. Who is going to lift those people up? I think the world's going to be a lot more awful for those people when religion goes away. And we're not doing, we're not anticipating that very well right now.

Scott: Well, that'll really get your attention. And I think it speaks to the need for churches to be anticipating this now and planning for that. Because that, I mean, that's a huge hole in the social safety net that churches have been providing for centuries, that according to your research is going to be missing here in the next, you know, 20 years or so. That's a big hole to fill. Just to be clear about this too, we're going to get into some of the details of who the de-churched are. But just in real general terms, what are the groups of churches that people are de-churching from?

Ryan: Half are evangelical de-churchers. Okay. I think that's important to say that, you know, this is, it's really half, quarter, quarter. Half of evangelical churches and a quarter are dechurching from mainline churches, which, you know, that's United Methodists, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, and the Catholics. Now, the Catholic thing is tough though, because Catholics, the label is almost like a cultural label now, like a, you know, cultural label. And so, you know, it's really hard to say that there's a lot of people that are like, I'm Irish Catholic or Italian Catholic than it is anything else. But, you know, almost every denomination in America is hemorrhaging now. I don't think that we fully recognize, like, there are very few bright spots when it comes to denominations that are growing. I can just name a couple. The Assemblies of God has grown over the last 30 years. The PCA, Presbyterian Church of America, has grown over the last several years. The ACNA has grown over the last several years. Non-denominational is obviously growing like gangbusters, but pick any other denomination in America, there's a very good chance they're smaller today than they were 30 years ago, if not significantly smaller. And that's, by the way, that's not just mainline denominations. The Southern Baptist had 16.2 million members in 2006. Today, they have 13.2 million members. So, they're even, you know, evangelical denominations are declining. But, you know, the mainline's way down. The Presbyterian Church USA had 3.1 million members in 1984. They have 1.1 million members today.

Sean: Wow.

Scott: Yikes.

Ryan: The Episcopalian, I just did some work on them today. On an average Sunday night, they have 375,000 people in worship across the country. So, you know—

Scott: That's it?

Ryan: Yeah. And they were at one point one of the most powerful denominations in America, in the 1950s and 60s. And now they are a shadow of their former selves. So, you know, it's almost every denomination now is hurting. There's a few bright spots, but generally the story is people are leaving all kinds of churches. They're only going to certain kinds of churches, non-denoms are growing very rapidly. But that's really the only type of church that I look at saying, well, that's what the future of American religion, American evangelicalism looks like.

Scott: And I take it those non-denominational churches are largely evangelical. Is that true?

Ryan: Yeah, we just assume that as social scientists. I mean, obviously there's a few examples here and there of churches that don't fit every criteria of an evangelical church. But, you know, the joke is the evangelical churches are Southern Baptists without the name.

[Sean and Scott laugh]

Ryan: Theologically, they're doing almost exactly the same thing that the Southern Baptist Church would do. So, kind of by default we all put them in the evangelical category. And actually one of the reasons evangelicalism has not declined that rapidly is because non-denominationals have picked up the slack that's been left by the Southern Baptists, for instance, in losing so many people. So, you know, non-denominational denominations are the only church Protestant family in the last 10 years that's grown. So, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, they're all down significantly from the last 10 years. And non-denom—there's 21 million, best estimate we have, there are 21 million non-denominational Protestant Christians in America today. And there's 7 million that go to church every Sunday. That's twice as many as Southern Baptists. So they are the future of American religion.

Scott: It's amazing to think there's only 300,000 plus in Episcopalian churches. I mean, how many YouTube channels have a bigger platform than that is a part of the shift going on. But you mentioned that half of those who are de-churched are evangelicals. Why do they leave? And what do we know about that segment of the de-churched?

Ryan: Yeah, so if I could like encapsulate the entire book into like an elevator pitch, it's this: it's most people leave for boring reasons. Which is not a great headline for the back book jacket, you know. But the number one reason that people leave church, evangelical or otherwise, is because they moved. I mean, I think that's like, and by the way, Lifeway just released a report yesterday. It said the exact same thing. So, this has become like a finding that replicates now. People leave because they move, because their schedule changes, because they get married or divorced or have kids or something logistically happens in their life. And they casually de-church. That's what we call them, right? It's not this, like, if you go on Twitter and say, well, I just kind of slid away from church for a long time, I got no issues with religion, I just don't do it anymore. You're going to get all the retweets. But if you say, I left church because I came out as LGBT and my church told me I was sinning, then you’re going to get all the retweets. So, you know, the stories that get the most traction are the most sensational stories. The boring stories are the norm, and most people who leave religion, leave evangelicalism, just casually, they were going, you know, once or twice a month for a while. And they're going, you know, once a month and then once every three months and then once every six months and now seldom or never. It's a slow slide away from religion. And they leave it and they don't look back and go, I really want to go back. You know, they don't feel like they've lost anything in their lives for not being in church. I think that's probably the bigger part of the story is they leave and don't feel some sort of burning urge to get back to religion.

