Hello From the Outside (How The Church Fails and Forgets Those Who Leave)

DoorHand copy

Many large churches have a door problem.

The problem, is that they’re all about the front door; the curb appeal, the efficient parking attendants, the effervescent sidewalk greeting team, the beautifully manicured grounds, the warm and pristine lobbies, the willing and able Welcome Desk staff, and the overall ease and comfort of the Sunday morning “worship experience”.

Add in a powerful, professional entertainment event, an attractive menu of amenities and age-specific ministry environments, along with a pleasing veneer of hospitality and general folksiness and it’s easy to see how these faith communities make a nearly irresistible first impression (which is a good thing, as tons of their financial and personnel resources are directed toward this end).

In other words, the modern megachurch is a great first date. It can woo you like nobody’s business. It can have you at hello, close the deal, and make you fall in love with it at first sight.

Unfortunately, it often isn’t built for a real, long-term, meaningful relationship.

Over time, many people in these communities become disenchanted and begin to feel invisible, and after languishing for a few months unable to find meaningful connections they finally leave with little of the fanfare, attention, and care that their initial arrival promised. When they do fall through the cracks, they soon realize that their absence is barely noticed or grieved, if at all. They are simply replaced the next Sunday at the front doors by fresh faces and new ready hearts to be won over.

No one is watching the back doors of our churches and thousands of people are walking out every week hurting and defeated and anonymous, never to return—and this is a problem.

You see, once they’re a part of these large communities, many people experience a distinct lack of substance and depth, and not merely in the Sunday stage/pulpit teaching, which often seems specifically designed to grab the first timer’s heart and manufacture the all important weekly conversion moment. This deficiency also shows up in the way they are cared for in crisis, connected in meaningful community, and nurtured in personal growth. They come to discover that all that initially glitters soon loses its luster.

Such is the case when churches go all in with the front door and don’t care much about the back door; when they build themselves primarily for an hour on Sunday.

Somewhere along the way, too many modern churches bought into the lie that their sole job is to “lead people to Jesus” and that he will take care of the rest; that once a person answers the altar call and is baptized, that they are no longer the church’s responsibility, but God’s. The new convert’s heads are barely dried and they’re already drafted into the urgent work of bringing others in through the front door.

With little to no regard for how well they understand their new faith decision or for the swirling storm of emotions and questions they are dealing with, or the deeper needs they and their families may have, they are implored quickly to “get on mission for Jesus!” (whatever that is). They are expected to fend for themselves and find community, even if their personalities, emotional condition, life stage, or simply their level of intimidation provide a tremendously difficult barrier. Embedded into these subcultures, is a subtle yet real disregard for people the longer they are there.

That’s not how the Church was designed to work.
That’s not how pastors are called to pastor.
That’s not how spiritual growth happens.

Pastors and church staffs are responsible to their people, not merely to broker some magical, momentary spiritual transaction for them, but to ensure that they are fully integrated into communities where their physical and emotional needs are attended to along the way. The pastor’s role is to shepherd the people in their community; to know them or to make sure that someone knows them.

Some advice to churches and pastors and church staff about their back door:

If your church is too big to minister to people individually, your church is too big.
If you have no scalable system of pastoral care other than telling people to get into a small group, you have a lousy pastoral care system.
If people can come and go for months in your building (and ultimately leave) without you or anyone knowing it, you’re failing those in your care.
Pastor, if all you want to do is preach from the stage or the pulpit, stop calling yourself a pastor and admit that you’re a preacher or a religious celebrity.
Churches, if all you’re interested in doing is putting on weekly one hour crusades, stop calling yourself a church and just be religious event planners.

The Church is a not a collection of fast food salvation franchises, it’s a group of local expressions of the care and compassion of Jesus, that know and understand how to create authentic, deep, sustainable community in the difficult, messy, time-consuming trenches of real lives.

Local churches, your front door is important but if you don’t find better ways of providing everyone who walks through them a genuine experience of real, loving, intimate relationships, your back door will continue to be wide open—and generations of people will find it all too easy to walk out through it.

Hello. Can you hear me?

 

 

63 thoughts on “Hello From the Outside (How The Church Fails and Forgets Those Who Leave)

    • Amen. That’s what I’m starting to believe.

      As long as you have a good foundation of morality first. But if you have that, then I agree with Augustine…

      St. Augustine wrote: “Do whatever you want, as long as you love.” Or “Love God and do whatever you please.”

      Our example is Jesus:
      Jesus kept all of the rules. He never broke any of the rules. That’s what he claimed.

      But he talked to women in public, touched unclean people, touched dead people, worked on the Sabbath (the 4th commandment), picked grain on the Sabbath, told stories glorifying rule-breakers like the Good Samaritan. Praised a centurion who never lived by any Jewish rules, praised the faith of a Canaanite women who never lived by any Jewish rules. He broke the 5th commandment by disrespecting his family’s wishes and telling people that his followers were his true mother and brothers.

