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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Church - the New Exodus?

In response to yesterday's 'tongue in cheek' post, Church - It's Harmful, Shannon posted the following comment:

I'm afraid there is a reason that 28 million people left the church in the last decade. Maybe they found it hazardous to their health. Or worse yet. Maybe church became hazardous to their spiritual welfare!
This got me thinking. If this figure is true (and I haven't any reason to doubt it) why are so many people leaving the church? Is it really because of harm inflicted on them by Christians? If so what sort of harm? Are all these "exiters" bailing out on God? Or is this just the proof in the "emerging" pudding - is it because many Christians are disillusioned with the way Christianity is represented in western culture?

I'll throw my 10 cents worth in once I hear back from some of you!


Jamie said...

Hey, just found your blog and am enjoying it.

Why are people leaving the church? I'm not sure. I can give you the reasons we are not involved in a church right now.

1. I personally, have been hurt more by Christians than I have my unbelieving friends.

2. I see a lot of religion and not much genuine Jesus following.

3. I don't like the way many organized institutions spend their money (buildings, programs etc)

No, I am not bailing on God, in fact, I've found that I am more excited about God and His work in the world now, than I ever have been before.

Thanks for posing an excellent question!

The Hungarian Luddite said...

I am a leaver and a looker. I am also a minister. After almost 30 years of ministry our family is the process of looking for a Church to attend. Over the course of the past 2 plus years we have visited over 120 different Churches of various denominational affiliations. Virtually all of the Churches were 150 people or less.

This has been frustrating, albeit informative, experience for our family.

In general:

1. Churches aren't interested in people. They treat the Church as their special, exclusive club that, IF you are real nice, they might let you in.

2. Churches no longer visit in the homes of those who visit. Show up fine, Visit fine. IF not, nice not knowing ya! They simply don't care.

3. Too many Churches think you are interested in "their" programs or their denomination. We are far more interested in your Jesus.

4. When looking at a Churches programs what we found was that many of them were incestuous, keep it in the Church programs, that benefited the already fed, and over fed Church members.

5. Outreach? What's that? Most outreach was done between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

6. Outdated methodologies. My children HATE visiting Churches during the Christmas season. Invitably,
someone will try and suck them into the "Christmas Program" Here in the rural Midwest it seems we still live in the 1950's.

And that's just for starters. Here is the bottom line for us. Why does this Church exist.? What purpose and ministry do they have? Are they missional? DO they love people, all people? DO they take an interest in you as a person?

If the above is not evident in some form........why bother? If we are just doing Church to be doing Church......what's the point? Sometimes, I think the reason the above continues, is that, deep down we think God is going to strike us with lightning if we don't go to Church.

Just some random thoughts from a very random mind :)

The Creature said...

Hey Jamie and THL! Thank you both for your candid comments. I can identify with pretty much everything you have both said.

Jamie - what sort of community are you a part of? Are you still involved with Christians in some way, even if it is not in an institutionalised fashion? If not how do you see this affecting your relationship and your growth as a Jesus follower - if at all?

I think it is necessary to take time out from the institution of "church" at times in order to grow - but I struggle with any complete "divorce" from the real church - the body of believers. But that's my opinion and may not be yours!

THL ('scuse the abbreviation!) - I think finding a "church" can be incredibly difficult. There have been many times in the past 4 years that Alyssa and I have seriously considered leaving our church. The three things that have kept us there have been:

- A genuine love for and sense of calling to the community we live in that has made it difficult to consider going elsewhere, into another community.

- A desire to help the good, caring people that do attend our church to be more effective and more Christlike and more involved themselves. We are a small congregation (around 20 of us) and have been without the traditional “CEO-pastor” leader for nearly 2 years now which has been a good thing for us on a whole, though really difficult for many members as it has required a 180 degree change in their thinking.

- The horrible thought that if we do leave we would not find anywhere within a 100km radius that would satisfy us.

It's a bit like the song - "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with!” – and I’ll add a lyric – “mold the one you’re with into the shape of the One you love”.

I think it is obvious that neither of you have "bailed on God", and I'm glad of that! :) I think it's also interesting how I so often hear what you are saying from others. There is so much dissatisfaction within institutionalised Christianity.

THL Wrote:

And that's just for starters. Here is the bottom line for us. Why does this Church exist.? What purpose and ministry do they have? Are they missional? DO they love people, all people? DO they take an interest in you as a person?

