What Church People Really Need To Know About Once-Churched People

This message is for Church People.

It’s for those of you who are part of a faith community every week; a physical place  where you usually find yourself on Sundays. You come there willingly, expectantly, and in that place you receive encouragement and find community and feel acceptance, and where you regularly experience moments of challenge and inspiration and joy.

You feel at home there in that building, connected to those people, confident in the creeds you recite there, comforted by the songs you sing together. The sum total of what you find in that place makes you certain that God exists and makes that God feel close enough to touch. Your presence there on the inside of it all makes you better. It leaves you feeling lighter. It takes your faith deeper.

If that describes you, I celebrate what you’ve found and what you feel and what you have, because it is well worth celebrating.

But what you need to know, Church People, is that there are other people too (lots of them, in fact); those who used to have those things and used to feel that way—but who no longer do.

They are not at home in that building or connected to those people or confident in those creeds or comforted by those songs anymore. Their presence there doesn’t make them better or feel lighter or believe more deeply. It only leaves them feeling depleted and tired and sad.

And the reasons for this are as many as their numbers. They may have had a catastrophic life event that instantly rocked their faith to rubble or they slowly watched their beliefs weathered away by the waves and winds of the disappointments and sadness of life. They may have been terribly damaged by those within the Church or had their trust betrayed one too many times. They may have had prayers they felt weren’t answered, or spiritual questions that were never fully resolved, or they may have simply come to believe after a long, difficult journey, that they no longer believe what they did back when they were Church People.

Yet regardless of the reasons, the result is still the same. Those people who used to be Church People, now find themselves outside of where you are now. They find themselves refugees and orphans and estranged family members. They are now Once-Churched People.

And I need you to know some things about them, because it can be very tempting from the inside to generalize them all; to paint them with the same lazy, sweeping strokes. It can be so very easy from your vantage point, to see them as the enemy or the problem or to somehow view them as adversaries—but that would be a huge mistake. 

They have not all abandoned their faith, though many have.
They do not all resent you who are Church People, although some do.
They do not all wish to wage war with those on the inside, though many may feel forced into a defensive posture by them.
They are not all defiantly reveling in their outsider-ness. Lots of them are filled with grief and guilt, and have only left despite their best and continued attempts to stay.
They are not spiritual lepers whose presence you need to avoid, lest their immorality become contagious and infect you.
They are not the dangerous, devious “Them” to be feared or pitied or defeated.

In fact, they are in so many ways, exactly who they used to be when they were Church People too; those you joyfully rubbed shoulders with in Sunday worship, who served alongside you in Children’s Ministry, who sat next to you in small group, who prayed through tears with you during midweek services.

They are still people of great depth and character and substance and yes, even faith. They are still wonderfully attentive parents, devoted friends, loving spouses, amazing co-workers, helpful neighbors. They are still responsible and compassionate and loving, and so much of what you treasured and knew to be true about them then, is still true today. They are simply not comfortable in the space you find yourself. They are not misfits, but they most surely no longer feel they fit where you do.

And it’s important that you remember all of this; that you find a softness in your response to them. It’s critical that you treat them with kindness and gentleness and great respect, and that you resist the urge to minimize them or the journey they’ve traveled to the outside.

These things are so important for two reasons:

One, because the character and example of Christ are such that you should feel compelled to do nothing less than that.

But as importantly, you need to strive for such things because these Once-Churched People—were once, Churched People.

They once believed as strongly, participated as fully, worshiped as reverently, stood as securely as you now do. They were once on the inside too, and never imagined they would ever be any place else; never dreamed the Church would be the story of their past.

There may come a day, Church People, when for a million reasons you no longer feel at home in that building, when you no longer feel connected to those people or confident in those creeds or comforted by those songs anymore. Being there in that place, may one day leave you depleted and bitter and sad.

And if that day comes, you will want someone still on the inside to see you as you are, to respect your road, to remember your goodness and to love you well, even as you find yourself on the outside.

Church People, listen well and respond with the best of yourselves to those who have left.

The Once-Churched People are counting on you to reflect Christ to them, even if it is from a distance. 

So please be The Church, people.