      He recognized that LOVE = Obedience to all rules.

      He consistently broke the rules for LOVE. So should we!

      So yes, love LGBTQ people. Love atheists and agnostics. Love refugees. Love people of other religions.

  1. I’ve always thought that both Catholic and Protestant churches should take the wise advice that Jethro gave to Moses….to have leaders of groups of 25-50 people to arbitrate small disputes and issues, and bring the large issues to Moses…In a Catholic parish, there should be many more deacons (the Catholic parish I was attending had 8000 families, and this is likely to be more the case, as the priest shortage causes parishes to be consolidated) – in fact, it would be good to have husband/wife teams of deacons (oooh), as well as single men and women as deacons. There would be a deacon for every 25-50 families or groups of people, and they would meet regularly; this would relieve the burden on the priest (the average age of Catholic priests is something like 65)
    In Protestant churches, there should be more pastors and focus upon small groups – the leadership and ministry should be spread out, and not concentrated in a single person or a few people – everyone should feel like they have someone in leadership/ministry they could approach

      • Let’s say that you are correct, and Moses was not an actual person…if you have ONE priest and over 6500 families in a Catholic parish (you may consult the website of the Diocese of San Bernardino (www.sbdiocese .org) and find the largest parishes) – does it pass the test of reason that this ONE PERSON, even a staff of TEN or more could adequately minister to that number of people? The advice given, to divide a large group, and spread the ministry and administration over a group of leaders is valid for our own times – churches built around a “personality cult” of one person are not the type of places to find healing community…

      • You may doubt his personal existence. Fine. But the lesson remains. If you want to consider the Bible a total fiction, you are free to do that. But take the lessons or ideas it shares at least. There are positive and negative lessons in it. I can learn a lot from a Shakespeare play even though the characters never really existed as real people.
        Just curious why you are reading this blog? Do you find it helpful, ridiculous, or…?

  2. I always thought when churches bragged about how friendly they were, it could be so painful to someone sitting in the congregation who had not been acknowledged or welcomed for weeks or months. I feel like those welcomed were only those who were naturally outgoing and sought out friendships – and the church used them as the example for how THEY were great at reaching out – when in fact the outgoing visitor was the one who made this easy for them.

    And as someone who grew up in a church and was there for over 25 years, I walked out the back door when the church was unable to care for me during a traumatic part of life, and it was heart breaking.

    • They are just like everything else in this throw-away society of ours. We do not just throw away drink cups and hamburger wrappers. We throw away people—and the last place that should be happening is the church—but a lot of that throwing away happens in church.

    • I have come to see that as a sort of “Walmart Greeter” style of “being a friendly church.”
      I live in a small community, attended a local church about 3 years, and stopped attending for several reasons. No one ever talked to me while I was there, beyond the “Walmart style greetings.” No one contacted me, or even raised question when encountering them in daily public life, about why I was no longer there. An amusing incident, in a sad kind of way, occurred over 2 yrs after my last attendance there. I encountered several women from the church, while shopping at a local business. They greeted me, friendly and “interested,” gushing how glad they were to see me, and how they had missed me at church last Sunday. It was clear they hadn’t even thought of my not being there, until they saw me, and all they had noticed was I had been absent last Sunday. Not absent over two years, just last Sunday.

    • The same happened to me. I was active in my church, my kids were active, but when I needed help (not financial, but spiritual support – I asked to have a family member in legal trouble added to the public prayer list without saying why he needed prayer), they told me they couldn’t do that. So the church just became one more place that I had to put on a brave face and pretend that nothing was wrong.

  3. The church has to do a careful balancing act, too much attention to the new, they’ll forget the old. Too much attention to the old, and they’ll forget the new. Too little commitment and there will be no reason for people to stay. Too much commitment and there will be a heavy demand on a person’s time that’s beyond reasonable. Too big churches and people will get lost in a crowd. Too small churches and people can find it difficult to get involved. Some of the things that churches are doing are definitely going too far – requiring membership contracts, minimum tithe, mandatory small group participation – I don’t know if it’s in the name of getting people involved and therefore less likely to leave, but they do just as much harm as ignoring people (if not more).

    • I have a Jewish friend who once told me that he never attends synagogue and is not committed to one because—and this is a direct quote: ” I cannot afford it.” Apparently, some synagogues are set up like this. It is too bad that money can be a wall between a person and God—and just what about all of those people who cannot afford it?

      • I remember hearing about synagogues with membership fees that can be quite steep, so it’s a reality that’s a problem. I read about a protestant church that would ‘disfellowship’ it’s members who didn’t tithe enough – even a man who was fighting cancer was kicked out because he couldn’t afford his chemotherapy and his church tithe. So it’s something that also happens in our churches. I think that it does cause churches to lose their credibility.

    • I haven’y encountered membership contracts, minimum tithe or mandatory group participation, but I have experienced, and known others experience, discomfort of pressure, ‘hints,’ or outright being called out and admonished, for lack of or too little tithe, with no regard for or interest in people’s personal financial situation.

