Executive summary 

Christians who identify as ‘deconstructing’ their faith are often overlooked and misunderstood by mainstream Christianity, as well as secular society. Caught in-between both worlds there is a significant lack of research or evidence as to how this group of individuals express and experience their faith. 

To better understand this unique group of people, The Deconstruction Network decided to create an ongoing research project. The primary purpose of this ongoing research is to give a voice to this group of Christians, as well as to help both secular society and mainstream Christianity understand and respond to their needs. 

This initial report is based upon an online questionnaire that was completed by 440 self-identified ‘deconstructing Christians’, as well as 49 self-identified ‘content Christians’. As a possible indicator of the level of ‘deconstruction’ participants were experiencing, all respondents were asked to complete the Religious Faith Development Scale with higher scores potentially indicating a high level of deconstruction, and lower scores potentially indicating a lower level of deconstruction. 

Whilst further research will unpack a deeper understanding of this group, this report answers several high-level questions.

  1. What does current church attendance look like for those deconstructing?

Overall, 32% of deconstructing/ed Christians claimed to attend church at least once a week, with 26% never attending and 41% attending infrequently. This is significantly lower than the control group of ‘content Christians’ (84% of which attended church at least once a week). Likewise, when compared with their RFDS score, there was a strong negative correlation between RFDS and church attendance, with the highest scoring group being almost 7 times as likely to never attend church compared to the lowest scoring group. 

Whilst these results don’t disagree with the stereotype of lower church attendance for deconstructing Christians, they do highlight a more varied picture. For example, church attendance for deconstructing Christians varied significantly by gender. Responses showed that deconstructing males are almost twice as likely (45%) to continue to attend church at least once a week when compared to females (24%). Females were 50% more likely than males to never attend church and 31% more likely to attend infrequently. 

  1. How comfortable do they feel while attending church services?

Deconstructing Christians were significantly less comfortable attending church services than the control group. Only 10% could claim to feel very comfortable at their last church attendance and 21% somewhat comfortable. In comparison the control group of “content Christians” reported as 67% very comfortable and 29% somewhat comfortable. Likewise, when compared with their RFDS scores, 86% of the highest scoring group reported to either be uncomfortable or neutral in church. In contrast only 46% of the lowest scoring group claimed to not to feel comfortable.

Looking at the comfort levels across the male/female gender split highlights that females are less likely to be comfortable (28%) than their male counterparts (36%). Perhaps indicating why women are less likely to keep attending regularly. 

  1. How open about their beliefs are they able to be while attending church?

Only 31% of deconstructing Christians felt they could be somewhat / completely open about their beliefs in church. 68% felt they had to hide their beliefs in one way or another. This is significantly different to the control group of ‘content Christians’. 93% of this reported feeling they could be somewhat / completely open. Only 6% felt they couldn’t share what they believed in one way or another. 

Similarly, 42% of participants with the highest faith development scores, felt they must completely hide their beliefs. In contrast only 8% of those with the lowest faith development scores felt they should hide their beliefs. 

  1. To what degree has their faith tradition failed to answer their questions, if indeed they had questions?

91% of deconstructing Christians agreed with the statement, “I’ve questioned my faith tradition and it’s failed to provide satisfactory answers”. In contrast, only 27% of content christians agreed with this statement. These findings suggest there is a strong link between deconstructing one’s faith, and not being content with the answers to difficult questions about one’s faith. 

Once again, there is a strong correlation between responses to this question and RFDS scores of respondents. 

  1. To what degree have they had to change beliefs which they passionately held in the past?

95% of deconstructing Christians agreed with the statement, “I’ve had to let go of things I passionately believed at earlier stages of my faith”. In contrast, 58% of content Christians agreed with this statement. 

As we look at the RFDS scores we can again see there is a clear link between the score and the degree to which the participant was likely to agree with the statement. Here we see a progression of agreement with the statement of 90%, 95%, 96%, 100% going from lowest to highest scores.

  1. Could a measurement of Faith Development like Harris’s Revised Faith Development Scale (RFDS) score* be a helpful tool in identifying deconstructing Christians?