Sean: See, it seems to me there's a couple of ways to interpret that. If they leave and it's just kind of casually leaving, then although they don't have a burning to come back, it seems like they'd be open to it. But on the other hand, if that many people are leaving, it makes me wonder how many people sit in our pews if they had similar life change, but also disengage and how much other shallowness is there within the evangelical church. How do you interpret that fact?

Ryan: Oh, those are both great, great thoughts about that. I'll give you, you know, non-denominationals we just talked about a little bit, I'll talk about a little bit more. I have some data on membership movement in Protestant Christianity and the denomination in quote unquote with the most churn is non-denominationals. And by churn, I mean people coming in and people coming out. Non-denominationals have created an atmosphere, many of them have, where it's really easy to get in and it's really easy to get out. They build very short walls, right? You can come on Tuesday, you can come on Sunday, go on Saturday, you can come sit in the back and we don't, you don't have to sign a contact card. You don't have to join a small group. You can just kind of be here. And that brings a lot of new people in the door, but then a lot of people also leave by the side door six months later without anyone knowing that. Right. So I think a lot of people are already marginally attached to their congregation, especially in these rapidly growing non-denominational churches. There's a core that's very committed, very strong. They're there every Sunday. But around the corner, that core is a lot of people who are churning, moving in and out. And when they leave, by the way, they typically go on to two places: another non-denominational or evangelical church or nowhere. So that's, I mean, that's where the movement is happening in Christianity right now. You don't see a lot of like Catholic to evangelical. You don't see a lot of like evangelical to none pipeline. People, when they move, they don't move very far from where they came from. It's just that they don't build those deep ties. They're going to slip through the cracks and a lot of churches are not going to know they're gone until they haven't been there for six or 12 months and they go, wait, where did Joe go? And he's already gone and not coming back.

Scott: So Ryan, I'm curious, what does this say, the dechurching phenomena, what does this say about the people actually leaving their faith? How frequently when people dechurch, do they actually leave their faith?

Ryan: So the answer is generally no. I'm always asking in talks like, man, you're so depressing, Ryan. I'm like, thank you. [Sean and Scott laugh] Can you give us like a thread of hope, like a good piece of information? And here it is, 85% of Americans still believe in God at some level. We're a deeply believing people. We're much more believing than Western Europe, which is kind of our closest comparison case. And so, Americans, the way I describe it is people leave the belonging piece, I'm sorry, the behavior piece first. They leave church attendance first. They leave the belonging piece second. So they go from being a Protestant to a none or a Catholic to a none. That happens second. The belief thing is the third level, the third layer. And very few people go through that layer. So they might not attend and they might not call themselves a religious person, Protestant, Catholic, or Hindu or Buddhist. But the not believing in God thing, that's a bridge too far for most Americans. So, we got to think about these de-church people—in the book, we see a lot of people who de-church still score pretty well on basic Christian beliefs. And so we talk about Jesus being the son of God, the Bible being literally true, and all these theological questions that we ask them. So, very few of them say, I dechurched and Jesus isn't real, and I don't believe the Bible. What happens is they dechurch, but the belief still hangs around for a long time. It sort of lingers in their mind.

Sean: That's such an interesting point, that belief comes last after belonging and behavior. Now, one of the things that jumped out in your book that I wanted more depth on, but I realize books have a certain sequence and a certain scope anyways, is you make this point that people are not just de-churching to the secular left, but to the secular right. Can you explain what you mean by this and why it's so important to understand that?

