Are the millions who no longer attend church just a bunch of faith imposters? That’s the assertion of some denominational officials who seek to minimize the exodus of the religious Dones.

Research shows that American congregations have lost over 30 million adults who are the Dones–those who have left the organized church, but not their faith.

But some denominational spokespeople say these deserters were never really believers at all. One official wrote: “Americans whose Christianity was nominal—in name only—are casting aside the name. They are now aligning publicly with what they’ve actually not believed all along.”

Really? How does he know that? What data is he looking at? I asked sociologist Josh Packard, author of Church Refugees, about this assertion. He said no evidence exists to support the allegation that our churches were populated with non-believers who finally stopped attending. “If it was a huge trend,” Packard said, “sociologists and other social scientists would have been out there making waves about this for a long time.”

Hear my complete interview with Josh Packard here on the new Holy Soup podcast:

The actual research shows that 83 percent of the Dones consider their Christian faith to be an important part of their everyday lives. They pray regularly and seek outlets for spiritual growth. They aren’t done because they lack faith in God. They aren’t done because they lack faith in the concept of Church–the community of believers. They’re done because they lack faith in the current church model that some leaders desperately try to defend.

The Dones are insulted when they’re called “nominal” or “Christian in name only.” Such name-calling only alienates them further from the organized church. And it diverts congregations from examining the real causes for their losses out the back door.

Packard said his research shows an additional seven million churchgoing Americans are planning to disconnect from the institutional church. We would do well to actually talk with them, rather than dismiss them as “faith fakers.”