493 thoughts on “What Church People Really Need To Know About Once-Churched People

    • These people are not orphans. They have chosen to leave the Church. This makes it sound like nothing has changed for them. It has. Christians are called to love the church like Christ did. The question is whether they are still Christians when they willfully flee fellowship. I’m not sure.

      • You’re not sure, so silence is the best policy.

        You don’t know people’s individual road. Those who are in the fellowship may not be any more authentic, committed believers than those who discontent drives them out.

        You are mistaking the institution for Biblical community, and participation in that institution with obedience.

        • Spot on, John. Sometimes we, my family, crave the divide between heaven and earth be nothing because we are in both places, like a orphan of war. Many times the Church seems to be about the smiles, the retoric and the confrontation. Jesus came for hurting people. The Church, typically, wants to change people – conform to their understanding of God. I’m (we are) still wrapping my head around events that should have never happened in our glass cathedrals. Frozen in time, maybe, or , timeless is where we live. All we know is we are very serious about His touch and his goodness.

          • Dear Lowell, I think it depends on what Church you choose to worship in. I have been church hurt but it has never stopped me from going to church because it’s not about the people but it is all about our individual relationship with Christ. I TRY to get along with everyone in my church, which takes much prayer because you are correct, not everyone in the church is necessarily there for the same reasons. We are ALL sick trying to get well and some of us are sicker than others.

            The only thing anyone should be conforming to is the Bible, which is what all churches should be following and teaching from.

            • Sorry, you can have a very strong and loving relationship with Christ without a church. Christ is our brother and lives with all of us regardless of any church!!

            • Amen to you. It is about a personal relationship and not the ritual or friends etc. Understanding the message of Salvation and apply it in their own lifestyle. Someone can be hurt in church of outside the church, everywhere you go you will encounter other personality that sometimes could clash with you. It is how we understand God’s will and deal with problems with wisdom from God, not ours or the media..

              • Totally agree. I do not go to church often anymore but still know what I believe. I have many friends that are pastors and do not feel uncomfortable conversing with them outside of church or in church. I believe in God .
                I simply do not believe it is necessary to be i n church every Sunday to be a Christian or be saved.

        • Thank you John. The christian perspective Idojunkmail expressed is one reason why I chose to become a Once-Churched People. I would rather stay home on Sunday and drink my coffee on my back porch than go sit with sanctimonious-christians and be judged.

          • By doing that, are you finding ways of helping or ministering to others within Christ’s Body? We all are called to feed His lambs and tend His sheep. Sitting alone on a rock does neither…

            • You assumption that she does nothing simply because opts out of Sunday services is, I am sure, neither accurate nor fair. Many serve the poor, the sick, the orphan, and the widow from OUTside the building. Showing love to those that look differently, think differently, act differently, and need differently than the homogenous community inside the building are still doing Christ’s work.

        • First of all I’m not sure what exactly you are trying to get at by calling us “Church People”, but I find it mildly offensive. I’m a Christian not “church people” and the lord tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. I understand how some people leave the church wether it be because of something that has happened in their life or have been offended in some way by the preaching or something else. However people should realize that maybe this is God trying to speak to their heart and convict them of their sins and lead them to salvation. Maybe these “Once-church people” as you call them were never more than just that. People who just went to church. People who had never really given their life fully to God because if they had they would have a longing and a desire to be with people of like minded faith . I am not attacking anyone but maybe they should take a good long look at their life and their heart.

          • And then again, Christian, perhaps you ought to refrain from judgment. I can only imagine what you must be like as a fellow congregant or how many people you’ve managed to run off from your church with that attitude.

            • Whenever they are gathered together. It’s there. However I have found some. Churches to be the most unfriendly places I’ve ever been. Gods word isn’t negotiable. He commands us to gather together. Your feelings are irrelevant. Gods word is what matters. There are many different meanings for the word judgement in the Hebrew language God commands us to lovingly admonish one another in the Lord.

          • Christians cant seem to be able to grasp that people willingly and with eyes wide open walk away from faith all of the time. I get so sick of being told i was never “really saved” or a “real” Christian. You have no idea how faithful I was. Or how damaged I am because of that faithfulness. You can have the church and all that comes with it.

          • Thanks for posting this. It affirms that my decision to leave the church was the correct one, because so many people there spoke just like you have spoken here.