      It is sometimes a long term situation, of low income and/or high necessary expenses, or a shorter term period of crisis, but it is embarrassing and painful to be told that “the 1st 10% belongs to God (which means the Church) no matter what.” I was raised in religious community that stressed the giving of 10%, no matter what, even if it meant important bills weren’t paid, or there was lack of food or medical care. No matter how poor, that 10% was an obligation to God. I’d heard that so consistently in the kind of religious culture around me, that it has been confusing to hear it idea expressed that the church was the place to go for those in need. Just a few years ago I was attending a church where it was not unusual to hear members, teachers and deacons,and even the pastor while at the pulpit, express frustration over where deadbeats got the idea the church was a place to beg for handouts. Ouch.

      It is especially awkward when someone with a low income, even at or below poverty level, that is being “faithful” in their 10% tithe, feeling pressure and disapproval, even getting hints about tithe responsibility, that make it evident those in the church do not know what their income amount is, have never talked with them about it, and are assuming a much higher income, and the person is shirking their “tithe duty.”

  4. Agree 100%.
    This applies to those churches who now have “satellite” branches, where the message is broadcasted on large screens without any real pastoral care. It’s just a bunch of people getting together to watch TV. It’s sad this is what church has become.

  5. I agree with you John.A building is just a building,its what takes place inside that building that counts.It is my hope and prayer that proper guidance with those having the authority to do so is leading there sheep in proclaiming the true meaning of the spiritual purpose of the one called so many years ago.
    The leadership of any church should be teaching and lifting up those who are discouraged and sad and helping all find true purpose in life.I think a building should be something that shows what we may see as Peter opens the gates for those who who can say ,as they have lived and done the best they can in doing the right things the maker has ask all to follow.May the work I have done speak for me.I do pray that those who are apart of any church large or small will ask for forgiveness and seek out those who has left out of the back door.

  6. THANK YOU!!!
    Having just finally joined a Church (not a large or mega one), but simply a nice, neighborhood Church, Lutheran denomination this past March. I, now less than a year later, feel so alone! No, I could never financially commit much and yes, life events happened, yet I did make the Pastor aware of what had befallen my children and myself, initially had an email from him, then did go to Service when I felt strong enough to not fall apart in tears (emotional devestation has gotten the better of me the past 6 plus months) and he did lend me a Bible that has brought great comfort, especially during the night when I awken from “visions”, yet have just received a letter requesting my yearly financial commitment, and 1 lone, short email from the Pastor saying he was thinking of mesince July when my world was destroyed. The destruction? Though it was never a “good” Marriage, I was committed and hopeful, and did my best to sooth and “keep the peace” for 29 years, only to find out my husband of 29 years was an adulterer, and no, not a one-night stand, but someone I had known and welcomed into our home for over 15 years and with encouragement from his sister, this other womans best friend,who explains it away that he was in a “bad marriage” and that is why its okay! Never mind how it destroyed his 3 grown children, 2 of which now consider him dead, the eldest who is still in “contact” when “dad” needs something or the wife who always believed in him, trusted him and dealt with 2 Army deployments, numeous job losses and financial disasters, all the while taking in the “blame”, the “disgust” and the “judgment” from his family and others as he always made it my doing and never accepting responsibility for anything! Needless to say, I investigated the term “narcissist” after I learned of the adultery and the pieces fell into place, so much, so many signs that showed themselves for decades, yet had been so “emotionally beaten down” , that until the harsh light of reality hit, didn’t even know, or couldn’t, accept the pure evil we had lived with. The kids and I are doing the best we can, the divorce is final, all of us are trying to move forward, yet how lovely it would be for my Pastor to have actually reached out, even “pestered”, offering strength, Prayers, kindness and caring. Thank You for listening!!!

    • I am so very sorry to hear of the betrayal of your heart, soul, mind and body, Marguerite ….a lonely, hard path you and your children have been walking. I pray that you will find a place and people to support you while you and your kids recover – a place that will give you space to be angry (yes, healing goes through anger), mourn the loss of the relationships for you and your children, and be renewed in spirit, soul and heart.

    • Marguerite – My heart is breaking for you and your family (including your ex) as you spoke of the devastation in your life. And I know it must seem a betrayal, that when you needed them the most, your ‘church’ wasn’t there to help. I will be praying for you, that our Father will comfort, guide you and lead you through this very deep valley. My husband and I were leaders for a few years in a ministry called Divorce Care. I don’t know if there is one in your area, but you might check into it. It is a CHRIST centered ministry to broken people from broken relationships with leaders who have been through what you are suffering. I pray our LORD will lead you to some brothers and sisters who can come alongside you and help you through this very difficult time. GOD bless you.

