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Why Are People Leaving Church Without Saying Anything?

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With the rise of individualism in the West there has been an increasing trend of “private Christianity” where people believe in Jesus but they never attend any church. Some of them acquire teaching and/or worship songs via the Internet at home, while others just pray sometimes. I encounter several of these “secret Christians” when I’m out evangelising, and most of them seem convinced that church meetings really are unimportant, that it’s perfectly fine to be a Christian alone.

The Bible, on the other hand, clearly commands us “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebr 10:25). Even as the early Christians went on missionary trips they weren’t alone. Jesus commanded us to pray “Our Father” in plural, Paul emphasises in 1 Cor 12 that we’re all body parts in one body, dependent on one another.

But let’s face it, Christians who leave church aren’t doing it because they have a special Bible interpretation, but because church has disappointed them. As a house church leader I have seen several people go during the last five years, some of them to other congregations but a substantial number have become private Christians. Some of it is due to mistakes from our parts, other times we have been too radical.

Almost every single one of these people have left without saying a word to us. They just stop coming to the meetings. I don’t know if this is just a Swedish or Scandinavian phenomenon – I’d love to get some feedback from people abroad if you have observed the same thing. Before I became a church leader I just assumed that when people want to leave they announce it beforehand, give motivations and then say good bye properly to their fellow church members. This has been extremely rare, in my experience.

Obviously we don’t contact people immediately if they won’t come to a couple of meetings. Usually it takes some weeks or sometimes even months before we contact them, and then the thing or things that made them doubt church has rooted in their hearts to an even greater degree compared with when they first decided to stop coming. Usually it’s legitimate criticisms, but I think much of it would have been resolved if they would have talked to us instead.

I don’t want to judge or condemn people who leave church, but simply invite them to talk more about the things that bug them. Even if their trust in church has been damaged, I think that they too recognise that private Christianity isn’t what God intends and that healthy, Biblical churches are so much better for them and for others. As I sing in Welcome: “We’re sorry that we Christians often behave like piles of sh*t, but Jesus rocks and His Spirit rules so please pay us a visit.”

 

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4 Comments

  1. Bill Samuel says:

    It’s not just a phenomenon in your part of the world. It is certainly the norm in the United States. Most people leaving churches just leave. They don’t often debrief or explain to those at the church they’re leaving.

  2. josh hopping says:

    “people have left without saying a word to us…”

    That is mostly true here in the USA as well. =)

    In pastoring, I have found that most people don’t like confrontations. So if they don’t like something, they will just leave rather than trying to confront the leader or change the group (there are exceptions to this of course…). Like you mention, the goal would be to talk to folks before or fairly soon after they left. Why that can be hard to do, it is powerful as it tells people that you really care about them.

    There a gentleman in the church I used to pastor who would get upset and leave without talking me. A week or so later I would drive up to his house and talk to him and his wife. They would then come back to the church for a while until he got upset again. While it was hard to find the time and emotional energy to deal with this couple, it was worth it as they were great people who really loved Jesus. They just had to work through some things just all of us. The end result in this case was that the wife ended up serving as a church elder and then, eventually, the pastor of the congregation after I moved away. It all happened because I refused to let them leave without talking.

    Granted, there are other stories of folks who did NOT return after I talked to them. =P But that’s okay as well as I know each person is on a journey. There are times when people will walk with you for a while and then move on, and there are others who will stay longer. The goal is never to keep people; the goal is to point them towards Jesus while encouraging them to continue to meet together with someone somewhere.

  3. Matt says:

    As someone who likely falls into the category of ‘those who have left’ I can at least give you my story and a few insights.

    After about 5 years I left my leadership position at my church, part geography and part mission related. Truthfully I was tired of always traveling against the stream, following God in a different direction than where the church was moving. I love the people there, but couldn’t fully embrace the mission. I support the mission, but don’t feel particularly called to it.

    For the past three years I have floated around looking for a home church, but every one seems to do the same basic kinds of ministry. I enjoy being challenged/enlightened by a sermon, but I definitely don’t need one every Sunday. I enjoy singing worship songs together, but I find a deeper connection when a small group of us get together than I do on Sundays. I love to study the Scriptures, but I want to hear what God is speaking to others through it, not just what the pastor or study book says it means. I deeply enjoy sharing in the fellowship of God with a variety of believers, but many Sunday gatherings tend to become wrote and cliquish.

    As a result, the closest thing I have to ‘a church’ is a small group of friends who get together informally and do some version of these things as we feel inclined. For ‘study’ we do a form of lectio divina, where we read a passage together, meditate on it for a bit and then share our thoughts, questions, observations. I have found this a far richer time than Bible studies where each question has a particular answer or the lesson has some 3 steps to being a more perfect christian. Some of the deepest insights have come from the least ‘spiritually educated’ among us, and even some great insights from non-christians who have joined us.

    I should say that ‘private christian’ or ‘secret christian’ isn’t the best descriptor from my experience. Those I have met who have left the building are travelers and go-betweens, connecting church bodies informally and cross pollinating where possible. While most do find a great deal of their christian life in relative solitude (online sermons, books, etc.), they still come out to discuss and share what they are learning or wrestling with to those who have an ear for it.

    I don’t think people go to church on Sundays because they think the Bible says they have to (if they do that’s a works issue it seems). People come on Sundays because they’re getting something out of it, and that is great! But if you’re not getting the most out of that time, then it is only natural to find someplace where you will.

    We need to find a way to hold our brothers and sisters with an open hand, no undue pressures to show up just because or to hold the exact same views as us. Instead let the relationships stand and thrive on they’re own. “Oh, you’re not coming on Sundays anymore? What are you up to then? Maybe I’ll join you sometime.” It’s not intended as a break-up, but it can become one if we treat it that way. No matter how good a service we put together, it’s not so amazing that it is unmissable or will be for everyone. I’ve survived these 3 years without a regular Sunday gathering and surely many have thrived ‘outside’ much longer.

    I’d say just love people and encourage them in whatever they feel God calling them to do, wherever that might be.

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The author

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

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