Please Stop Trying to Explain Why People Leave the Church

church-581061_1920

Christians, I understand your panic. As you see numbers drop in church attendance and fewer and fewer people self-identify as Christian, you fear the flames of Christ are being snuffed out by idolatry and ignorance and you frantically search for reasons as to why anyone would leave the church and its savior. There has been no shortage of articles trying to explain why people are leaving:

“6 things people need to hear from churches (but are rarely said)” 

“Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You” 

“Six Reasons People Leave Your Church” 

“Losing My Religion: Why People Are REALLY Leaving the Church (It’s not what you think.)” 

“10 Reasons Why People Leave Church” 

You’ve got to stop this; you’ve got to stop trying to explain away why people are leaving the church in droves.

First of all, every single article is presumptive. They assume that the growing “Nones” and “Dones” are leaving for superficial reasons like bad church music or just not understanding Christian Lingo. Frankly, there’s no easy way to explain why people are leaving because everyone leaves for different, deeply personal reasons. These assumptions portray millennials as entertainment junkies willing to abandon a church if it doesn’t have three guitars and at least two fog machines, that or woefully ignorant people who won’t take ten minutes to learn the terminology of the church.

Please, for the love of God, stop assuming you know why the Nones or Dones leave the church better than they do. Stop assuming it has something to do with the superficial. Stop assuming these leavers have never delved into scripture. Many are well read in scripture and church history, I know I am. I’ve personally read the Bible no fewer than eight times, each time with the fervor of a devout woman trying desperately to know her creator, and I still left.

Unfortunately, these assumptions and articles treat non-believers and former Christians as goalposts, not human beings. When one leaves Christianity, it often feels like we’re no longer people to our friends and family who still believe. After we leave the faith, people often act like we’ve met out creator and savior, spat in his face, and walked away to pursue something sinful and dirty. I don’t think people who try to reconvert former Christians are evil, far from it. I understand that their attempts to save me are truly kind; they believe in eternity and want me to join them in the happy half of forever. However this completely ignores the non-believers choices, and the evangelist assumes that we haven’t thought our unbelief out. We’re often treated like we’re wandering aimlessly and just need redirecting to the cross.

I saw the cross, I saw what it stood for, I saw the religion and the relationship, and I still rejected it. I live a moral life, give to charity, and attempt to live a life of kindness and love, but all of those things are ignored since I don’t have Jesus. In many ways, that terrifies me. It makes me feel like I would be considered better as a child molester who is saved than a decent person without Jesus.

Ex-Christians face the special criticism from our former brethren. We’re often told we never truly believed and were never truly saved. On the other side, some say that we were saved once, so our unbelief is a temporary distraction (which, admittedly, it sometimes is) and we are incapable of escaping Christ’s love.

Articles upon articles take it upon themselves to explain how anyone could possibly walk away from religion, but they rarely go deep. They rarely address the problems individuals have with theology, they rarely address the issues of church politics and corruption in the church. They don’t address the people who leave because they see evil in the church and can’t allow themselves to be associated with it.

Unfortunately, these criticisms are often met with: “Oh, you can’t leave because of bad people! People are flawed but Christ is perfect!” or “If the theology challenges your belief system, perhaps you should take a sharper look at your belief system.” These completely ignore the fact that people are actually struggling, people actually have strong issues. The church is nothing without its people; if a person looks at the church and sees almost exclusively bad people, why would they want to stay? Why would they want to be part of the body of Christ if that body is filled with people who do horrible things? I’ve been told Christ is bigger than that, better than that, but I can’t force myself to believe Christ’s all-redemptive, all-transformative power is at work when I look at the people who represent Christianity.

Church leaders who actively try and suppress gay rights, evangelists who go abroad and encourage legislation that punishes homosexuality with the death penalty, Christians who bomb abortion clinics, Christians who protest funerals, Christians who openly mock transgender individuals.

No more. No “those aren’t RealChristians™.” They accept and worship the same Christ as any other Christian.

