Column: A Unitarian/Universalist’s Response to Dechurching  

October 14, 2023

By Michael Beer   

We are seeing the largest and fastest religious shift in America, called “dechurching,” according to Jessica Gross of the New York Times.  

Jim Davis and Michael Graham’s research finds a dramatic change in attendance at houses of worship. About 40 million Americans have stopped going to church and this applies equally to all theological and income levels, they find. According to surveys, most still believe in God or some higher being but disliked the conservatism of churches and their hypocrisy and gender biases, particularly with regard to the LGBTQ+ community.  

We can now add evangelical Christians’ substitution of politics for religious principle. And the disaffected dislike, as I did, the rigidity of liturgy and prescribed practices of their religion.  

Disaffected individuals question conservative racial, gender, political and sexual attitudes of their traditional religions. They are seeking to replace traditional worship with a spirituality that will get them out of the materialistic world and reduce their anxieties about life. Many cite their faith’s roots in fear and judgment.   

My wife, a doubting Catholic, and I, a doubting Jew, found the answer to these concerns at First Parish in Concord, a Universalist/Unitarian congregation.  

First and foremost, we liked the liberal view of God and worship. There is an openness to the meaning each of us attributes to the question of God as well as openness to non-believers. We are a community of individuals with diverse understandings of spiritual life, and we welcome diversity of all kinds. We have multiple religious and other affinity groups and are proud to have been the first church to hang the “Black Lives Matter” banner at the front of the church. Religious education for our children exposed them to multiple religions and educated them about the uncertain path to a mature and values driven life.  

Our values expressed in our Sunday services through stories, not dictums, are rooted in the fundamentals of a happy and healthy life — family, appreciation of nature, compassion, helping others and the importance of a community based on love, truth and collaboration, and yes, democracy.   

You are welcome to join us in person to learn more about us and meet our minister in person or and learn from him about our church on YouTube by searching “First Parish Church Concord” on the site.