          • Your comment is exactly the reason I am now the “Once-Churched” and have never been happier. The usual self-righteous, sanctimonious speech. “I am not attacking anyone but……” Yeah, but here comes the attack. Maybe those within the church should take a good long look at their life and their heart since they’re the ones that do all the pontificating.

          • I am one of the Once-churched people who loves my God and deeply wants to be like Jesus. My husband and I left the church (after dedicating many years of leadership and service) because we do not find the community, the like-minded faith, that you mention. We were not offended. We were not torn to shreds by a life trauma that left our faith shaken. We’ve yet to find a church where we can meet with people who want true community… Who are willing to ask questions in the Grey, and not necessarily have all the answers. Who aren’t playing the game. We are sick of playing the game. We spent so many years serving people and felt alone. We spent so many years helping to grow our church community only to have the leadership ostracize and hurt those we had invested in and loved. And as our faith grew and changed, so did our values and perspectives. As we began to explore different perspectives of our faith, we saw time and again how a great many Church-people treat others whose views and perspectives differ from their own.
            Your comments gave me the same sadness I felt on Sundays. It is easy to clump One-churched folk together and judge us, but as John is saying here, there is depth and story that you don’t see.

            I still desire a connection with like minded lovers of Jesus. My husband and I intentionally meet with people who challenge us here and are always looking for more. We don’t sit in a pew. Or enter the hallowed halls of a brick building each week. We are a Once-churched people who are asking you, and your people, for a little grace here. Because some things just aren’t black and white.

        • I agree, and we don’t know, and it hurts. And living with the hurt, the separation, the further brokeness of ties that no longer bind, without losing a sense of compassion and tenderness is the only way for me to do this. If we could turn off feelings, reject those outside the pale without regret, we would lose the very essence of what we are.

        • That’s not a mistake. The εκκλησία, the gathering of the people as the Body of Christ *is* the Church, it is the community of Christ. No one should be judged and we pray for all, but you can’t say that reading the New York Times on Sunday morning with a good cup of coffee is either worshipping God nor constituting “Biblical community.” You can’t say you’re a baseball fan if you never go to the ballpark or watch it on TV. Everyone has an individual story with dry spells and challenges, but to paraphrase St Paul, stay in the race…to the end, fight the good fight!

      • You are clearly the type of person who needs to read this post more than once. Your words are exactly the kind that make so many of us want to “flee” in the first place.

        • My grandfather was a Baptist minister. I grew up in Church but I left as a teen/young adult. Not real sure why except that the congregation made me feel I didn’t belong. My grandfather died when I was 15 or so. He didn’t have his own Church when he died. I don’t believe in organized religion. I never really did. I believe in the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, and of course the Bible. I just don’t like to be around people. People who look down on you because you don’t have nice clothes or because your family is poor. They push you aside like your not good enough to be in their Church and these are the same people who pass by a homeless person sticking up their nose at them looking the other way. Jesus would never do this and I feel it is a slap in his face to go to Church every time the doors open and not live the life the Lord wants us to live. So, I worship at home with my Bible, and I try my best to live the Bible. I don’t go to a fancy building that cost enough money to build that, would feed thousands of God’s “least of his people”. Again, I worship at home.

          • A brilliant response. Those in the building called a church have lost their way and probably through no fault of their own. The leaders and pastors have done such a poor job of discussing social injustice all around us. They now preach prosperity doctrine or worse. What thinking, compassionate person would not reject such irrelevance.

        • I’m sorry you’ve found yourself there. How have you got there? You are deeply loved just as you are by your heavenly Father. We don’t see him clearly reflected in others nor in the world but he’s longing for us to know his embrace and he’ll always be looking for you!

          • I understand that you are attempting to be gracious in your response. But when someone tells you they no longer believe, responding with a belief-heavy remark doesn’t do anything positive. When we stop believing, remarks like yours sound like pity. I don’t want pity. I found freedom when I left religion and when I finally dropped the shackles of faith and belief altogether, well that was a kind of relief I never imagined possible.

            • Brandy Hamrick, I agree with you. Even believers who try to be kind and gracious (instead of loud and insulting) often buy into stereotypes or project qualities on atheists we don’t necessarily have. I’ll take attempts at decency over anger and accusations for sure. But I do wish more believers would try to see where we are coming from instead of making assumptions. I realize that ones like Benjamin Dyke above mean well. But it can be rather exasperating when someone treats you like you’re broken and in need of help.

