The Chrino: Christian In Name Only

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Nearly seven out of ten (69%, Cultural Research Center) of American adults self-identify as a Christian. With an adult population (18 years and older) of 259 million people (census.gov), that means there are 179 million people in the U. S. who self-identify as a Christian.

179 million. That’s a lot of people.

But how many of those people are really Christians? How many genuinely believe that Christ is the only way of salvation? How many can affirm Jesus’ words in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (NLT)?

I am attempting to quantify how many of those who claim the label of Christians are not really Christians. How many of them are CHRINOs, Christian in name only?

It is a complex exercise. Ultimately, I cannot know the hearts of men and women. But is it fair to make an estimate? Is it fair to make assumptions that cannot be proved? Can we really provide the number of CHRINOs in America, even if it’s not precise?

I think the answer to all of those questions is “yes,” and I will indeed provide an informed guess at the number of CHRINOs in the United States.

Some Points to Consider

As I delve into my methodology, specific points and caveats are necessary. There is no such thing as a perfect approach to this task. Consider the following:

  • I use doctrinal filters in my assessment. The primary filter I use is the belief that Christ is the only way of salvation. In other words, if someone does not affirm that salvation is by Christ alone, I do not consider them a Christian. If they self-affirm they are a Christian while denying this essential doctrine, I categorize them as CHRINOs.
  • Even though I use a critical biblical doctrine as my filter, I realize my approach has weaknesses. For example, someone could cognitively affirm the doctrine but not have a personal relationship with Christ. Or someone could simply misunderstand the question and respond in the negative even though they are Christians at heart.
  • My purpose in completing this exercise is to inform church leaders and members. I am convinced that most American congregations have lost their urgency to evangelize. Likewise, I am convinced that many of our members are biblically uninformed. I hope and pray that this data could serve at least as an early wake-up call for churches and their leaders.
  • There has been substantive research on church attendance, beliefs among Christians, and surveys about Christian self-identification. I can use that research as foundational to this brief report.
Where Are the CHRINOs?

We begin with the data point of 69% self-identifying Christians noted earlier. How many of those 179 million American adults are really Christians? Or, inversely, how many of those adults are CHRINOs?

  • Are there CHRINOs in the church? The data points to a clear response of “yes.” For example, we have conducted the same survey in churches since 1996. The data is a treasure trove of information from a longitudinal perspective. The survey asks the fundamental question of salvation through Christ alone. This survey is typically completed by active church members, usually those who attend twice a month or more. Among these most active members, 19.5% could not strongly affirm that Christ is the only way of salvation (Church Answers Research, 2022 data).
  • We then estimate that the number of CHRINOs would be more significant for the occasional attendees and CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) attendees. Though we don’t have granular data for these attendees, we know that belief dissipates significantly with reduced church involvement. Thus, a conservative estimate of CHRINOs in this group is 50%.
  • Among self-identified evangelicals, only 55% affirm salvation by Christ alone. We thus take the inverse of this response and conclude that 45% of evangelicals are CHRINOs (Cultural Research Center, Arizona Christian University).
  • We can also look at church membership as another beginning point to estimate the number of CHRINOs. In 2021, 47% of Americans were church members, down from 70% in 2000 (Barna). We can then estimate that the number of self-identifying Christians who have no church affiliation is around 60 million. We can speculate that many (most?) of them are CHRINOs.
The Estimate of CHRINOs in America

My exercise in sharing the data above was likely tedious, but I wanted you to see I have at least some basis for my final estimate. I conservatively estimate that at least 40% of church members are CHRINOs. 

Among the general population of self-identifying Christians, I estimate that 60% are CHRINOs.

From a practical viewpoint, these numbers indicate that you likely can do much evangelism in your church. Four out of ten of your own church members are not Christians. They are CHRINOs.

Again, from a practical perspective, the estimates mean that a conversation with someone about the gospel should not end if they say, “I am a Christian.” Six out of ten self-identifying Christians are CHRINOs.

Both estimates are staggering. We have much work to do. Complacency is not an option.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21, NLT).

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