According to the latest census of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), in 2010, the number of “undetermined evangelical Christians” was 9.2 million, which made up 21% of evangelicals at the time. The “indeterminate” Christians are a category of evangelicals who did not break with the dogmatic confessions of Christianity, but who separated themselves from the institutional form of the churches. Popularly known within Brazilian evangelicalism as unchurched, this contingent of faithful continues to grow, reaching today – according to some scholars of the phenomenon – the mark of more than 16 million people, which would elect them (if they were a denomination), as the second largest denominational group in the country, only behind the Assemblies of God.
In general terms, the unchurched consider that the church is distorted in its nature, in essence, in the community relational proposal and in its offer of mission and service. They denounce the distance between what is seen in practice today in religious environments and what could be done to improve the foundations laid by Jesus and his apostles. For the theologian Nelson Bomilcar, author of the book “The unchurched: seeking paths of hope in the religious experience”, the following subgroups are part of the phenomenon, namely: a) The self-professed unchurched: those who identify themselves as not belonging to any church and therefore do not have ties, partnerships or institutional commitments with communities and denominations; b) Those who are disenchanted with the church: people who have become disappointed with the formal religious institution and remain at a preventive distance from the community experience of being church; c) People inserted as members of a church or as ecclesiastical leaders who live superficial and almost null relationships in the church; d) faithful gathered in small groups that meet informally in houses, offices, rented halls, parks or schools, and who do not want to be seen or recognized as an organization; e) individuals who have been the target of spiritual abuse by the leadership and who are disappointed with the relationships and the institution; g) the unchurched who follow messages and reflections on the internet.
There are many factors that reflect on the subsistence of the phenomenon of the unchurched, but the internal (ecclesiastical) and external (sociological) aspects stand out. Among the internal factors, are the disappointment with promises made in the name of God and that were never fulfilled, relational disappointments, in addition to the questionable practices and teachings taught in ecclesiastical environments and the repulsion with the bad examples and corruption of the leaders (pastors, bishops and apostles). On the other hand, external factors can be understood within the historical moment in which we live – the so-called postmodernity or radicalized modernity -, strongly marked by a pragmatic and utilitarian worldview and by a plurality of religious choices, which allows the individual to experience religious contents. several.
The phenomenon of the unchurched should lead evangelical Christians and their leaders to reflect on at least two major questions: Is this just another crisis that has accompanied the church since its beginnings, but today with a new guise and new theological arguments? Or, is the phenomenon an indisputable proof that evangelical churches need an ecclesiological-institutional reform?
I think that the last question is more pertinent and, for this reason, requires a closer look not only from Christians, but from the general public, since evangelical churches, as a rule, position themselves far from the demands of their faithful and foster institutional structures that are unattractive to people. With the countless sociological changes brought about in the last 50 years and with the advent of online social networks, the profile of the evangelical believer has changed drastically. Today, evangelicals want to participate in the institutional decisions of their faith communities, seek more democratic and transparent environments and are much more flexible in behavioral issues. For these reasons, namely; as a result of the obsolescence of churches, there has been a desertion of millions of evangelical Christians in Brazil, who daily swell the ranks of the unchurched.
The trend in the coming years is for the number of “undetermined” evangelicals to increase at the same pace as the growth of evangelical churches, which – according to scholars’ prospects – in 2036 will become hegemonic in the religious scene. Unfortunately, most pastors in Brazil have not paid attention to this phenomenon, which in essence is a blunt denunciation of the status quo. Evangelical churches are more and more crowded, but their back doors get progressively wider every day.
* Rodolfo Capler is a theologian, writer and researcher at the Laboratory of Politics, Behavior and Media at Fundação São Paulo/PUC-SP
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