The reasons to leave the church are innumerable and reasons to leave can’t be narrowed down to a list. We can’t be narrowed down to an easily explained list with easily fixable problems. Many leave because of things that can’t change: doctrine, church culture, problems with scripture. As Neil Carter explains, “It’s Not Just the Messengers, It’s the Message, Too” 

I hope that those in a panic can find some peace and coexistence with those who’ve left the church, but until the relationship moves beyond a hunter-prey situation with evangelicals on the hunt for potential converts, peace and reconciliation will be difficult.

Advertisements

27 thoughts on “Please Stop Trying to Explain Why People Leave the Church

  1. “Articles upon articles take it upon themselves to explain how anyone could possibly walk away from religion, but they rarely go deep. They rarely address the problems individuals have with theology, they rarely address the issues of church politics and corruption in the church. They don’t address the people who leave because they see evil in the church and can’t allow themselves to be associated with it.”

    Yes, exactly. I’m a Christian struggling to stay in church and I appreciate you writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicely put, Holly. Please shoot a friend request to Vyckie Garrison on Facebook. She’s the founder of the ‘No Longer Quivering’ movement, a group of women who have ‘escaped’ the misogynist, borderline slavery culture of the ‘Quiverful’ cult. I think you’d enjoy what she has to say. Cheers! Bobby

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for posting this. This was excellently written. I left the church and it was a very complex and thought out decision that I didn’t take lightly.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Fair enough and well put. That said, doctrine can change. Also, there are approaches to the scriptures that work well for many progressive Christians. Google “16 Ways progressive Christians Interpret the Bible.” Here’s why I’m staying in the Church: “Why I’m Spiritual *and* Religious” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2014/12/why-im-spiritual-and-religious/ Peace.
    – Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianitiy”

    Like

    1. Hi Roger,

      I didn’t leave Christianity from a strict fundamentalist home, in fact my last several years as a Christian I was a progressive Christian. I even follow “Kissing Fish” on facebook.

      I’ve tried to interpret the Bible literally, metaphorically, a bit of both. I’ve spend a lot of time with the Bible.

      While I appreciate your contributions and article suggestions, I am extremely familiar with progressive Christianity and its tenets.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Any time I read one of those stories, I often find myself thinking “How much more interesting and enlightening might this have been if the author had actually sat down and talked to people who had left the church?” I would call this a huge oversight for anyone who wants to honestly address the issue.

    After reading enough of these stories, the only conclusion I could reach was that these stories aren’t about getting to the truth, or trying to correct a perceived problem: They’re about reassuring other Christians that the reasons that people are leaving are petty, ill-conceived, and poorly thought out, but that the doctrine itself is still sound.

    These are discussions I’m always happy to have with Christians who are as well-meaning and good in intention as I am. I don’t think any point of view is best served when it lingers in an echo chamber.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. This is an excellent article – I wrote one along a similar vein before the pew research that just came out…and another after.(links below)

    I find that the reasons people are leaving the church are as varied as the people leaving. Most of them have extremely good reasons and more thought out than those keeping themselves trapped within.

    http://ragingrev.com/2015/02/why-this-generation-is-really-leaving-christianity/

    http://ragingrev.com/2015/05/is-christianity-dying/

    Like

  7. Reblogged this on Natural Spirituality – Loving Forum for Spiritual Harmony & Growth and commented:
    This article is thoughtful even if provocative to some. Holly expresses what I know is the experience of many. My own has many parallels. I’m one (of quite a few) who DID choose to return eventually… to a progressive form of Christianity, for reasons I won’t go into now except to say that I believe I can do more good “inside” than “outside”. But staying out is a fine option in my mind. I respect people like Holly who make that choice and support them in their efforts to do many of the same loving things many followers of Jesus who stay in churches try to do.