Ryan: Yeah, Russ Douthat famously said, if you don't like the Christian right, imagine what the post-Christian right is going to look like. And I think that's what we're seeing more and more, is the post-Christian right is rising in America. And I think Donald Trump in some way accelerated that. If you look at the data, in 2008, amongst people who self-identified as evangelical, right, so we ask them, are you an evangelical, born again Christian or not? You say, yes. 16% of them went to church seldom or never of all self-identified evangelicals, 16%. Today, it's 27% of self-identified evangelicals go to church less than once a year. And they're the group that is becoming the new influx, inflow for the Republican Party. Low attending, low education folks, especially white folks, used to be Democrats and now they're becoming Republicans because the Democratic Party has become the party of nones. 45% of Biden voters in 2020 were atheist agnostic or nothing in particular. So, what the Republican Party is being, there's actually, this shocks people. The Democrats attendance level has dropped at a slower rate over the last 15 years than the Republicans rate has dropped of weekly attendance. So, Republicans are actually, they're not going to be the same as Republicans. They're going to be leaving church faster than Democrats are right now. And part of that is like a floor effect. Like the Democrats couldn't go much lower because they were already kind of hitting this floor in the data and the Republic, but the Republicans are catching them very quickly. So, what we're seeing is—and I wrote a piece for Politico a couple of weeks ago about how I think Trump's the ideal candidate for the post-Christian right and that on things like abortion, he says, you know, like, listen, I'm, I'm pro-life, but I think it should be a state's rights issue. Evangelicals wanted not to be a state's right. They want to be a federal ban, but a lot of post-Christian right-wing people take the Trump position, which is, I don't like abortion, but I don't think it should be federally banned. So, I think that's a huge cultural shift happening in American politics where, where religion has become a cultural marker, a tribal marker, a political marker, as opposed to like, it's more like I vote for Donald Trump than I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. And that's honestly the worst part of religion when it becomes a way to divide us, us versus them, right versus wrong. And that has what religion is becoming in the American discourse now. It's more about politics and culture than it is about theology.

Scott: So Ryan, you use the term in the book, ex-evangelical. Help, our listeners understand who, who is this group and why do they de-church?

Ryan: Yeah. So that is a group that gets so much traction online. I mean, if you're any, anything on social media, you're going to see the hashtag ex-evangelical. Can I, I need to put those in proper context. So ex-evangelical is someone who grew up evangelical and now ex-evangelical is not religious at all typically and walked away from religion entirely. And a big part of their identity is their rejection of evangelicalism. They talk about it a lot and all the harm it caused and these types of things. Our best estimate is that ex-evangelicals are about 3% of all Americans. Um, so it's not a huge segment of the American population. And that's why sometimes like marginal voices are loud on social media, so we're going to have to take them into more than what they are. And I think ex-evangelicals are a great example of that. They are people who have left religion behind, but here's something interesting about ex-evangelicals: 97% of them say Jesus Christ is the son of God. 97%., 44% believe the Bible is the literal word of God. And we created this orthodoxy score from zero to a hundred. Like it's a, it's just a summed index of a bunch of orthodox questions. They scored a 70 out of a hundred on that. So again, they, they are, they are rejecting the evangelical label. Many of them, um, they are rejecting sometimes organized religion, but again, that belief piece, it burrows deep in their hearts and minds and they don't really ever get rid of a lot of that evangelical orthodoxy they were taught as kids. They just don't like the church part of it. And politics is obviously part of that as well, but they've rejected the institution of the evangelical church, not necessarily the beliefs of the evangelical church on basic Christian orthodoxy.

Scott: Ryan, we hear this phrase from our students sometimes. And I wonder if it's true of the adults that show up in your research that, uh, our students will sometimes say, you know, I can have a vibrant spiritual life, but I don't need the church.

Ryan: Yeah. Can I just say as a social scientist, you could not be more wrong in making that statement. [all laugh] Like, honestly, the best part of religion is the going to church part. I mean, empirically, I can give you tons, dozens of studies that say that going to church gives you all kinds of positive effects—not just theological, by the way, but like mental health, physical health, relational health, democratic stuff. I just wrote about a study yesterday where they looked at people who attended church online and people who attended church face-to-face during the COVID pandemic, and the questions were about psychological distress. Do you feel anxious? Do you feel nervous? Do you feel out of sorts? The people who felt the least psychological distress were those who attended church in person once a week. Virtual church had no impact on the level of psychological stress you felt, it had to be face-to-face worship. There's something magical about meeting together corporately that does something for you in your mental health, your physical health, your emotional health, your spiritual health. And I think, honestly, I'd rather have churches full of people who don't believe a lick of it, but come every Sunday, as opposed to people who believe everything about evangelical orthodoxy, but never come to church. I mean, that is the clear empirical finding from the magnitude of data coming out of social science on religion, is that church attendance is a very good thing for people individually and for democracy as a whole.

Sean: Ryan, one of the topics that did not show in the book, which surprised me, partly because of my work with Gen Zers and with millennials, and I realize this is anecdotal, but it's the LGBTQ conversation. I frequently hear from people who have de-churched that this is one of the top reasons why either disengaging their faith or disengaging the church. What does the data show about how big of a reason that is, young people or any age, for why people de-church?