As is highlighted in the findings of this research, there is a consistent and strong correlation between RFDS scores and other key indicators of deconstruction. Whilst further research is required, these findings suggest that the RFDS is an ideal tool to help identify deconstructing Christians.

Eido Research

This research has been produced in collaboration with Eido Research (a research partnership that helps faith-based organisations measure and improve impact). Special thanks to Samuel Verbi, who worked closely with The Deconstruction Network at the start of this project.

Acknowledgements

A massive thank you to the deconstruction community! Thanks for taking part in the surveys and giving invaluable feedback as I prepared to undertake this project!

A special thank you to my Partners / Patrons. Your generosity allows me to invest in this community full-time and offer everything I do for free! You all amaze me every day and I’m so thankful for our friendship and community.

Introduction

The purpose of our research at The Deconstruction Network is to give fresh insight based on actual data on what the average person going through deconstruction is like.

There is a lot of data on those who currently attend church and those who are “dechurched” (a common term given to those who were regular church goers but have since stopped attending church.) 

However both groups are defined based on their external actions, namely church attendance. In recent years the label “deconstructing” has been claimed by a group who seem to be going through an internal change of core beliefs… often this leads to them leaving church but sometimes it does not.

This makes understanding this group a bit more complex. There are not core external actions that identify the group, nor are there even specific beliefs that have changed which have been previously highlighted by any research.
On the whole the research of this group is largely non-existent. They are often lumped in with Christians, Agnostics, Atheists, Dechurched, Nones, and a whole host of other groupings which don’t accurately represent them. This has led to a very negative view of the group from those within a lot of Christianity (often something many deconstructing Christians still associate with.) It has also led to many feeling they do not have a voice and are being misrepresented.

Our initial survey was launched in May of 2020 with the attempt of doing a preliminary mapping of the average person self-identifying as a Deconstructing/ed Christian.

Hypotheses – Defining Deconstruction

Going into this study the big issue was in defining who is a deconstructing Christian. Having worked in this field for many years now I know as well as any that defining one’s beliefs and actions is not easy for the average person going through this process. The very nature of deconstruction is a moving away from a set of beliefs and way of life. But the direction in which they move and the destinations they may reach (if they reach any) can be very varied. 

In studying deconstruction from a philosophical level (the term itself dates back to the 80s and the philosopher Derrida) and from working with the deconstruction community and prominent voices within it over the years we have put together a hypothesis of how one might be defined as someone who deconstructs.

Our primary hypotheses going into the larger meta-study are that this group will most likely fit the following 3 criteria:

  1. They will have questioned core pillars of their faith tradition and found them to not hold up to scrutiny.
  2. They will in turn have had to radically change some of their core spiritual beliefs.
  3. Their ability to make absolute statements of certainty about their faith will be reduced seeing an increase in uncertainty as a whole when considering spiritual matters.

With this said, it is important to note that the group we are studying are self-identified as deconstructing Christians. Because of that we may well find some outliers emerge in this study and future studies which will hopefully become more and more obvious as time goes on in our research and create in itself some additional interesting avenues of research.

Approach

We approached this initial baseline study with 6 main questions we wanted to answer.

  1. What does current church attendance look like for those deconstructing?
    • If all deconstructing Christians no longer attend church maybe there is a much stronger link to the dechurched than supposed?
    • Is it possible that there are different stages of deconstruction which correlate to church attendance or lack thereof?
  2. How comfortable do they feel while attending church services?
    • In past research, dechurched groups repeatedly reports being uncomfortable in church services. Again to what degree is there overlap between dechurched and deconstructing Christians?
  3. How open about their beliefs are they able to be while attending church?
    • When looking at the dechurched we see a large link with their inability to be themselves in the group, many citing they felt they had to hide their true beliefs and feelings. We imagine this will also be the case for most deconstructing Christians.
  4. To what degree has their faith tradition failed to answer their questions, if indeed they had questions?
    • Given that the first point in our working definition of deconstructing Christians is that they question their beliefs and find they do not hold up to scrutiny we expect this to be strongly linked to this group.
  5. To what degree have they had to change beliefs which they passionately held in the past.
    • Given that the second point in our working definition of deconstructing Christians is that they have to radically change core beliefs we expect the results from this to be strongly linked to this group.
  6. Could a measurement of Faith Development like Harris’s Revised Faith Development Scale (RFDS) score be a helpful tool in identifying deconstructing Christians?
    • One of our theories behind deconstruction is that it is evidence of people entering later stages of faith development. If this is the case we should see a strong link between this group and higher RFDS scores.

