Church, Here’s Why People Are Leaving You. Part 1


Being on the other side of the Exodus sucks, doesn’t it?

I see the panic on your face, Church.
I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.
I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful and I want to help you.

You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.

You think it’s because the culture is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.
You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God, chasing money and sex and material things.
You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed-up the morality of the world, that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.

But those aren’t the only reasons people are leaving you.

They aren’t always the problem, Church.

You are the problem too.

Your Sunday productions have worn thin.

The stage and the lights and the bands and the video screens have all just become white noise to those really seeking to encounter God. They’re ear and eye candy for an hour but they have so little relevance in people’s daily lives, that more and more of them are taking a pass, seeking God in the quiet and the still.

Yes the songs are cool and the show is great, but ultimately Sunday morning isn’t really making a difference on Tuesday afternoon or Thursday evening when people are wrestling with the awkward, messy, painful stuff in the trenches of life—the places where rock shows don’t help.

We can be entertained anywhere. Until you can give us something more than a Christian-themed performance piece, something that allows us space and breath and conversation and relationship, many of us are going to sleep-in and stay away.

You speak in a foreign tongue.

Church, you talk and talk and talk, but you do so using a dead language. You’re holding on to dusty words that have no resonance in people’s ears, not realizing that just saying those words louder isn’t the answer. All the religious buzzwords that used to work 20 years ago, no longer do.

This spiritualized insider-language may give you some comfort in an outside world that is changing, but that stuff’s just lazy religious shorthand and it keeps regular people at a distance. They need you to speak in a language that they can understand. There’s a message there worth sharing, but it’s hard to hear above your verbal pyrotechnics.

People don’t need to be dazzled with heavily foot-noted eschatological frameworks and complex theological systems. Talk to them plainly about love and joy and forgiveness and death and peace and God, and they’ll be all ears. Let them hear the unfiltered words of Jesus and people will listen. Keep up the Christianese and you’ll be talking to an empty room soon.

You can’t see past your building.

The coffee bar, the cushy couches, the high tech lights, the funky Children’s wing and the uber-cool Teen Center are all top-notch—and costly. In fact most of your time, money and energy seem to be expended to lure people to where you are, instead of reaching people where they already are.

Rather than simply stepping out into the neighborhoods around you and partnering with the amazing things already happening and the beautiful stuff God is already doing, you seem content to franchise out your particular version of Jesus-stuff and wait for the sinful world to beat down your door. It seems like you’d rather build your brand and upgrade your campus than hit the streets and wash dirty feet.

Your greatest mission field is just a few miles (or a few steps) off your property and you don’t even realize it. You wanna reach the people you’re missing? Leave the building.

You choose lousy battles.

We know you like to fight, Church. That’s obvious.

When you want to, you can go to war with the best of them. The problem is, your battles are too darn small. Fast food protests and bathroom sign outrage may manufacture some urgency and Twitter activity on the inside for the already-convinced, but they’re paper tigers to people out here with bloody boots on the ground who really are about bringing justice and healing to the marginalized and hurting.

Every day we see a world suffocated by poverty and racism and violence and bigotry and hunger and hurt, and in the face of that stuff you get awfully, frighteningly quiet. We wish you were as courageous in those fights because then we’d feel like coming alongside you—then we’d feel like going to war with you.

Church, we need you to stop being warmongers with the trivial and peacemakers in the face of the terrible.

Your love doesn’t look like love.

Love seems to be a pretty big deal to you but we’re not getting that when the rubber meets the road. In fact, more and more your brand of love seems incredibly selective and decidedly narrow, filtering out all the spiritual riff-raff, which sadly includes far too many of us.

It feels like a big bait-and-switch sucker-deal; advertising a “Come As You Are” party, but letting us know once we’re in the door that we can’t really come as we are. We see a Jesus in the Bible, who hung out with lowlifes and prostitutes and outcasts and loved them right there, but that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.

Church, can you love us if we don’t check all the doctrinal boxes and don’t have our theology all figured out? It doesn’t seem so.
Can you love us if we cuss and drink and get tattoos and God forbid vote Democrat? We’re doubtful.
Can you love us if we’re not sure how we define love and marriage and Heaven and Hell? It sure doesn’t feel that way.

From what we know about Jesus, we think he looks like love. The unfortunate thing is, you don’t always look much like him.

That’s part of the reason people are leaving you, Church.

These words may get you really, really angry, and you may want to jump in a knee-jerk move to defend yourself or attack these positions line-by-line, but we hope that you won’t.

We hope that you’ll just sit in stillness with these words for a while, because whether you believe they’re right or wrong, they’re real to us, and well that’s the whole point.