      • Such a “Divorce Care” ministry with leaders that have experienced divorce themselves, and similarly, those dealing with any number of other difficult life situations, would be, I think, among the most effective pastoral ministries in the church. Too often, and in some churches, always, any sort of counseling or ministry to the divorced, or those with serious marital issues that may lead to divorce, is limited only to those that have never been divorced themselves. The result is then often minimizing the trauma and problems that led to the divorce, as well as judgement against them for their ‘sin.’ Same with addicts, alcoholics, or such as unwed pregnant girls.

  7. I’m always grateful you are not afraid to say what needs to be said. I had to stop going to church for about 6 months without a word from anyone at the church except 2 close friends who knew what was going on in my life. I then wrote a long letter to the pastor of that church I had attended (and sung in the choir) for 6 years that I didn’t feel ministered to and why. He wrote back agreeing with me but 2 years later I still haven’t heard another word from him or anyone at the church (except my friends of course.) I have a tendency to put the blame on myself. But at age 75 (a well-educated, outgoing woman) and 4 different denominations and 8 church sizes in 3 states later, I’ve learned I’m not the one at fault. My worship experience by myself in my own home is far more fulfilling. I feel a closeness to God I’ve never felt before. My social needs are met elsewhere – so even though I miss some things about “going to church” because I have since I was born, I’m better off. But I still feel sad at times.

  8. Great article. I liked it, too. I used to go to an ultra-conservative Lutheran church in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I moved away from it and told them to leave me alone because I was not even acknowledged by the congregation. The pastor and I did not see eye-to-eye at all. I was judged and burned by that church and many churches. I still believe in God, but I refuse to go back to church because of it. I refuse to be taken advantage of and I was by every congregation I was at.

    So, I choose to worship God in my own home. If Jesus did not agree with organized religion, and He did not, then why should I? He spoke up against the Pharisees (organized religion). I believe that the church has become the Pharisees again. We need another Reformation, and I doubt it will occur in our lifetimes.

    Jesus stayed with those that were considered the most downtrodden in society. I would rather try to emulate Jesus of Nazareth, never the church. I also like the stance of Francis of Assisi. At least Francis of Assisi showed Jesus in his deeds and not just his words. Francis of Assisi walked the walk and not just spoke it. I also agree with Pope Francis I. He has spoken out about corruption in the world and the church. I actually consider the Pope a role model. Thanks for letting me share. 🙂

  9. Many churches deliver on the show but are lacking the real deal, the one true Gospel. The main relationship in the Church shouldn’t be between the pastor and the people, it should be between the individual and Christ himself. The pastor should only be the one who keeps reading the poems from the one who seeks to woo your heart, Christ himself.

    If you are coming to a church and immediately look for a back door, I question your reasoning for even attending. From my experience personally, I don’t ever want to leave, even if no one ever speaks to me, as long as He speaks to me. And that’s more than enough.

    • People worship God corporately, that is, together. We’re not just loners-for-Christ. I seriously doubt anyone comes to church immediately looking for the back door. Of course we all need to focus on Jesus! Yet we need to also focus on others as well… “as you did it into the least of these My brethren.”

  10. This article SO describes me. Excited to join the last non-denom church I attended. Lots of places to serve in a big church, right? Wrong.. Very hard to get plugged in. “Professionals” pretty much do everything. Nobody connects on Sundays, only in small groups. Had one GREAT small group. Was forced to change after 9 months. Just didn’t click in the next one. Without that, and with no real “connection” to the church, I began to make excuses not to go. Excuses turned into apathy and I was gone. Did anyone CALL? No. Did anyone EMAIL? No. Nobody cared. I wasn’t really a PART of the church, anyway, why should they? After three years my whole faith perspective began to change. Now two years later, and I couldn’t comfortably attend that church and sit under that pastor because of theological differences. So, I’m just waiting for the Spirit’s direction. So far, He has me part of a small group that meets nearly weekly. We don’t call it “church”, but I can’t live without it. 🙂

  11. Thank you for saying what so many people are feeling and thinking, yet no one else seems to have the courage to say. I’m not just talking about this post, which is spot-on, and heart-wrenchingly true, but so many other things that you have written (and been highly criticized for).

    I joined a “charismatic” church back in the 70’s, when I was in my late teens. I eventually married there, and my husband became a deacon. I was the piano player. We paid tithes. We attended almost every service, for years. We lived over 30 miles away from the church. When we fell on “hard times” (husband was laid off form his job, car broke down and no money for repairs) our attendance slacked off. Of course we had a few “friends” that we talked to regularly, so folks knew what was going on. They all said they’d “pray for us.” But no one offered real help. No one seemed concerned. I did receive one letter form the pastor’s wife, expressing that she had missed us. Other than that – no one called or came to visit. The back door was WIDE open. Out of sight, out of mind.

    My husband, “the deacon,” and I divorced a few years later. We were un-churched at the time. We had three children. It was a painful and messy experience. There were no “church” friends around to lean on. But I did find plenty of emotional support and friendship from kind, caring people who had seldom, if ever, darkened the halls of a place of worship.