*A quick note on the RFDS. The scale was developed by J. Irene Harris and Gary Leak and is built on faith development work dating back through the 70s and especially pulls from Fowler’s groundbreaking work in Faith Development in the 80s in particular. You can read their original paper on their revising of the scale in 2013 here – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262798904_The_Revised_Faith_Development_Scale_An_option_for_a_more_reliable_self-report_measurement_of_postconventional_religious_reasoning

Revised Faith Development Scale

Could a measurement of Faith Development like Harris’s Revised Faith Development Scale (RFDS) score be a helpful tool in identifying deconstructing Christians?

Comparison of RFDS scores between content conventional Christians and Deconstructing Christians.

Before we start it’s important we explore the Revised Faith Development Scale (RFDS) scores. These scores range from 16 through 64 with 16 being the least developed and 64 being the most. Other studies on this metric have pointed towards conventional Christians scoring around the 42 mark. Our control group of “content Christians” scored a mean of 43.45 which was consistent with these figures.

The mean figure of those deconstructing was 53.73 which was a full 10.28 points higher highlighting that RFDS may well correspond in some way to deconstruction as we initially hypothesized.

There also seemed to be a strong upturn in participants claiming to be deconstructing around the score of 49 and a downturn at around 60. With 83% of those self identifying as deconstructing/ed falling within this window and only 18% of content Christians doing so.

Gender

Comparison of RFDS scores across a Female / Male split

Firstly it should be said that while the study was open to a wide gamut of gender identifications in the pool of 450 people only 6 people identified as non-cis gender. Because of this we did not have a broad enough pool to report on anything beyond a male/female split. Future studies on this will hopefully be conducted.

RFDS scores don’t seem to be particularly linked to gender. The overall split of the study was 40/60% male/female. This meant that only the lowest scoring group varied by any significant degree with a 34/66% split.  

Age

RFDS scores by age group

Age doesn’t seem to present any overwhelming evidence of a link to RFDS. One might have hypothesized that with increase in age you would see a higher RFDS score. However while the oldest age bracket did see 54% of the participants scoring in the top half of the RFDS scores this wasn’t noticeably progressive through the age brackets with the 55-64 group scoring 39% and the 45-54 group scoring 40% in the top half.

The highest scoring group was actually the 25-34 group with 57% of participants scoring in the top half of scores.

It is very hard to infer anything specific from this dataset as it stands.

We will continue to look at RFDS scores and how they relate to our other questions throughout the rest of this study.

Church Attendance

What does current church attendance look like for those deconstructing?

Comparison of frequency of church attendance between Deconstructing Christians and content conventional Christians

A common assumption about those who deconstruct their faith is that they will stop attending church. While this can be true in many cases in turns out this is not always true. When looking at our control group of “content Christians” we found that 84% attended church at least once a week. By comparison 32% of deconstructing/ed Christians claimed to attend church at least once a week. With 26% never attending and 41% attending infrequently.

This shows that while there is a large overlap between our group and those typically labeled as “dechurched” the two groups should not be conflated.

Why so many who deconstruct their faith stay in church will be a topic of upcoming study but for now it can safely be said that certainly a significant portion of those who claim to be deconstructing/ed are still attending church.

Frequency of church attendance compared across different Christian traditions

Interestingly enough when compared to data from Pew Research Center on American church attendance by denominational affiliation we see that attendance of deconstructing/ed Christians was nearly identical to those who identify with the Mainline Protestant Church and was not dissimilar to the Catholic and Orthodox Church either.

