Rogues are Christians who have kept their faith but left church attendance behind (also called “nomads”). As rogues, we “Love Jesus but not churches.” Rogues might attend a service here or there. Faith has remained important to our lives, we have a personal relationship with God and other Christians but institutional Christianity has failed us in various ways – we’ve left church membership and attendance behind.
“In this new age, religion is in retreat from the public square and traditional institutions like the church are no longer functioning with the cultural authority they once held in generations past… But even though more and more Americans are abandoning the institutional church and its defined boundary markers of religious identity, many still believe in God and practice faith outside its walls.”
– Barna Research
There is much focus on the Millennial exodus from churches, and it is a serious matter faith groups need to tackle through reform and adaptation.
But you may find this surprising: most Rogues aren’t even Millennials!
Christians leaving church attendance behind are not new. According to Barna Research, 44% of those who self-identify as Christians yet don’t attend church are Boomers and 36% are Gen-Xers. Only 14% are Millennials and 6% Elders.
This might feel unsettling for many in churches. The Millennial exodus gets all the talk, but it was a long time in coming. For (literally) generations, people have been walking out on churches in protest of the ways they do both business and faith. For decades churches have become less relevant in the lives of Believers, who now find it easier to practice faith “outside the walls.”
The number of those who follow Jesus without a church have grown in America. In 2004, we represented 7% of the American population. In 2017, we represented 10%. Not 10% of Christians. 10% of all Americans.
One of every ten people you know is likely to love God but have reservations about churches that are so serious they no longer attend.
The surveys Barna performed turned up some other surprising details about Rogues. One was that they are always more orthodox in Christian belief than the general public – and often more orthodox than even church-going Christians!
For example, 93% of Christians-gone-rogue say there is only one God while only 90% of church goers and only 59% of the general public agree with that claim.
Likewise, 94% of Rogues believe this statement: “God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today.” Only 57% of the general American populace and a surprisingly low 85% of regular church goers shared that view.
I’ll link the whole article below, but I wanted to draw out a couple lessons for all you Rogues out there, no matter your age or generation.
One: create or find Christian community. You are not alone! According to Barna’s Roxanne Stone, “It’s more than likely you have a significant number of disaffected Christians in your neighborhoods.” Seek each other out. You don’t have to go to church to be a part of Christian community. Christian fellowship of all kinds is important for the soul, even if church services no longer help you grow. Look for fellow Believers who you work with, live near, or who are part of your social groups – because we’re everywhere, and most of us aren’t the stereotype of “young kids who dropped out of church to pursue wayward lifestyles.” You’ll meet hundreds of conscientious objectors to how churches run people’s faith into the ground when you start looking!
Two: stay in God’s Word! I was shocked to find out only 56% of church-going Christians read the Bible outside of church! But then, only 26% of Rogues do. While the same percentage of Rogues and church-goers lead an active prayer life (83%), those who leave institutional expression of faith behind often start drifting away from God’s Word even while holding onto orthodox beliefs.
God’s Word isn’t just a list of beliefs. It is full of encouragement and wise advice, inspiration and reminders. It is one of the ways God can speak to you and so we encourage you to dig in! In the modern age of technology, get a Bible app on your phone and read during slow moments during your day. If you hate sitting down to read, go ahead and get it on CDs to listen in the car or download an audio book of the Bible to listen on your favorite device.
Three: spiritually support those younger than you. What we see increasingly among young people is not “Millennials who are rogue Christians,” but rather “Millennials who are no longer Christians.”
You’ll often hear a Boomer say, “I love Jesus but not churches.” But a Millennial will say, “I’m spiritual, not religious” or “I’m close with God but I don’t even consider myself a ‘Christian’ anymore.”
Much of this is because Boomers and Gen Xers who left the church often don’t pass on their faith – which is very meaningful to them personally – to the next generation. Remember that your faith and your relationship with God are things that the next generation can benefit from as well!
Challenge the Millennials and younger people in your life to exercise their faith, even outside of institutional walls. If they can’t in good conscience attend churches, empower them to keep their faith in the rogue.
They used to say the largest cause of atheism is Christians who profess with their mouth but don’t live it out with their life. I think that’s very ’90s. What we hear more today from people who become complacent in their faith or lose their faith entirely is because Christians attacked them, ridiculed their doubts, ignored their concerns, and pretended they had the authority to cast them out of Christ’s fold.
Hypocrisy among Believers still exists, but judgmental attitudes among Believers used as weapons against fellow Believers have skyrocketed. Never let an institutionalized Christian make you feel like you’re not one of God’s children because you don’t express your faith in the same way they blindly do.
Look for Rogues around you and pass on your own convictions that God is there and not silent, that God loves them and that God is important. Encourage them to keep praying, keep reading God’s Word, and keep in Christian community. If you dare – invite them to be a part of your walk with Christ!
“They still love Jesus, still believe in Scripture and most of the tenets of their Christian faith. But they have lost faith in the church.” – Roxanne Stone
To read their whole Barna report, check here: Barna: Those who love Jesus survey