              • Exactly. The church wasn’t helpful when I actually *was* broken. In fact, religion did the breaking. God didn’t fix it.

            • You say dropped the shackles when you left. What if leaving actually put your shackles on. I believe not believing in anything is a lot more depressing than believing in something. Unless you just like the thought of not being held accountable for your wrong doings.

              • You’re free to believe as you wish, Jacob. Having lived 30 years in fundamentalism, I lived a life based on fear. I no longer have that fear. Issues of faith and spirituality are very personal. Just because I don’t fear divine retribution doesn’t mean I have no moral compass.

                • I understand exactly where you are coming from, Brandy. Fundamentalism really damaged religion for me for a long time. After 12 years of not practicing in any faith community, I did eventually return to a very liberal, very non-fundamental mystic faith and I find it provides me with a faith community that helps me grow without trying to hit the fear and guilt responses. But it took a long time away from it all to fix the damage before I was ready to take that step again.

                • Brandy, this describes my experience and current condition as well. Fundamentalists plant fear of divine retribution, stoke the fear, exploit the fear, then question your faith when you can’t overcome the fear and live joyfully on their terms. And they claim my rejection of all that created that fear is a false peace. I suffered my last Christian anxiety attack when I gathered the courage to admit that if that’s what earns favor with their god, I want nothing to do with it.

              • Many Church People assume that we Once Churched People leave because of sin. That is not so. I did not leave for sex, drinking, coffee, to smoke, or even just to sleep in on Sunday. In many ways, my motives for kindness are more pure than they ever have been. I no longer do things because I should. I do things for others because I WANT TO.

              • Just because you believe that not believing in something is more depressing, that does not mean others do. If someone feels that they have dropped the shackles, you can not tell them that they have shackled them selves. Those shackles are a construct of you, your mind, and your faith.

                Also, the snide question about liking the thought of not being held accountable for ones’ actions is petty. First, you assume first that they have wrong doings in the first place. Second, you assume that one without faith can not hold themselves accountable. Contrary to what you seem to believe, some of us are capable of holding ourselves accountable, and do not need a god or an organized religion to do it. We do it because it is the right thing to do. If you ONLY do what you do because of religion, what kind of monster would you be without it?

              • I don’t need threats of eternal damnation to be a good person.
                Once I learned that I felt free…I still do good things…but I don’t have condescending people like you screaming at me to do good, or else. It’s a freedom I (and other VERY good people I know) enjoy. Why must Church people think we are so horrible for just being good people because we ARE.

            • Yes. This response is what is missing from all I’ve read so far. As a still-churched person whose entire world revolved around my religion, I pitied once-churched people: how could they be happy? But now that I have gone through years of realizing that I was deceived, and have passed through the terrible sadness that realization brought, I am happier than I could then have imagined. Seeing my happiness, I believe, does not compute for those still- churched. It challenges the belief that theirs is the only way, and some react with fear and/or pity.

          • If I told you, what are the chances that you would respond with true compassion — the kind informed by Cognitive Empathy? (I’m not taking about Emotional Empathy, but Cognitive Empathy — specifically including the willingness to accept the reality of the crucial aspects of my situation – even if doing so requires you to revisit certain exegesis.) Maybe you would. But on account of what I have experienced from so many others, I won’t bet on it.

        • Sorry you were hurt. I would like to encourage you in this. If we depend on people to take God’s place. Than we have created a god in our image instead of us being created in his. People will never stand next to God and be equals. He is god alone, and he loves us with a everlasting love. Please don’t give up on god because man wasn’t something they never can be . Only god is perfect , and relationship with him causes us to be matured in our faith. And even when we are not faithful ,he still is. I know your amazing , because your gods dream. And he planted a creative expression of himself with in you. I hope you chose to change your mind and open your heart to Jesus. The world will never again get to see the part of the body god created you to be. Thank you for being brave and sharing your story. I pray you will be healed and use your testimony to help others who have felt the same way. Christ through you setting captives free from religion and walking by sight instead of faith. God bless your journey.

        • I always wonder….how can people say they don’t believe in something they don’t believe in? If you say you don’t believe in something you are acknowledging it’s existence, or not? just wondering?