    Now I am an older, wiser and jaded 58 year old woman. I am remarried to a wonderful man, who was raised Catholic, and has his own reasons to feel jaded about church. I am still a believer, still hunger for a community, but do not believe there is one to be found. I occasionally attend churches and receive the front door, big smiley-face welcome every time. But if I visit a few times, and no one remembers me, no one asks me anything, all I get from the Pastor is “have a good day, thank you for coming” on my way out, it is hard to feel inclined to continue.

    I feel that there is a real problem with our churches. People are hurting and tying to fit in. It is ironic that when real trials and tribulations come, church members turn away. They are uncomfortable and ill-equipped to handle real life problems. And there is the subtle, and not so subtle attitude that blames you for your problems. Because, if you were a “good enough” Christian, you would not be suffering with any problems, now would you?

  12. Totally agree. When my wife and I were going through a tough financial patch and drifted away, no one called or cared we weren’t there anymore. The modern church seems superficial and self absorbed.

  13. John, it’s not just the big churches where you can get lost. I have lived in Philly for 8 years and off and on had tried to find a church home. Non felt right until I went to a local UCC Church for Christmas Ever service. The church was beautiful. The people were welcoming and I decided to give it a few more visits. They were also a “welcoming congregation” and as a gay men, that too was part of what I was looking for. But as I attended longer I discovered that there was no gay community there – I think I was the only one. And even though people said hello to me after service, I sat in a pew by myself every week. After attending for a few months I came down with a severe case of bronchitis and missed nearly a month of services. In this month the pastor nor the Board president that I had become friendly with ever check on me. See if I was ok or if I needed anything. Their lack of concern really bothered me and I never went back.

  14. Churches have become merely an extension of the world’s corporate structures. They are run as such. Pastor=CEO, Associate Pastors=VPs, Pastor of Finance=CFO; the list of similarities goes on. Ministry has been diminished to coffee bar, ushering, nursery, and heading up fundraisers. People have been lulled into thinking that this is healthy and normal, when in fact, it isn’t functioning like authentic community. Congregants are used solely to run the corporate machine. They may, by no means question the leadership, and when they get tired of being used to run the hamster wheel, they get wise and slip out the back door quietly. The church needs a total renovation so that it begins to look like Jesus. That means no hierarchy and no inflated egos. It means we are equals and we all take care of one another’s needs. Unless this happens, people will continue to leave through the back doors and eventually all the doors will be bolted shut and the buildings sold at auction. Jesus did not come to head up a corporation or begin a religion. He came simply with the heart to love people and sacrifice his life for them. We need to have the same heart. Therein lies the Church and divine community.

  15. I go toa Vineyard Church and I have to say they have made me family and I am not easy to deal with. I have emotional and physical issues as well as sexuality issues. They have truly helped me at every turn. My small group leader gently nudges me in getting involved in relationships and the pastor is looking for places where he can use my talents as opposed to trying to fit me in a place I don’t belong. I sm slowly making real friends but this is a time oriented task thst cannot be rushed. Is it a perfect church. No. But it is a good church and I want folks to know they are out there.

  16. I liked what you said and how you said it. I do not agree completely, mostly because that has not been my experience with the mega churches that I have been a part of. It isn’t so much the church staff that needs to change, in my opinion. It is the individual in the church that needs to move from mere consumption into community. Of course I have lots of ideas and most of them are the right ones, but this is your blog and I enjoyed it. Blessings/!

  17. I wish John would write a main blog post on why each of us (you and me) are all so scared of each other that we really do not want the kind of “community” John is talking about relative to the church. Let’s face it—-all of us. We are afraid of people. People scare us. We are afraid of “getting in too deep” with other people. We are afraid of “true community” because we fear that it will move us into relationships with other people that we will not like, that we have nothing in common with, that irritate the hell out of us, that tear us down, that are mean to us—and worst of all put us into a situation where toxic people of various kinds will become part of our own skin—and we will never be able to comfortably extricate ourselves from those people and catch our own breath. The option to slip out the back door and never hear from the church or the people in it—ever again—can be a rich, deep, and abidingly loving blessing.

    Let me give you an example. I attended a very small New Years Eve celebration at the house of a friend bout 20 years ago. She was divorced—and she only invited three or four couples to this celebration. I enjoy conversation if it is fun and interesting—like here on John’s blog. Well, a husband in one of these couples seemed sort of shy and retiring, so I tried to start a conversation with this guy because I am shy and not a big talker either. That was a huge mistake. Huge!!! After exchanging a few reserved words, he started talking to me and did nothing else but talk to me for the next 4 hours. I could hardly get in a word edgewise and was immediately relegated to a position of being unable to say anything but “yeah-uh-huh” for the next 4 hours. Every word that came out of his mouth was boring almost beyond belief—like having someone read to you the maintenance and repair manual for a mainframe computer. After the first hour, I started getting a headache and felt my anxiety level rising because there was no way to escape from this person. Even if I went to the bathroom, when one might hope he would find someone else to bore to tears—-it never happened. He would just latch back onto me and keep drolling on endlessly as if his cells were part of mine. At several points, it seemed as if I was having difficulty breathing—because I was being smothered by this guy. My mind, my body, my heart, and my soul wanted to scream out: “Will you please get the fuck away from me and stop talking!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” But, of course, I am too nice to do that to people, and it would have been out of place in my friend’s house to talk to one of her guests like that and disrupt the party. So, I just sat there and took the bombardment for another 2 hours until midnight when the new year arrived—and my wife and I decided to go home. I remember thinking: “What must it be like to live with this person for 52 weeks out of every year?” And I felt sorry for the poor wife who had to do it.