    Like

  8. Holly, great article. I re-blogged it with the following intro which says I left for similar reasons… largely theological in my case. However, I have returned in majorly revised form, believing Christianity is broad enough to include widely differing theologies. My blog remarks:

    “This article is thoughtful even if provocative to some. Holly expresses what I know is the experience of many. My own has many parallels. I’m one (of quite a few) who DID choose to return eventually… to a progressive form of Christianity, for reasons I won’t go into now except to say that I believe I can do more good “inside” than “outside”. But staying out is a fine option in my mind. I respect people like Holly who make that choice and support them in their efforts to do many of the same loving things many followers of Jesus who stay in churches try to do.

    Like

  9. The bottom line is fundamentalist Christians regardless the flavor of Catholic or Protestant have no clue and do not actually care why people are leaving. If Jesus were to show up they wouldn’t recognize him and would reject him the same as the religious, political, and economic leaders called the Pharisees and Sadducees did. Jesus message to and interactions with and about them would be the same. That is because, what is now called Christianity isn’t Christian at all it is Constantinian. There is nothing about fundamentalist Christians that conforms to the character, life and teachings of Jesus not their lifestyle, interactions with their neighbors, not even their theology or rituals. What has become known as the Christian Church since Constantine is Constantine’s creation it is not the Body of Christ that he is building. This Constantinian Church fraudulently calls itself Christian.

    Like

  10. “Christians, I understand your panic…”

    Nones and Dones, please– go, go, go! And, for Christ’s sake, don’t come back.

    Yes, there is a certain anxiety in the air that bad C19 American folk religion is taking entirely too long to leave the stage– until it does, the better Church (and society) we want cannot replace it. So naturally we do “see numbers drop in church attendance and fewer and fewer people self-identify as Christian,” but we nevertheless fear that the flames of nominal religion and silly theology are not being snuffed out fast enough. (Why does anyone feels angst about leaving churches founded by people who only bathed weekly and did not read smart books?) Frustratingly, there has been no shortage of useless articles trying to explain why people on the edge are drifting away, but few answer the question that really matters– how can we get them to leave at a higher rate? This is troubling– all the attention to narcissistic fidgets, burned-out fundys, sensitive seekers, etc threatens to flatten the curve, when we what we need is to release hundreds or thousands of their buildings into new futures as theaters, galleries, mortuaries, microbreweries, etc. So yes, there is a certain panic that a long-awaited party is taking too long to begin.

    Like

  11. Institutions rise and fall. Organizations die and others are born. People leave, quit buying, stop attending for all sorts of personal, political, financial and other reasons.
    When Jesus invited people to come along for the journey, some did, others walked away.
    One thing he was clear about, the way of the love requires a sacrifice few are willing to make.
    Maybe the institution of the church needs to die. No matter how long we keep it on life support or resuscitating it, the church as an institution will never be the body of Christ. And frankly I’m not worried about the health of the latter.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Two friends in separate closed groups have posted a link to this article. I walked away from a traditional Anglican church in the UK over 40 years ago. I first became aware of Progressive Christianity about 12 years ago at about the same time that I started reading ‘So you don’t want to go to church anymore’ when the two authors had only written the first three chapters. I’ve seen some enormous changes in the emerging / emergent / house church scene since then. I was a member of an American Sabbath-keeping church that announced in 1995 that much of its theology was misguided. The leadership of that church were welcomed with open arms by leaders of several Evangelical church leaders in America. As a committed Christian who had never believed the traditional teachings of hell, this was a red warning light, and I felt challenged to research (in a non academic way) what it was that I was being asked to accept. I’d left school at 17 but as I was already retired I had plenty of time.

    I wanted to give that background because it was only three days ago that I finished rewriting the introduction to my blog where I had posted a couple of links to what Roger Wolsey had written including ‘Christianity in Crisis’ and went on to link to some of the current interest in ‘The DONES’

    Some might be interested in the thoughts of an outside observer of the American religious scene.

