Education and the Un Churched

U5s Are the Most Educated Among the Unchurched by Thom S. Rainer 11 Mar 2004 Editor’s note: For research purposes, Dr. Thom S. Rainer classified unchurched people into five categories, U1 through U5. U1 is the most receptive group to the gospel, and U5 is the least receptive. While wealth seems to be one major obstacle to receiving Christ, advanced education may be another. More than 39 percent of the U5s had a master’s or doctoral degree, compared to 14 percent of the total unchurched population. And over one-fourth of the U5s had a doctoral degree, compared to only 4 percent of all the unchurched. Mark J. from Maryland is a typical highly educated U5. He claims to be an agnostic, one who is uncertain about the existence of God, but he sounds more like an atheist, one who firmly denies the existence of God. Mark received his Ph.D. in economics some 20 years ago. Like many of the highly educated U5s, he sees religion as a crutch for the less educated. In fact, Mark attributes his denial of the reality of God as a natural consequence of his advanced learning. "The more education you receive," he said, "the more you realize that religious beliefs just don’t make sense." Interestingly, Mark’s biggest turnoff by Christians is their prayer lives. Mark believes the exercise of prayer is futile. "The Christians I know pray for everything," he lamented. "I can’t stand it when they pray for trivial things that just aren’t important. In my mother’s church, some of the people were praying for their new pastor to find a good place to live. Isn’t that ridiculous?" One of our regularly asked questions to interviewees was to name the person who influenced them the most. A common response among U5s was a teacher or professor. One of Mark’s economics professors urged the students to see everything rationally, a process the professor claimed would exclude religious beliefs. "He really opened my eyes," Mark said. "He is probably the main reason I don’t believe in the existence of God." Please do not hear that our study implies that education is evil. Like wealth, however, the attainment of knowledge and education can be one’s own god. And the most resistant to the gospel, the U5s, were more likely to have such an attitude toward education. — Excerpted from "The Unchurched Next Door," by Thom S. Rainer, Zondervan, 2003.