Brian Rauber grew up in church, slacked off during college, then stopped going to church altogether.

He stayed away for 10 years.

Caridad Cruz was active as a youth in a conservative congregation, but she stopped, too, and avoided church for eight years.

Even during those years away from church, they considered themselves Christians.

Rauber, 35, and Cruz, 26, are examples of people in a recent Barna Group survey that found that three out of five U.S. adults who don't attend church are self-described Christians.

A total of 28 percent of the U.S. adult population said they had not attended church in the past six months.

Americans identifying themselves as Christian make up the overwhelming majority, 83 percent, according to Barna. Other polls vary slightly.

Another Barna finding from past studies showed that almost 4 in 10 (37 percent) of unchurched Americans don't attend services because of painful experiences with the church or people in the church.

The latest survey gathered "several interesting insights" that define the self-identified Christians who don't go to church:

--30 percent have distanced themselves from being Protestant; 17 percent from being Catholic.

--18 percent said they had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important to them today.

--68 percent hold a view that God is all-knowing, all-powerful and the creator of the universe.

--35 percent said the Bible is totally accurate.

--15 percent said their religious faith is very important in their life.

"Demographically, the self-identified Christians among the unchurched stray from common assumptions," Barna researchers said. "Within this group, women outnumber men; boomers and their elders outnumber the young; downscale adults double the number of upscale unchurched; conservatives are more common than liberals; and whites outnumber minorities by nearly a 3-to-1 margin."

Barna, in Ventura, Calif., is a private, nonpartisan organization that has been researching cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

The Barna results aren't surprising, said Roger Finke, a religious studies

professor at Penn State University and director of the Association of Religion Data Archives, because some people consider themselves Christian but are anti-church.

"Many people say they can have their religious beliefs, but that doesn't require them to have a church," he said.

David Roozen of Hartford Seminary agrees.

"Many people feel they can be religious without the church," said Roozen, a religion and society professor. "They distinguish between spirituality and the church. And there is incredible anti-institutionalism, anger at institutions of all kinds.

"And the church and religion have gotten a lot of bad press in the last decade. For observers, it's, 'Man, I don't need religion.' "

Roozen, who also is director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, said the unchurched today appear to be much less religious than the unchurched of 25 to 30 years ago in terms of how important religion is to them.

A survey of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago revealed that 41 percent of people attend worship services once a year or less, and the "nevers" have increased.

"In the early '70s, they were about 15 percent. Today, it's 21 to 22 percent," he said.

In looking at evangelicals out of church, Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, pointed to "a failure of discipleship."

"Evangelical Protestants stress salvation by grace," he said. "Church life is often seen as secondary and not a vital part of spiritual life. You certainly don't have to be a church member to go to heaven.

"The stress is often individual faith and trust in Christ for salvation. So many are out there floating and don't understand that being part of a Bible-centric church is a vital element in becoming a mature Christian.

"They are saying, 'I'm on my way to heaven, but I don't really need to be part of a church.' Some people dismiss church because they don't understand it is important for their spiritual growth."

Roberts also questions the phrase "self-described Christian" in the survey.

"Some buy into a generic spirituality," he said. "They may have gone to church as a kid, and if asked what do you call yourself, they'd say, 'I'm a Christian,' but they don't have a real understanding of what the essence of the Christian faith is."

The Rev. Scott Chrostek, campus pastor at the downtown Kansas City United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, agrees that many people who grew up in church would say they are Christians.

"Christianity in the U.S. is part of the culture; there are a lot of cultural Christians," he said.

In Rauber's case, the church he had attended spent more time on the negatives and less on applying Christianity to one's daily life.

"I like to express my faith through my hands," he said.

After recently moving to downtown Kansas City, Mo., he and his wife, Kate, started attending the downtown Resurrection church, "and instantly embraced it." Rauber has helped with such projects as renovating the Grand Avenue Temple, painting at the Re-Start facility and putting together health kits for Haiti.

Even when out of church, "I've always considered myself a Christian," he said. "I retained my faith, but I wasn't satisfied with organized religion. I didn't feel like I was getting anything from church."

In the recent report, Barna said that based on past studies of those who avoid Christian churches, "one of the driving forces behind such behavior is the painful experiences endured within the local church context."

Cruz said she felt people in her church were judging her, yet were doing some of the same things she was doing.

"I felt there was hypocrisy in the church, and I felt if I kept going, I would be a hypocrite," she said.

Keith Kobes, executive director of Christian Psychological Services, said some people are hurt because they feel their needs are overlooked, and they are disappointed.

"It could be because they've lost a loved one or they are sick or lonely and need friendship," he said. "A lot of time people stay with the church and some just find it so intolerable that they need to leave.

Some leave completely and some go to another church.

"Humans tend to recoil as part of self-defense if they get hurt."

Roberts said hurt feelings could be the result of the consumerism mentality in the country: "If the church doesn't meet my needs, I'm going to stop going."

"So some of this may be the case," he said. "Also, there are a lot of choices, and people are more prone to find fault if they realize they have a lot of choices."

Congregational conflicts can result in hard feelings that cause some people to leave, Finke said, and according to the National Congregational Study, controversies in churches are fairly common.

He said that in the study, 23 percent of congregations revealed they had had conflicts within the last two years.

Even though leaving because of painful experiences may not be uncommon, 37 percent seemed high to Roozen.

But he conceded there are many issues facing congregations that are divisive, such as women's ordination, inclusive language, clergy abuse and monetary issues.

"These conflicts can feel personal," he said.

As a pastor in a diverse downtown setting, Resurrection's Chrostek said he has met people who have had negative experiences and also stopped going to church because it was no longer relevant to them.

"Several have said they stopped going to church because they were refused Communion," he said. "A couple of people were scorned by a pastor. Some were judged by church members.

"Some said churches had said they are welcoming and caring, but they don't treat people that way. So they just stopped going.

"They said they have no intentions to go back. And sadly, no one has invited them back."