On Leaving Church
There are many Christians who have stopped going to church. They have not given up on God, have not renounced their faith, have not denied Christ, and have not become pagans. They simply are no longer going to church. That this is happening is not a matter of doubt, but why this is happening is in fact a difficult question to answer.
One recent article spoke about this trend. Entitled “The Rise of the ‘Done With Church’ Population,” it looks at this scene – primarily in America – but does not offer us any clear indications as to why this is becoming such a problem. The article begins:
John is every pastor’s dream member. He’s a life-long believer, well-studied in the Bible, gives generously and leads others passionately. But last year he dropped out of church. He didn’t switch to the other church down the road. He dropped out completely. His departure wasn’t the result of an ugly encounter with a staff person or another member. It wasn’t triggered by any single event.
John had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision. He said, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.”
John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation—often called the Nones. Rather, John has joined the Dones.
At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. To an increasing degree, the church is losing its best.
For the church, this phenomenon sets up a growing danger. The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service and financial support are going away. And the problem is compounded by the fact that younger people in the next generation, the Millennials, are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.
Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”
The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.
Will the Dones return? Not likely, according to the research. They’re done. Packard says it would be more fruitful if churches would focus on not losing these people in the first place. Preventing an exodus is far easier than attempting to convince refugees to return.
Hmmm, interesting. There would be many reasons why people stop going to church. We all might have our suggestions as to why this is occurring. I have my own ideas. Let me list a few such possibilities here:
-Many believers are growing tired of the celebrity culture in our churches.
-Many believers are fed up with the incessant entertainment and worldly amusements found in the churches.
-Many believers are not being fed from the Word of God.
-Many believers are put off by the attempt to cater solely to youth, while ignoring their needs.
-Many believers are tired of just being bench warmers, with no role to play.
-Many believers are weary of the constant need to be “relevant” at the expense of biblical orthodoxy.
-Many believers are looking for the real deal. They want an encounter with almighty God, not just a razzmatazz stage production.
-Many believers are desiring genuine Holy Ghost revival, not just pep talks, self-help seminars, and a me-centred gospel.
-Many believers are starving for the reality of First Century Christianity.
Many more reasons could be mentioned. And this is just my take on things. Having spoken at so many churches and home groups and small fellowships over the years, I can get a bit of an understanding of some of these trends. And many of these believers who have left the church have not forsaken Christian fellowship though.
Mindful of texts like Hebrews 10:25 of “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” they still meet with others. But often it is just a very small home group. Often it is just a small band of believers who meet in a small community center.
They are still eager for God, but have been turned off by so much of the church scene today. Many are repulsed by the celebrity and entertainment culture that runs rampant in so many churches today. They just want to worship Jesus and encourage one another without all the worldly rigmarole.
I have spoken in many of these small fellowship groups. Some of their services can easily last 3, 4, 5 or more hours. They can’t get enough of genuine Christianity and heartfelt worship. But they have gotten enough of churchianity. They are fed up with a church that increasingly resembles the world more than it does the New Testament.
While this move away from the churches may be a way these believers find a new outlet for Christian fellowship, it is obviously tough on pastors and church leaders. One thing they may have to do is slow down, think, pray and ask some hard questions.
But the problem is, so often our leaders are so busy doing church, that they do not have this needed time to reassess, rethink, and re-evaluate. I once wrote a piece in which I made the serious suggestion that some churches might be best placed to actually shut down for a brief spell as the members, and especially the leaders, spend some quality time on their faces before God.
I said in part:
My recommendation is this: it may well be the best thing in many cases to simply shut our church doors and post a big sign on each entry with words something like this:
“Dear friends, sorry but our church is now closed for repairs. It will be closed for perhaps a few days, perhaps a few weeks, and maybe even longer, until a full and thorough renovation has taken place. These doors will remain shut for as long as it takes. We will notify you when the doors will reopen. In fact, there will be no need to notify you, because it will be apparent to everyone when the renewal work is completed. Thank you for your patience.”
Does that sound like a pretty radical proposal? Of course it does. But it may take something radical like this to deal with a church which seems to be losing its way, and is in many ways haemorrhaging to death. When things get that bad, radical surgery is indeed required.
I do not envy being a pastor or a church leader. They have a very tough job, and their work is often thankless, painful and exhausting. We certainly must pray for our leaders. They certainly need it. And they need regular encouragement as well.
But the church is going through tough times now. I certainly do not have all the answers for this. But we must be willing to at least pause and reflect, pray and seek God, as to how we might turn things around. We must at least begin there.
Let me finish with a few great quotes from a few great saints. Their words of warning and advice make for more helpful starting points:
“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.” A.W. Tozer
“Oh for radically Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting, self-sacrificing, mission-mobilizing, soul-saving, culture-confronting pastors!” John Piper
“When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“The church has lost her testimony. She has no longer anything to say to the world. Her once robust shout of assurance has faded away to an apologetic whisper. She who one time went out to declare now goes out to inquire. Her dogmatic declaration has become a respectful suggestion, a word of religious advice, given with the understanding that it is after all only an opinion and not meant to sound bigoted.” A.W. Tozer
“The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men…Men of prayer.” E. M. Bounds
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