The two groups that stood out were the Evangelical church where many of the more well known deconstructing Christians tend to come from and the unaffiliated which is often how this group is labeled or assumed to be a part of.

This shows that while many deconstructing come from Evangelical and many end up in the unaffiliated category their church attendance practices do not seem to line up closely with either group.

Gender

Comparison of church attendance across a Female / Male split

When looking at church attendance among those deconstructing through the lens of a male/female divide we find an interesting difference.

It appears that males are almost twice as likely (45%) to continue to attend church at least once a week during deconstruction when compared to females (24%). 

Females were 50% more likely than males to never attend church and 31% more likely to attend infrequently. 

This could be due to all sorts of variables and needs further study. The church is well known to have a gender gap in it already with 61% female and 39% males. So this may point to something of a correction in this imbalance. It is also quite possible that with women rights and equality being a common theme in many people’s deconstruction women have more reason to feel unable to continue in institutions that oppress them than men who are less affected by such systems of oppression. It must also be said that generally speaking women who question the system are much less likely to be heard out than men, again making the church a much more hostile place for a deconstructing female than a deconstructing male. More studies on this are being planned.

Age

Comparison of church attendance by age

Age is often cited as a factor in deconstruction, a common trope being that those in the 18-29 years bracket being most likely to deconstruct. One might expect therefore that those older might be more likely to remain in attendance and those younger would be less likely.

However it transpired that the youngest grouping 18-24 were actually the second most likely to attend church at least once a week (42%) close on the tail of the oldest group 65+ (50%). They were also the least likely to never attend with only 11% claiming to do so, a full 16-point drop from the next lowest answer.

The age bracket 25-34 did however see a big drop in frequent attendance, which dropped by half down to 22%.

This age window could potentially point to higher education playing a part. This will be studied further in our next report but is a common belief and higher education has been shown to be present in those who are dechurched – (Packard, Hope 2015)

The regular attendance of self identified deconstructing/ed Christians in the 18-24 bracket seems to suggest that while many young people in that age bracket aren’t attending church anymore it doesn’t seem to be explicitly because of deconstruction of faith.

RFDS

Comparison of church attendance across different RFDS scores.

When we look at attendance when compared to RFDS scores we can see a clear direction to the results. With the highest scoring group being almost 7 times as likely to never attend church compared to the lower scoring group. They are also just over twice as likely to not attend at least once a week.

From this we can see a very clear link between faith development and church attendance. If, and as it stands it is still an if, RFDS can be linked to Deconstruction this could suggest that continued church attendance among this group might be due to deconstruction being at an early stage of development and continued deconstruction may be more likely to result in leaving the church. More research will have to be conducted to see if RFDS can be linked to depth of deconstruction.

Comfort Levels at Church

How comfortable do those deconstructing feel while attending church services?

One of our theories going into this initial study was that there would be a strong link between deconstruction and how comfortable people felt at church. A common thing cited by those who deconstruct is that they no longer feel comfortable in their own communities.

Range of responses to the question “when you last attended church how comfortable did you feel?” between Deconstructing Christians and content conventional Christians

With this in mind we asked our participants when they last attended church how comfortable they felt. As you can see the control group of “content Christians” reported as 67% very comfortable and 29% somewhat comfortable. This was a stark difference to deconstructing/ed Christians of whom only 10% could claim to feel very comfortable at their last church attendance and a slightly 21% somewhat comfortable. 

If we were to break this down into a pragmatic divide of positive (comfortable) or negative (uncomfortable or neutral – assuming the average church leader wouldn’t see a neutral response as something negative) the difference is stark. With 96% giving a positive response in the content Christian category and only 31% of deconstructing/ed Christians giving a positive response.

Again however this is quite different than many might have supposed. Yet again, we find about a third of our group seeming to be defying common expectations of this group by claiming to be comfortable in church. We look forward to studying further why it is that deconstructing/ed Christians feel so uncomfortable in church.

Gender

How comfortable deconstructing Christians felt the last time they were in church across a Female / Male split

Looking at the comfort levels across the male/female gender split highlights that females are less likely to be comfortable (28%) than their male counterparts (36%). Perhaps indicating why women are less likely to keep attending regularly. 