          • Do you believe in the tooth fairy? Would you be acknowledging it’s existence by saying, “I don’t believe in the tooth fairy”?

            I simply don’t see enough proof to make me believe.

            • Belief is not defined by proof. If you need, proof, you aren’t using your faith! I’m sad that the no-longer churched people have become that. My unfundamental church and beliefs, are my life, and make my life worth living!

              • I addressed her specific illogical definition of non-non-belief. And you’re right. I *don’t* have faith anymore. I see all of the answers I need in the natural world. I don’t need need magic or fear of eternal punishment or reward to make my life worth living. I am not angry at those who still believe, as long as that belief doesn’t make them terrible people. If they use that religion to look down on or berate others or deny them their civil rights, then yes, I take issue. Otherwise, believe whatever helps you sleep at night. But please, don’t be sad for me. I’m better without religion.

      • When those in the Church abandon you, when they push you away, when they willfully deny you fellowship because you have questions or doubts, when the Church makes you feel less than just because your road is not as straight as theirs, then, yes, that is becoming orphaned by the Church.

        • I haven’t been a member of a church since my sister was shunned for getting pregnant …. and the idiot who knocked her up was fine to stay.
          Also, they made a girl who had been rapes stand in front of the church and explain why she was pregnant too …. dosgusting.

      • Let me offer 2 thoughts… 1) you offer a lot of dogmatic absolutes for one who doesn’t know. 2) many of “these people” are absolutely no longer christians. We don’t want to be identified by that term or a part of that fellowship. And if you care why this is the case, refer to thought 1.

      • Let me offer 2 thoughts… 1) you offer a lot of dogmatic absolutes for one who doesn’t know. 2) many of “these people” are absolutely no longer christians. We don’t want to be identified by that term or a part of that fellowship. And if you care why this is the case – refer to thought 1.

      • idojunkmail: Christians are Christians soley and only because they believe in Christ as the risen Lord, not because they go to church and fellowship. If they never set foot in a church again, they are still saved by His Grace. I don’t know you, but just by reading your few words here, you may be one of those “church people” that needs to learn a little less legalism and a lot more grace. God bless.

      • Matthew 6:5-6: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men….when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret….”

      • I do not flee fellowship and I do love THE capital C Church. I still have fellowship with an abundance of people, like minded and not. Just not in the confines of a church building with people who sometimes acted in ways that made me wonder if they even worshiped the same God I did.

      • You are wrong. Those of us that have left the church did so for many reasons, but ultimately because we could not sustain a belief anymore. You do not choose to believe in something- you are either convinced or not. For each person, there is a different degree, a different threshold that needs to be met, but for each of us that are no longer religious, it eventually dropped below that line. We do not choose to leave a faith; we are simply unconvinced anymore.

        • Well Rene, we all choose to leave for different reasons. Mine was for lack of faith in church, not lack of faith in God. I lost trust in what was supposed to be a community of faith, that I felt had become a community of “let’s see who we can keep out and judge.”
          The church is people, not God, and that was and is my difficulty.

        • What do you mean God did not love the church?
          “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”.

      • johndpav – i really like your reply to this comment and maybe with a little ‘tongue-in-cheek’ suggest you reread it yourself because from your blog it appears to me that you have made a lot of assumptions about Once-Churched people and come to some conclusions that aren’t helpful or necessarily true. You’ve painted a picture and given advice on how to treat to these people with out seeming to really know them or what they would say. You have jumped to the conclusion that they need pity and sympathy and acceptance, etc . But here’s a couple of things I think regarding what you had to say. Once-Churched people don’t necessarily not attend (organised) church because it depletes them or because they are bitter or sad … some just no longer believe all the teachings and rules being upheld and taught in them. That is not bitterness or sadness – except for sadness for those still imprisoned in it. I don’t know about others but I do not consider myself a ‘refugee, orphan or estranged from family members’ because I see God’s church and family as being bigger than any denomination or institution. Lastly, I personally, as a ‘once churched’ person, don’t need others to speak on my behalf when they do not understand or have experienced it. The way you have come across to me in your blog is as if you think people should or need to feel sorry for us or that we need help ‘finding their way’ again. I am closer to Jesus now than I ever was within the institutional church system and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I celebrate what I have found and feel for those who haven’t yet found it – in or out of institutionalised church. I appreciate what you were aiming at in this blog but for me it falls short because I’m not sure you actually spoke to the other side to get a clear understanding to truly be able to speak about it in a helpful manner.
        Kind Regards.