We’re the ones walking away.
We want to matter to you.
We want you to hear us before you debate us.

Show us that your love and your God are real because we want to believe that.

Church, give us a reason to stay.

Note: Part 2 can be found HERE.
Part 3 can be found HERE.

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944 thoughts on “Church, Here’s Why People Are Leaving You. Part 1

  1. It really depends on the church you are attending. There are a lot of churches like the one the article describes, but there are also a lot of churches that show the love of God in every possible way and work to bring new believers into the Christian family in a kind, loving and supportive way. Be assured that once you are a believer, Jesus will clean you up. You may drink and smoke and have tats and fornicate and whatever else you choose to do, but once you become His, and truly His, He will clean you up. It’s just that simple and I’m living proof and you can find tens of millions of others who will agree with me. So if you want a church that will leave you in your current state, attend the one that you so eloquently described in the article. If you want a real personal relationship with God, be prepared for a radical change in your life. God Bless You and may you continue to seek His Face.

  2. I had to ask for 2 years at a church that could very well afford to provide captions for people with hearing loss of the services-and they continued to say “no”. They had ASL interpreters the the few Culturally Deaf, but refused to provide captions for the growing number of people with hearing loss. They choose to discriminate. That’s not love. LCBC in Manheim, PA practices discrimination on so many levels.

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  12. Way too many assumptions here. You didn’t consider the black church in your reasoning. Are they not also guilty of the “sins” you pointed out? Yet there are many many churches that hold to conserve ideals experiencing exponential growth. And they feed the hungry and preach on the streets AND fight against the laws that are taking away religious freedoms and indict them for taking a biblical stance on the issues driving our culture. And they also happen to demonstrate love by speaking the truth about sin. I believe there is a scripture about snatching people out of the fire. Anyway, back to what you seem to have missed. The black church and many of the white liberal churches vote Democrat (and by the tone of your article you likely do as well), supporting the abortion agenda (see biblical references to Molech) and Oh my gosh! Hating Republicans. And for the folks who have walked away from the “church” there are a few things to consider: too lazy to stay and be an instrument of change? Social justice (which is non biblical doctrine) is more important than anything else? They no longer or never have believed what the bible calls sin is exactly that. Lots to chew on.

  13. Those are all good observations, but none of the are why I threw in the towel on church a year ago. I’m one of those you mentioned that departed angrily.

    I am 60 years old, born and raised in church. Was even a church planter for a while. In the 80/20 rule I was part of the 20%. I poured my time, treasure, and talent into church work all of my adult life. But I’ve finally had a belly full of some things –

    1) As it turns out, the older you get the more you are expected “just SHUT-UP and quietly give your money. We don’t want your input on anything, we just demand that you fund everything”.

    2) The constant push into small groups. I absolutely hate being pushed into situations where I am expected to bear my innermost thoughts to people I have nothing in common with. I will never, EVER be forced into that nonsense again.

    3) I’ve seen and heard more than enough propaganda from the unhinged “Love Wins” reich. I see ZERO evidence of either ‘winning’ or ‘love’ from these intolerant BULLIES.

    I am soooo DONE with it all.

  14. WOW, 942 comments. I’m sending this Article out to EVERYONE I know (can’t wait to read the comments)!
    Google: “Troublemakers in the Church” by David Wilkerson PDF 6/2007 & Sermon (at the time, he was praying for Armies of them)!
    “Exploiting the Need to Belong: by Stephen Parsons & “Coming Out Alive” by Beth Cavete.
    Charisma years ago posted an article bashing church exiters, when I find I will post (it was very legalistic of course)!

    I’m sorry to say, I’ve read so many articles about how the church is making people hate, give up, despair, don’t know the Father Heart of God at all! Having grown up under a VERY abusive Pastor understand all that it was Leonard Ravenhill and Arthur Aaron Katz works that set me once again on the straight and narrow and “wounded and betrayed believers are useful to God by Graham Cooke” but doesn’t mean I’m going back to the dead church building/pastorate. The house2house movement is great concept, we know each other, can help one another and listen and share and finally bear one anothers burdens to fulfill the law of Christ and truly live as iron sharpens iron! I’m sorry to say this, I see the false church as a Pyramid Scheme/Business and cares nothing about people except for the $ you bring in to build their kingdom! Jeremiah 23: & Ezekiel 34:all! I can honestly say, didn’t learn anything in church but Hymns and I’m old! Been confronted for years, adderessing church leadership at large to no avail=meaning no change!
    Learned more of my Bible by reading it at Home!
    from one “who has been violently killed in the church taken and sawn asunder”!
    Thank God for the great teachers that woke us up to the Pentecostal/Charismatic Cults we were in!

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