Women report to be 5 percentage points less likely to feel neutral and 14 percentage points more likely to feel uncomfortable than males.

Age

How comfortable deconstructing Christians felt the last time they were in church by age

The only thing that seems to be quite clearly linked to age in this category is how those who felt very comfortable increased with every jump in age bracket from just 4% at the youngest up to 23% with the oldest.

Surprisingly however, overall comfort was not as clearly progressive. While it increased steadily from the 25-34 group up to the 55-65 group, the oldest group actually saw a large drop and the youngest group was the second most comfortable.

RFDS

How comfortable deconstructing Christians felt the last time they were in church by RFDS scores
How comfortable deconstructing Christians felt the last time they were in church by RFDS scores simplified to either a positive or non-positive response.

Finally as we come to the RFDS we can see a very clear direction again. It seems that as we increase the score on the RFDS we can see a significant increase in discomfort at church services. With 86% of the higher scoring group reporting to either be uncomfortable or neutral in church. In contrast in the lowest scoring group we can see 43% claiming not to feel comfortable. It would seem that faith development is closely linked to people’s discomfort in churches.

How Open Could People Be at Church?

How open about their beliefs are those deconstructing able to be while attending church?

A 2015 study by Packard and Hope on 1000 dechurched (a group that significantly overlaps with deconstructing/ed people) found that the vast majority of people who left their churches (many of whom were presumably deconstructing) cited their reasons as no longer feeling they were able to share their beliefs without fear of negative consequences.

We asked those deconstructing/ed how much they felt they were able to be open about their beliefs when they were last at church.

Range of responses between Deconstructing Christians and content conventional Christians when asked how open or hidden they had to keep their beliefs the last time they attended church

As you can see when compared to the control group of “content Christians” the deconstructing group are much less predictable.

29% of the control group reported feeling they could be somewhat open and 64% felt they could be completely open. Leaving only 6% feeling they couldn’t share what they believed in one way or another.

By contrast the deconstructing group reported that 23% of them could only be somewhat open and only 8% reported they could be completely open. 68% felt they had to hide their beliefs in one way or another.

Gender

Need to hide beliefs or freedom to be open about them in deconstructing/ed Christians by Female / Male split

Interestingly when looking at the male/female split there doesn’t seem much in it with 66% of males and 69% females reporting they felt they had to hide their beliefs in one way or another.

Detailed need to hide beliefs or freedom to be open about them in deconstructing/ed Christians by Female / Male split

The real difference comes into play when we look at the nitty gritty of the spectrum. It turns out that men were more than three times as likely (9 percentage points) to feel they could be completely open. Again maybe pointing to why men are more likely to keep attending church regularly while deconstructing.

Age

Need to hide beliefs or freedom to be open about them in deconstructing/ed Christians by age

Across all ages approximately 20% seem to feel they had to completely hide their beliefs in church with the biggest variation coming from the youngest group at 24%.

It would seem age does not seem to play a significant role in how much deconstructing Christians feel they have to completely hide. But as we look across the rest of the results we see that there is a general trend of more openness with increased age. In general though we see a gradual increase from only 2% of those under 25 feeling they could be completely open to 19% of those over 65 with a significant dip at the ages of 55-64.

RFDS

Need to hide beliefs or freedom to be open about them in deconstructing/ed Christians by RFDS scores simplified to positive or negative responses.
Need to hide beliefs or freedom to be open about them in deconstructing/ed Christians by RFDS scores detailed

Looking at our RFDS scores it seems again we can see some clear progressions, and some surprising results as well.

It would seem that as faith development increases people feel they must completely hide their beliefs 42% of the highest scoring group compared to only 8% in the lowest group. 

One of the more interesting differences is between the second highest group (55-59) and the highest group (60-64) where they report 79% and 69% respectively as feeling they have to hide their beliefs a big jump from the prior two groups at 51% (up to 48) and 62% (49-54).

However when we look closer we can see a massive difference between those who feel they have to completely hide and those who feel they have to only partially hide their beliefs. The top scoring group report a 42%/28% split and the second group report 23%/56%.