    This is the real reason a lot of people DO NOT LIKE to get in close community with other people at church or anywhere else—-the kind of community our dear friend John talks about in his main post. Hypothetically, it is a wonderful idea to have this sort of community—but it assumes that every person who will be coming into that community is going to be a thoughtful, kind, loving, sensitive, and easy to get along with person like John or me. It will not be. We live in a time when the average American sidewalk is filled to the brim with toxic people that annoy the absolute hell out of other people for a wide range of reasons—like the guy above that I could not escape from at the party. I think we live in a time when many people want as little to do with other people as possible—for these very reasons. For example, if you have a group of 10 people, three strong personalities will show up and fight it out for which person is going to “dominate the group.” It is just their personality to want to dominate everything and everyone in their sight. Pretty soon, the other 7 people would like to just slip quietly out the back door, go home, and never come back. In a real Christian community, like the one John proposes, the people who talk endlessly need to be made to realize that they are hurting other people and tone it down. The three dominators need to learn that a community of Christ is not the proper place to attempt to draw 9 other people into submission to their will just because DNA gave them a deep inner hunger to ALWAYS BE IN CHARGE.

    Am I making my point here?

    • dover1952 – If you allowed someone to dominate a conversation for four hours, YOU are the one with the problem, not him! To paraphrase Paul Simon, there must be 50 ways to leave your conversation partner. You simply excuse yourself and go talk to someone else! And to bring up a 20-year-old incident as the reason why people don’t want to get close to people, is just sick. You say, “We live in a time when the average American sidewalk is filled to the brim with toxic people that annoy the absolute hell out of other people for a wide range of reasons—like the guy above that I could not escape from at the party. I think we live in a time when many people want as little to do with other people as possible—for these very reasons.” Really? I find people to be generally caring and well-meaning. Maybe you’re finding what you want to find. You felt sorry for that man’s wife. I feel sorry for YOUR wife.

      • If you had been there, you would have realized that there was no other person to go and talk to. It was three or four couples huddled tightly in front of a fireplace—and that was the whole party. It was not a situation with 100 or 200 guests where one could do what you suggested. Since when does the age of an incident lose its power to be an example?

      • Gail, that seems… let’s call it “harsh”. I doubt that Dover1952 is the only person who has found themselves trapped in a conversation, and it was actually his kindness and compassion that allowed him to continue in an uncomfortable situation.

        I do kind of question the other people at the party who didn’t step in to relieve the situation…? Because if we are looking to build community, that’s what needs to happen – to share those burdens.

    • Yep, you’re making your point. When I lead a Bible study I put a timer on the big talkers, and make sure the quiet people get their say. It works.

      • Oh, I get it now. Gail Kent must be one of the big talkers and/or big dominators—and felt the need to go off the deep end. Listen up Gail—other people do not like what big talkers and dominators do. Sure, they talk to you. They smile back. And you feel really accepted—but secretly—those people are dying inside and just want you to either shut up or go away. I wish every big talker and group dominator type could understand that one basic fact in life—and STFU.

  18. Thanks for your post, John. I’ve been reading for awhile and find your viewpoint refreshing and thoughtful. I know it must not be easy for you reading some of the responses you get sometimes, which seem pretty hate-filled, so thanks for being consistent and faithful in your calling. I’ve always felt encouraged by your posts.

    As to this post, it resonates deeply with me. I’m a rather shy person, but I know that about myself and so have always made extra efforts to put myself out there when trying to join a new church. Some of the experiences I have had, however, are really mind-boggling, and unfortunately seem more the norm than the exception. For example, I requested to join a small group and was told I could only go to a women’s group (which were only scheduled during the day, a difficulty for me since I work full-time) apparently because I wouldn’t “fit” in a mixed-gender or married couples group. I’m married but my husband wasn’t interested in attending at the time, and I could have really used some support due to our marriage being kind of out-of-sync in regard to spiritual issues. However, that reaction made me feel judged for not having a “Christian” husband (although I only came back to the church long after he and I had been married). I didn’t attend there again, but never received any followup.

