Every weekend, millions of people invest billions of dollars and countless amounts of hours in the church. From small town churches to large mega churches, so many resources are poured into them. From upkeep of property to running of worship services, a lot is invested into the church. From churches with no professional pastor to those with paid multi-pastor staffs, great amounts of hours are given to leading the church.
Even more than the money and the time invested into the church as is, maybe the greatest investment that people make into the church is hope. By and large we approach church with great aspirations and with a sense of optimism. We want it to work for us and for those we love. People bring their desires for belonging and meaning and significance with them when they decide to join and they expect that these will be met in this endeavor called church.
Statistics and studies have been telling us within the last decade or so what many have seen for years before - people are leaving the church. From the work of Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in “You Lost Me” to James Emory White in “The Rise of the Nones” and “Church Refugees” by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope. All repeat the same refrain - people are detaching from church or not even wanting to be engaged with church as is in large numbers.
George Barna in the book Revolution says that whereas in 2000, 70% of people in America attended a local church, by 2025 that number will decrease to 30-35%. Ok those are the stats. Now what do we do with them because we aren’t counting property and money...these represent people: People who are making decisions to leave something they were previously invested in, which had provided structure and for most at some point benefited them.
One way that we can look at the issue is to see those who leave as the problem - ‘they are not spiritual enough. If they wanted God they would fit in. They just need to get involved and serve and give and then they would fall in love again.” This way of viewing those who leave may play well to the choir (those who stay) but let’s face it - it’s not bringing anyone back.
Maybe some of those who leave did not leave the church because they hated it. Maybe they left because they loved it...they loved what the church was meant to be so much they could not and would not settle for what it is. The problem may not be you...maybe it’s us.
I can imagine that Roger Boisjoly was not a very popular guy leading up to the launch of the Challenger when he began telling those around him that the equipment was flawed. After all the system was not set up for him to be heard. He did not have the evidence to backup his claims and besides too many people were counting on this moving forward.
After the huge loss of life and money, many wished they had listened to him. They had a problem but were not able to see it. Maybe it is the same with the church. For too long those who walk away or detach are vilified, labeled (backsliders) and ignored. “After all they left and if they really were spiritual they would have stayed” is the one of the prevailing sentiments by those who remain. But what if we switched up our thinking and begin to see them as the Roger Boisjolys of our day? What if those who leave are the heralds that something is wrong with the system and setup of church as presently constructed? What if we are being warned of danger ahead by those who walk away?
Those who leave are trying to tell the church something...we may be in for an implosion.
Thanks for not settling
So I want to speak to those reading this who have left church...by that I mean you no longer attend a worship gathering every weekend in a building. You have stopped the routine and ritual of showing up, serving, giving and going back home. I want to say to you that the church owes you a debt of gratitude. And because you are reading this and I have your attention for the next few sentences at least allow me to say thank you.
Thank you for not settling for just going through the motions.
Thank you for not just grinning and bearing it when others around you realized what we were all taking in had lost taste a long time ago like that over-chewed piece of gum.
Thank you for not accepting what was when you really wanted what could be.
Because you have left, the church has been forced (or at least should be forced) to rethink its activities, mission, mode and even go back to its beginning to relearn things. The church has to listen because it is losing resources, losing influence and more than anything losing the ability to reach people.
Your voice is important and even though you may not have had research to back up what you were feeling, your perspective matters. Because of you, the church may actually have a chance to avoid the implosion. Because of you, the church may actually lose what it’s doing and recapture what it was supposed be doing in the first place.
That should excite us all...those who have left and those who still remain in. More than anything else, we should want what Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 16:18 “Upon this rock I will build my church.” We should want what Jesus had in mind for it. I think we all suspect that what we have now isn’t it….Thank you for being brave enough to not let us all settle for the knockoff.