There are many things that could be at play here, more research is definitely warranted in this area to see what could be causing this.

Questioned their faith and found it wanting

To what degree has the faith tradition of those deconstructing failed to answer their questions, if indeed they had questions?

Range of responses between Deconstructing Christians and content conventional Christians when asked how if they identified with the phrase “I’ve questioned my faith tradition and it’s failed to provide satisfactory answers.”

For our first criteria of deconstructing Christians we hypothesized that the group would have questioned core pillars of their faith tradition and found them to not hold up to scrutiny.

We therefore asked the participants to respond to the statement “I’ve questioned my faith tradition and it’s failed to provide satisfactory answers.” 

As we can see the control group responded with a spread across the board with about 73% disagreeing and 27% agreeing to some degree with the statement.

The deconstructing/ed group however were split much more drastically with 9% disagreeing and 91% agreeing. A whopping 70% strongly agreed with the statement.

This highlights that there is an extremely strong link between deconstruction and questioning ones core beliefs and failing to find satisfactory answers within the same tradition.

Age

Failing to find satisfactory answers from faith tradition by deconstructing/ed Christians by age.

It’s hard to identify any clear trends corresponding to age here. It does seem that the oldest group (65+) appear to be less ambiguous in their answer with only 12% of the group not identifying strongly with the statement one way or another.

The oldest and the youngest age groups were the only groups that majorly deviated from the other age brackets in their ability to negatively react to the statement. With those under the age of 25 being about half as likely to disagree and those over 65 being twice as likely to disagree.

Finally an interesting point was that only 1% in the 25-34 yr old age bracket could strongly disagree with the statement although overall they were not more likely to agree with the statement that other age brackets. Suggesting that perhaps they were more inclined to question but less inclined to outright reject.

Gender

Failing to find satisfactory answers from faith tradition by deconstructing/ed Christians by Female / Male split

While there was no difference  between agreement / disagreement with the statement between males and females in this category that fell apart when looking more closely at the strength of agreements. Where it turns out that men were much more likely to strongly agree with the statement splitting the 91% agreement 16% slightly and 75% strongly agreeing. Women in comparison responded 24/67% pointing to a much less adamant position on their conclusion.

RFDS

Failing to find satisfactory answers from faith tradition by deconstructing/ed Christians by RFDS scores.

When we look at RFDS scores it’s no surprise again that their appears to be a close link between RFDS score and questioning. 

There is a very clear progression in when we look at the responses as agreeing or disagreeing. We find that nobody in the top scoring group disagreed with the statement in comparison to 22% in the lowest group. In fact with each increase in score of about 5 points we see those disagreeing with the statement roughly halving from 22% to 10% to 4% before hitting 0%.

But when we break it down to differentiate between slight and strong agreement/disagreement the progression becomes even more clear.

Failing to find satisfactory answers from faith tradition by deconstructing/ed Christians by RFDS scores detailed

While we see a clear progression of 77%, 90%, 96%, 100% in agreement as we move up the RFDS scores groupings. The change in strong agreement is more stark progressing as 40%, 64%, 80%, 97%. Showing that as ones faith is developed you are much less likely to slightly agree that you have questioned and failed to find answers within your faith tradition and instead you are much more likely to strongly identify with this process.

Letting Things Go

To what degree have those deconstructing had to change beliefs which they passionately held in the past.

Range of responses between Deconstructing Christians and content conventional Christians when asked how if they identified with the phrase “I’ve had to let go of things I passionately believed at earlier stages of my faith.”

Part of our hypothesis was that, not content with just questioning ones beliefs, once those who deconstruct have done so will have to let go of beliefs they were once very passionately attached to.

In this question we explore this and find that once again the control group of “content Christians” respond right across the spectrum of answers. With in total 42% disagreeing and 58% agreeing. Meanwhile in the deconstructing/ed group 5% disagreed and 95% agreed.

This seems to support the hypothesis that those who deconstruct will have to let go of key beliefs.