Ryan: Yeah, so what's fascinating is it doesn't show up that often in the data. I think I call that a dinner party response, [Soctt and Sean laugh] which is like, you know what I mean? Like when people say like, why are you going to vote for the republic? And you go, because I think abortion is murder. Everyone goes, okay, let's talk about something else, right? It just pivots the conversation immediately. So, you know, I'm talking about Donald Trump and the Republican Party and all these kinds of things. If you say, well, because the church is anti-gay, then people go, well, okay, let's talk about the Steelers or the weather, right? It immediately turns the conversation around. And that's not to say I don't want to minimize the fact that there are people who are LGBT who don't feel welcome in churches and don't go, or people who are allies of those people who don't go because they want to stand in solidarity with those other people. Completely legitimate. It does happen. But I think at the end of the day, if you look at the data, a majority of young evangelicals now favor same-sex marriage. So, I don't know—I think what's happening and what you're seeing a lot in the discourse is a lot of evangelical churches have just stopped talking about it. You know, they don't talk about same-sex marriage. I grew up in the church in the 1990s and the early 2000s. It was like, gay people were spoken of like once a week, it felt like in those days. If you listen to the sermons of some major evangelical pastors, it's like the issue doesn't even exist anymore. So, I think in a lot of those churches, it's just kind of receded to the background. And listen, it is happening and it is part of the conversation. But I think that people are using that almost as an excuse for I just don't want to go. And that's really the bigger thing driving them. And churches changing their position on this, I don't really know what have a measurable impact on dechurching, either coming back or going further away. So, I think it's something culturally that we're dealing with right now. But I think the bigger issues are things like social atomization. People don't want to join stuff anymore. People are distrustful of institutions. Those things to me are a way bigger cause of de-churching than the church's stance on LGBT.

Sean: So, if those are some of the issues people are disengaging, this distrust for institutions, doesn't seem like the church and Christians can change that perception. Very much. So my last question is, what are the things we can control and maybe can't control? And what do you suggest churches do to better help people maybe value church and not become a part of the de-churching group?

Ryan: Yeah. So the news does not report on the planes that land safely and on time, right? There are thousands and thousands of pastors in America who go to work every day, work their best, try their hardest, counsel people, mentor people, preach the gospel, do good works, help the community, and no one writes any stories about them. And then you've got the people who steal a bunch of money or are quote-unquote faith healers. They're the ones that get all the headlines. And that's not to minimize those people. People have been hurt by those people by the thousands, and it's absolutely awful. But 99.99% of pastors are doing the right thing. And I don't think we shouldn't forget that. It's just we have a bias. It's almost like a psychological bias towards negativity and negative news and scandal. And I think that's always going to make religion, the role of religion, very difficult, right? So, I think there's a lot of headwinds, and that's a huge headwind right now. The thing I'll say is if you look at this data and you look at, like, we ask people what would bring them back. We ask everybody that question, what would bring them back? And a constant thread that runs through that is friends, friends, friends. Okay? Friends are friends forever if the Lord is the Lord of them. If you want people to go back to church, they're going to do it for horizontal reasons, not vertical reasons. Very few people say, I will go back if I have a supernatural experience or Jesus calls me back or I just have this epiphany about religion. Most people say they want to go to a church where their friends are. So, the socialness of religion does not need to be minimized by pastors. It needs to be thought about very carefully. So how do you cultivate that? I think one way is to be meaningful and mindful and intentional about creating social space on your campus, in your community. Can we just have a barbecue with no evangelist and no praise and worship time and no contact cards, just three or four hours on a Sunday or Saturday where people sit around, eat barbecue, talk, the kids can play games and they can stay as long as they'd like to build relationships with each other. Those are the kind of activities, I think, in the data that shows up over and over again. That's what people are looking for in religion in a post COVID world, when they're isolated, when they know they need friends, they are looking for. And that's exactly what religion used to provide for people. A place to find a spouse, a place to find an insurance agent and a car dealer and a dentist. Like, that's what religion used to provide. If you give people space to be social with each other, I think that is going to be more effective than the best sermon you could ever preach about the salvific work of Jesus Christ.

Sean: Ryan, I've got so many other questions for you, but maybe we will seep them into our next interview when we talk about the other book you were part of called “The Nones.” For now, we want to thank you for your voice for contributing to the book that both Scott and I highly recommend called the great de-churching. Thanks for your time. And thanks for coming on.

Ryan: Thanks so much, guys. Appreciate it.

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