    At another church, I volunteered my time in the nursery regularly, and attended women’s fellowship weekly, but then when I asked for prayer from the senior leadership prior to a serious surgery I was to have, there were all these scheduling difficulties because the (male) pastor didn’t want to meet with a female parishioner alone! However there were no female pastors, because they didn’t believe in ordaining women…They ended up leaving the door open while praying! Not a word from anyone after the surgery, or after I left the church due to the lack of concern. Yet another time, I was able to fix my work schedule to attend a daytime women’s Bible study, and was finally starting to feel like I was making some friends (not easy when everyone there has kids except for me, and all friendships seem to stem from “playdates” made for their kids!). Then, the “rules” said that all the groups had to change, like musical chairs! I didn’t go to the new group, and I never heard from any of the ladies in the first group again. I keep praying that God will lead me to a church where I can be a contributing member but also feel needed and loved. In the meantime I worship at home or in nature.

    My heart goes out to all of your readers above, who have experienced a lack of care or concern upon leaving their church. I will keep you all in my prayers as well, that Christ’s body on earth can grow to fulfill it’s purpose and demonstrate compassion and commitment to all it’s members.

    • You can tell an insensitive and unloving pastor when he leaves the door open during a counseling session.

      I’ve started getting snarky and say, “No worries. You can close the door… I’ve taken self-defense and if you attack me, I’ll lay you flat.”

      Frankly I won’t talk to a pastor who won’t talk with me privately. I’ve never had an affair in my life and I’m not about to start now.

      And don’t get me going on stories about Billy Graham never being alone with a woman. Graham was a public figure and tabloids were out to frame him and publish photos in the gossip rags. The average pastor isn’t a target of national newspapers seeking a headline.

  19. Re-reading this posting, in the light of something that happened to me today; I’m in IT; I’m a Database Administrator ….I support several Financials systems, and I have users across the United States and Europe.. I sent an email out today informing my users that I would be moving on 15 January, that there would be a period that I would not be on the network, but that I had a personal WiFi, and I would be able to logon, if necessary

    One of my users, a proclaimed atheist, actually asked me if I needed help (I’ve engaged movers, and two of my three sons said they would help (the other has to work))….I had been attending a large Catholic parish since 1999 – and I know there is _no one_ there that would remotely volunteer to help me…..

    I 100% agree with Dover1952 (I’m six years older (ha) – 1958 Baby)…we are afraid of COMMUNITY

    In fact, I have found more COMMUNITY at _work_ (something about spending all night recovering an Oracle database, I guess (ha)) – I have seen people at work take collections for someone who had fallen ill, or have baby and wedding showers….not seen that in any churches I’ve been in, recently, although I just started attending a small LCMS Lutheran church that seems very human…..

  20. You wrote: “No one is watching the back doors of our churches and thousands of people are walking out every week hurting and defeated and anonymous, never to return—and this is a problem.”

    I’m walking out because God is inviting me to something bigger than my local church. I am not walking out hurting and defeated. I’m walking away because my pastor is too young to understand the bigger questions in life.

    I’m being invited by God into deeper fellowship with him and with those who see Christianity as more than just a 10-minute prayer time, perfectly parsed theology, and moral standards.

    God is inviting us to really love people. There’s a reason that atheists and agnostics secretly confide their amazing spiritual experiences to me. It’s because I love them and accept them…with no desire to change them. I leave that to the Holy Spirit.

    We need a “Done Church” — where those of us who are a little older and more mature can find a place driven by the winds of the Spirit.

    Anywhere 2 or 3 like-minded people get together is the church. We aren’t leaving the church; we’re leaving a box where we have to sit in hand-cuffs and ankle-irons. We are running free and able, finally, to minister where we are called. If we have a couples of friends who “get it” and are called to the same, that’s our church.

    • Ma’am. You cain’t jist leav’em to that thar Holy Spirit. You have to come in like a really good fundie and clamp down on their butts real tight like with what them bassaball players calls a “full court press.” You badger’em night and day no matter where theyzuns might be. If nothin else, crawl in their bedroom window at 3:00 a.m., stand up own that thar matress, and preach to them while theyuns is a layin there. Holy Spirit my butt!!! Why Heezuns don’t even show up half the time and loses out sumpin’ awful. If he’d show up ever once in a while down at our IFB church, we’d show him a thing or two about how it is to be the spurt uva reel Gawd.

      Just sayin’.

  21. I sometimes think John puts up posts like this one because he wants to start his own church someday and he wants to know how to do it RIGHT so his church can avoid all the pitfalls, crises, pains, and just plain not caring that so characterize many other churches today.

    If that is true, I would suggest four things:

    1) Go for the kind of community that you would like to see—but understand that people are going to warm up to actually doing it very, very slowly—because a lot of people really are scared of other people, scared of getting in too deep with other people, scared of being hurt by other people, scared that they will find other people to be intolerable.