    Like

  13. Reblogged this on Pastor No Faith and commented:
    Thanks to the Friendly Atheist, I was introduced to this post. You and I, readers, know that people who leave the church often leave for very good reasons. But this post made me think, what about pastors? Pastor “burnout” is a pretty frequent topics, with books and blogs written to explain why it happens and how to prevent it. The common statistic being 75% of pastors burnout.

    After going through everything I’m going through, I very seriously wonder what percentage of pastors who “burnout” are actually leaving the ministry because they became agnostic or atheists? How many of my friends and colleagues left the ministry for the exact same reason I will be leaving?

    Liked by 2 people

  14. One comment here in particular exemplifies one hugely incorrect assumption that churches make about those who leave– that they were “fringe” and only “nominal” in their faith as opposed to being in the “core” and “sincere” group. As someone who left catholicism in my 30’s, I have never been accused of having left the faith because I was only “nominal” in it. Far from it. Everyone who knows me can attest to my active involvement and the sincerity that accompanied it. Looking for answers honestly and openly resulted in my discarding religious belief. I was not wishy-washy and only going to church for the social aspects (spaghetti dinner, anyone?). My knowledge of theology was sound, and I really have never met anyone who could “out-patristic” me. Leaving the church (and then religion in general) was heartbreaking, painful, and difficult. But it was the result of honest, unbiased inquiry that questioned appeals to authority and revelation and other “sources” that cannot be objectively observed.

    Perhaps the greatest takeaway from the process of seeing past religion is the view that ideas are to be evaluated on the merits of evidence. Who spoke or wrote something is irrelevant. Is there objective evidence to support it? That determines if something is credible or not. “Silly theology” is claiming something as authoritative simply based on who penned it, and that is the domain of religion. That was a fallacy that people accept less and less these days, but that is ALL religion has to support it. There lies a great part of the reason people leave the church.

    By all means, have your party. If you want people around who to obey teachings based solely on authority, revelation or self-referential reasons, that is a far greater criticism of you than those who were able to reason soundly and walk out of the Matrix. If you believe your REAL party can finally start, don’t expect anyone outside your tent to see it as anything other than a curious relic from a less enlightened era, such as phrenology, astrology, and other parlor tricks. Today’s religion is tomorrow’s mythology. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world which will eventually end. Amen.

    Like

  15. Great post Holly.

    Yes, there’s no shortage of articles on the subject, yet no one in the Church is taking the time to ask the hard questions about this migration. I too have addressed this issue on my blog as well.

    You’ve hit the issue dead on. I would also like to say that another reason the Church doesn’t want to truly face the issue is that it doesn’t want to face the fact that it could be wrong. That what it made people to believe (as opposed to what Jesus taught) wound up being disproved rather than proved.

    So the Church is likened to the mean spouse whose long suffering spouse has enough and walks out, yet instead of engaging in introspection will blame the leaving spouse and play the martyr card.

    Peace!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ” would also like to say that another reason the Church doesn’t want to truly face the issue is that it doesn’t want to face the fact that it could be wrong. That what it made people to believe (as opposed to what Jesus taught) wound up being disproved rather than proved.”
      Sadly, I agree.

      Like

  16. Thank you!!!!
    Ugh!
    I am so glad you published. Being a former church member myself, it gets tiring and annoying to hear the cliches about my salvation and why I left the church.
    I haven’t told many people about my decision due to the fact that I know they’ll respond with aggressive church jargon and call it love. Sigh.
    Thank you.

    *Hugs and bakes you a batch of cookies*

    Like

  17. I don’t fit in any churches….and never really have; churches treat SINGLE PEOPLE (never married, divorced, widowed) as if we were the carriers of some filovirus (e.g.: Ebola, Marburg), and the CONSTANT DRUMBEAT of ‘marriage-and-family’ tends to take THOSE OF US WHO ARE PART OF NEITHER feel, well, – UNWELCOME. I am widowed, I am a database administrator with a master’s in Theology from Loyola Marymount – and I feel DISTINCTLY UNWELCOME IN _________________ANY______________________CHURCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s