I think this is the question we should all be asking at every opportunity we get. Particularly those of us involved in leadership within traditional settings.

Jamie said...


Yes, I'm involved with Christians, but not involved in anything resembling a church at this point..was involved in a house church and that kind of blew up. We're not sure what our next step is as far as getting involved in a body of some sort. We live in a smallish (100,000) community in the south and we are having trouble finding anything.

I'm sure we will get involved again at some point, but I'm actually enjoying the break!

Shannon said...


I thought I would chime in on this since I gave the statistic :)

28 Million people leaving the Church in the last decade is from the documentary titled,
"The Changing Face of Worship", produced by the North American Mission Board. You may be familiar with it.

Another statistic they offered was that 72 Churches close their doors each week.

Why are people leaving and why are doors closing? Obviously doors are closing because people aren't coming. That points to the real issue. Why are people leaving? I think their is a variety of reasons many of which are stated in the comments to your post. Simply put, the Church hasn't been the Church. We've been program oriented and inward focused for so long that many who are sincere about journeying with God haven't found guidance the Church is supposed to give them so they opt out. Obviously there is much more but I think in a nutshell, the Church has got to become real in order to minister to real people.

(These are my own opinions and may not represent what anyone else sees or thinks. I just know what I see in my own ministry and those close to me.)

Shannon said...

BTW, thanks for speaking on this ever so important topic! Very much needed and thanks!

Shannon said...

Saw this on blind beggar's blog....Some of the answers can be found in this video! I admit it's not a cure-all or may not be a model for all people...but it has a ton of substance! Check it out.

Cindy Harvey said...

I left the traditional church setting due to a personal conflict with the pastor.

Once out of the carnival, I've had more time to persue friendships with people way outside my personal comfort zone, and it's impacted me profoundly. To really listen to those either wounded, judged, or misunderstood by the Church has been a journey toward a new humility for our family.

Many unchurched site the hypocrisy and elitist attitude they see in the church as the biggest reason they won't become a 'christian'. I agree with them, and it amazes them because they know my history.

I will say this...the idiocy of the church carnival came extremely close to causing me to walk away from Jesus. He just wasn't someone I wanted to be like. Then getting out of the church became the catalyst to asking hard questions, seeing Him without the 'trimmings', reading the bible without commentary.

I got in touch with a Jesus that didn't look much like what I thought.

Rick Warren named several 'giants' that he believes we need fresh vision to overcome in order to be the church Jesus wants....near the top was egotistical leadership. This is also my biggest problem with evangelical churches.

Recently we've begun attending a Mennonite church, and it's been fabulous....except that there are ZERO youth, a handful of kids, and essentially the church is dying a slow death. But there are those doing the 'missional' thing without even knowing what it is. So, I'm learning that there are churches out there who I believe have a very good grasp of what Jesus is about and what He's doing, it's just that they aren't the vocal, obnoxious strains that make headlines and build gargantuous buildings....

That got long. George Barna's book Revolution helped me see I wasn't an isolated case.

Jamie said...

A woman who is a pagan picked up this thread and commented on my blog. She was apparently hurt by the church at some has no desire for God. This is the kind of thing that needs to stop. The next question is how do we get there?

The Creature said...

Hey Cindy,

Thanks for dropping by and adding your experiences. I am glad that you were able to find the real Jesus. It is a shame that your church nearly drove you in the other direction - but I guess your experiences are and will continue to be used by God to show others where the true focal point of Christianity is - i.e. Jesus Christ and not the institutional church.

Jamie - you said:

A woman who is a pagan picked up this thread and commented on my blog. She was apparently hurt by the church at some has no desire for God. This is the kind of thing that needs to stop. The next question is how do we get there?

Yep it is. But I think we also need to be careful how we deal with situations like these. As we know the church is actually filled with imperfect people, some who do not reflect the life of the Saviour - for many reasons - but also many who are trying to live Christ centred lives - both within and outside established/traditional churches. Unfortunately, often, people will use the example set by a minority to judge the majority.

I guess that is why we have to keep coming back to Jesus Christ and his example. Recently I have been struck by how far away from Him I had moved - how many other things, worthless things, I had given value over and above Him! Originally it was Jesus that captivated me - it was Jesus and His life and His claims that caused me to sit up and listen - and I think this is what we need to be modelling for others. Even while we ask each other the hard questions and look for answers to the mistakes we have made in the past.

Thank you all for your participation in this conversation.

Shannon - thanks for the link to the film clip. I'll be checking it out.