Age

Degree of agreement among deconstructing/ed Christians with the statement “I’ve had to let go of things I passionately believed at earlier stages of my faith.” by age.

Age again doesn’t appear to show us as much as we might have expected with most of the results appearing rather all over the place.

The only trend that appears to be there is that the degree to which people slightly agreed with the statement seems to consistently shrink from 18% 4% as the age increases perhaps suggesting more black and white thinking on this issue as people age. It’s important to note that as slightly identifying with the statement was lessened with age no other metric likewise consistently changed to account for this.

Gender

Degree of agreement among deconstructing/ed Christians with the statement “I’ve had to let go of things I passionately believed at earlier stages of my faith.” by Female / Male split simplified.
Degree of agreement among deconstructing/ed Christians with the statement “I’ve had to let go of things I passionately believed at earlier stages of my faith.” by Female / Male split

While both genders represented in the data (remember data was too limited for non-binary genders to be represented) it’s clear that males felt more strongly that they had to let go of prior beliefs they were passionate about. 97% of men agreed compared to 92% of women. The major difference was again when we break down the data. It showed that men were much more likely to strongly identify with the statement 86% compared to 68% meaning that women were more than twice as likely to only slightly identify with the statement at 24% compared to 11%.

RFDS

Degree of agreement among deconstructing/ed Christians with the statement “I’ve had to let go of things I passionately believed at earlier stages of my faith.” by RFDS scores simplified
Degree of agreement among deconstructing/ed Christians with the statement “I’ve had to let go of things I passionately believed at earlier stages of my faith.” by RFDS scores

As we look at the RFDS scores we can again see there is a clear link between the score and the degree to which the participant was likely to agree with the statement.

Here we see a progression of agreement with the statement of 90%, 95%, 96%, 100% going from lowest to highest scores.

Again as with the prior question about questioning we find the most interesting progression across the scores in the difference between slight and strong agreement. We can see that the progression of strong agreement is 53%, 78%, 89%, 94%. 

This again seems to show that as the score increases participants are not just more likely to tick the criteria for deconstruction but to tick it more furiously.

Conclusion

Having looked at all this data and some of its potential implications let’s look at what it means for our six initial questions we had going into the study.

What does current church attendance look like for those deconstructing?

Having worked with Deconstructing Christians for the last 8yrs I knew that some still attended church regularly. It was encouraging to see a clear indication of this in the data. Far too often there is a conflation with the Dechurched group – identified by their external behavior and the Deconstructing group who are identified by their internal struggle. With 32% still attending church regularly we can see that while there is a significant overlap between the two groups they are not necessarily safe to associate interchangeably.

There certainly seems to be an interesting link between gender and church attendance with men being almost twice as likely to attend at least once a week compared to women. Why this is needs to be looked at further. We are also very hopeful we are able to expand looking at gender beyond the binary constructs of male/female as this could produce some very interesting and helpful information too.

Aside from the youngest age bracket being more likely to attend church in general than other ages and the 25-34 age bracket being least likely to attend regularly there didn’t seem to be a strong link between age and church attendance with most ages presenting a fairly similar spread of responses.

The theory that perhaps church attendance might be linked to how developed one is in their deconstruction also seems to be quite likely. If we can link RFDS with deconstruction and assume that a more developed score equates to a more deconstructed person then we can say yes, church attendance will drop as people develop in their deconstruction.

This is still very problematic of course. We haven’t proven yet that RFDS is explicitly linked to deconstruction and not only that there is no guarantee that someone who starts to deconstruct will continue. In my anecdotal experience some start the process but stop when they find that the pain point that kick-started their deconstruction changes in some way and allows for them to stop asking questions and reintegrate into a church community. But certainly it seems that those who continue to develop their faith will ultimately become less and less involved in church community.

How comfortable do they feel while attending church services?

On the whole, not very comfortable. It was clear that compared to conventionally content Christians, 96% of whom claimed to be comfortable in church the Deconstructing group were much less comfortable with only 10% feeling very comfortable and 21% slightly. Not surprisingly this third was closely linked to those who attended church regularly. Which does highlight that discomfort is much more associated with being Dechurched than Deconstruction itself. However it is clear that in those who deconstruct discomfort is a strong factor for many.