    2) Find a way to get people to tell you what scares them about being in community with other people. The leader of a community (that would be you John) must take the authority necessary to outlaw the behaviors that turn other people off and make them run from community. For example, if a person in the community is scared of public speaking, you never assign members of the group to make 1-hour oral presentations to the rest of the community on some religious subject. It may seem like nothing for an outgoing person like you to make such a presentation, but for another person in your community it will feel like the end of the world and drive them straight out the back door. One of the reasons I gave up my archaeology career back in 1982 is because of the strong emphasis on public speaking in that career. In all of my 63 years, I have never been able to achieve long-term freedom from my fear of public speaking. I stand at the podium and shake like a leaf in a 35 mph wind gust—and it detracts from the whole presentation. Give me a 1-hour speaking assignment on Job, and I will be out the back door of the church forever just after the stroke of noon on Sunday.

    3) You also have to understand that many people do not want close community because they are hiding something embarrassing that they think is in danger of being revealed in a close community situation—like a town of demons from the Planet Clicktoo is living in their pubic hair and is having trouble managing its sanitary sewer system. Many people (John being one and me being another) feel that real community—one abiding in love—is one in which all people in the community can feel free and safe to let go of their deepest secrets, deepest sins, and craziest past moments, feelings, and actions—and find acceptance rather than condemnation—and understand mutually that we are all hurting and broken in many different ways—and we have all done really bad stuff we wish we had not done—and some of us are still doing that bad stuff and are having trouble breaking free from it. The key is to establish an environment where people can feel acceptance in spite of themselves.

    4) The back door really does need to be left open at all times because the best answer to some problems really is the ability to just leave quietly and never come back. That option should not be closed off for those people who really need that option. Then the community leaders and members needs to assess honestly whether the leaving needs some sort of “how did we fail you” follow up or whether the situation is such that just leaving the person alone is the best thing to do. For example, there is a classic, hardcore fundie church at the base of the mountain I live on top of. If I were to go to church there 5 times, become a member of a small group, and then leave through the backdoor when I can no longer take the idiocy of it all, I can see them pestering me night and day to come back, staging a demonstration on my lawn, or doing something else totally weird. For my part, the best thing they could do after I leave through their back door is to just LMTFA.

  22. Thank you, John!
    Love your line: The Church is a not a collection of fast food salvation franchises, it’s a group of local expressions of the care and compassion of Jesus, that know and understand how to create authentic, deep, sustainable community in the difficult, messy, time-consuming trenches of real lives.
    If only! Seems there are few that are getting it right sadly.

  23. Pingback: Hello From the Outside (How The Church Fails and Forgets Those Who Leave) | When Church Hurts

  24. The small church I was attending did not have a nursery ministry and was not interested in starting one, so I went to a mega church where family members and other acquaintances attended. It claims to be an evangelical church. I spent a lot of time in their 0-3 yr old center. Security is phenomenal but it slowly dawned on me that 1-2 yr olds hear nothing of Jesus. As I worked my way up the chain of command, stating that this is going on (upper eschelon had no idea or interest), I made my way out the front door, unnoticed. My last conversation was with one of the preaching pastors. He put me in my place by explaining the church’s philosophy; “We are not responsible for the spiritual life of people, we simply facilitate their learning “. And then he told me to lay the matter to rest. I was not the only person questioning this blasphemous treatment of children in this church. The director of the department earlier explained to me that volunteers were available to teach and it took most of their time, keeping security at a high level.

    I have attended churches my entire life, but, now in my 60’s it is hard work finding a church where can worship, learn and contribute. I continue to make the attempt to stay in a local church because I have a passion to make a difference in people’s lives through the local church. It is definitely difficult to continue in this passion.

  25. John, once again you’ve nailed it.
    As well, in addition to issues in any church over people being unconnected to their fellow-Christians, there are particular issues in particular church groupings.
    For “evangelicals”, there are issues related to the uncritical relationship of these churches with the political right wing in many countries.
    For RCs, there are issues related to child sexual abuse in some contexts, as well as about people being excluded from receiving Communion at Mass in many more contexts.
    For “liberal” Protestants, there are issues of boredom.

  26. The sad thing about all of this, we feel we are alone. The saddest is that too many people are going through this alienation from church. We expect this in the secular world, but are devastated and confused when it happens in the Christian community. God never gives up on us though, He will see us through this terrible time.

  27. Those attending a Christian church in America have dropped since the abortion and homosexuality topics of the late 80s became the prime battle cry of the Christian Right. In most polls, those attending a church to hear the Word of God and the teachings of Jesus, have dropped since 1992 at 40% to only about 20% according to the Gallup Poll and an alarming 17% according to Barna Research. WOW, what are we as Christians doing wrong?

    I can tell you this, screaming about abortions and homosexuality has destroyed the Christian Church in America. JesusIsDemocrat.blogspot.com

  28. I have been concerned about this problem for years. It is a feeling of coldness coming from the church. The frivolous outside covering is very superficial. I am 73 years, and have been in church for many a year. I do not have a problem with change, as most pastors would accuse the elderly to be, but it is done with no wisdom in mine.

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