Again the binary gender split was telling with men being much more likely to be either comfortable (18-points) or neutral (5-points) than females. One can only hypothesis that non-binary attendees of church might feel even more uncomfortable in church. Hopefully, again, we can gather more data on this group of people.

There was only one solid link between age and comfort at church which was that the older generations seemed to be increasingly able to say they were very comfortable at church. Still at the highest score this was still only 23%.

We also saw that as people developed in the faith (RFDS) their discomfort grew. So again this might point to people becoming more uncomfortable as they deconstruct further. Which of course makes a lot of sense.

How open about their beliefs are they able to be while attending church?

Not very. While 93% of conventional content Christians claimed they could only 31% of deconstructing Christians felt they could be open about their beliefs in church. Again showing a huge overlap with the Dechurched community.

Ability to be open seemed to link to gender and age somewhat with men and older generations being much more likely to feel able to be completely open. Again we can see some links to the RFDS score potentially hinting again that as people develop in their faith they are generally less likely to feel they can be open.

To what degree has their faith tradition failed to answer their questions, if indeed they had questions?

It is clear that as hypothesized the Deconstructing group had questioned their faith tradition and failed to find satisfactory answers to their questions. With 91% agreeing with our statement when compared to 27% in the control. There were no significant links to gender or age but RFDS saw huge jumps in questioning and being unsatisfied as the RFDS scores increased. 

To what degree have they had had to change beliefs which they passionately held in the past?

Not surprisingly this statement resonated with 95% of the Deconstructing group. A big jump up from the 58% in the control group. There was nothing significant as we looked at age but gender did appear to show Females were less likely than men to identify with the statement and even less likely to identify strongly with the statement. However the big link was again between RFDS and change of beliefs.

Could a measurement of Faith Development like Harris’s Revised Faith Development Scale (RFDS) score be a helpful tool in identifying deconstructing Christians?

Given the scores in our deconstruction group being over 10 points higher than those of the conventional content Christians I think it’s safe to say there is some connection here. Not to mention that the more people associated with our definitions of a Deconstructing Christian the more they were likely to score on the RFDS. Further work in this area needs to be done but as things stand I think we will see that deconstruction will be able to be mapped alongside RFDS with higher scores being linked to more developed Deconstruction.

Moving forward

Off the back of this study in particular there are several questions that have emerged. To me the biggest one is the difference between men and women’s experience of deconstructing and their church attendance. With women being much more likely to leave the church / feel comfortable / feel able to share openly when deconstructing I am keen to know why. This could be hugely significant in a number of ways.

More broadly speaking however, since we have significantly moved forward in identifying clear markers of deconstruction we need to continue to develop a profile of this group.

There are three main questions on my mind looking forward. 

  1. Who deconstructs?

What kind of person ends up deconstructing? What were their beliefs before deconstructing? What were their actions? How involved in church were they? What caused the deconstruction to start? Etc.

  1. What does deconstruction look like?

What to those who are deconstructing believe and do today. How similar are they? How different? What are common beliefs held? How does this process affect their wellbeing? Is there a general progression to deconstruction? Can we identify where people are on a linear journey or is every journey unique?

  1. Where do those deconstructing end up?

Is there a general end for those who deconstruct? Do all eventually leave the church? Do some return? Do most end up Agnostic? Or maybe most retain their faith in Jesus? Or maybe it’s not as simple as that and there is a very mixed spectrum.

Looking over this initial study and its results I can say with great confidence we are going to be able to clear up a lot of misconceptions about those deconstructing. I’m very excited to be able to give them a voice. A voice backed up by data. And I’m hopeful that it might lead to more helpful and healthy conversations between those who are deconstructing and those who are not.

Get involved

If you haven’t already joined our research panel and are deconstructing your faith please consider doing so. I fully believe we can make some profound discoveries and we need every voice we can get to make the data as well rounded and accurate as possible. You can join by clicking here. It only requires you do 2 or 3 five minute surveys a year.