        • I absolutely agree with this thought. I left that church because I believe they had “lost their first love” Christ and were simply going through the motions and I wanted more, and I wanted my kids to learn TRUTH. When I left the religious institution, I still came together in fellowship with other members of God’s Kingdom people and drew even closer, begged for others, sought Him like my life depended on it (which it does!). I am so much more in Christ than I was in the 5 years before my departure. I understand why he says don’t look at us like orphans, etc, because that’s exactly how “church” people looked at me, and I’m sure how they prayed for me that I had lost my way, or fallen off the path, but the reality I believe I found the true path, that I got back on the straight and narrow and that I have found more grace and am willing to give more because of it!

      • Your name is so appropriate. Really! You have to be the hardest of the hard fundies out there. Ever heard of mercy, love, forgiveness, compassion? I think not. All you know is judgement, condemnation, shaming and sin-slamming others. Shame on you if you represent this so-called church.

      • to idjunkmail: as one of the Once-Churched, your attitude is one that makes it all that more difficult to return to the Church, and also one reason that I’m not sure I even want to. You say the question is whether they are still Christians…really? How dare you pretend to know what the real question is when you obviously don’t know the situations that have driven people out of the church. Your remarks turn the knife that’s already in the wound. Thanks.

        • Amen to that shutterbug. We left our church two years ago. And since we’ve left the church, we have not had any people from that church try to even talk to us. They know we had been struggling with issues within the church. The leadership did NOTHING to rectify the problems. No accountability……..
          I want a life of peace, and when there’s no peace IN the church, why go? I haven’t lost my Christianity. In fact, being OUT of the church, I have my peace back, and I am STILL A CHRISTIAN. God loves me for who I am. Not because I’m sitting in a church.

          • One thing I have not seen is that there are people out there who have been neglected. I am chronically ill, and getting to the physical church can be a challenge to say the least I have had no visits from the pastor, not even a letter asking how I am, and what they can do to help, not even to bring communion. Why should I belong a church, when they obviously have no time for me.

            • This touched me. I have actually been considering approaching the staff leaders about starting a full on visitation program as long as the people are reached out to first to make sure they are not being intruded upon. I am working toward ordination to become a chaplain for Hospice care. I normally don’t scroll long threads, but I may very well have read all of these to get to this one. Much love to you.

      • to idojunkmail: You say, “The question is whether they are still Christians”…really? Your comments reflect the very attitude that makes it even harder to return to the Church, and even makes me ask if I want to. As a Once-Churced, I grew up in the church, I was a staff musician for years, I went to a Christian college, I did the whole 9 yards. You have NO idea what led to those of us leaving the church. I have plenty of fellowship with friends and other Christians and while my faith isn’t what it once was, it’s still there. Rather than judge, perhaps you should get outside the doors and your small groups and seek us out. Being in a church makes you no more a Christian than standing in a barn makes you a cow.

      • The “Church” is not merely a building – the Church is the body of believers here on earth. Am I still a Christian if I choose to walk out of your building, the church? Of course. As for ‘fleeing fellowship’, well, I’m not sure that all who leave are doing that at all.

      • Willfully flee fellowship. That’s a fantastic assumption.

        “They may have been terribly damaged by those within the Church or had their trust betrayed one too many times.”

        When this becomes true, there is no longer fellowship from which to flee. There remains in its stead devastation, pain, isolation, grief. Betrayal or abandonment by one’s Christian brothers and sisters does not constitute a loss of God’s love or forgiveness, nor is one’s approval by said Christian brothers and sisters in any way tied to salvation. That designation is to be made by God and God alone. I am saddened by your response, as it is that very calloused narcissist egotism that causes the “Once Churched” to walk away for good.

        Perhaps you should read Matthew 18:20. We do not have to stay within your ranks or within your walls to be blessed by God’s presence.

      • Christians are called to love others NOT love the church per se ! There are many buildings called churches that do not manifest “Christianity”, but many individuals and groups that manifest Christianity consistently in their lives and beliefs .Christ did not deal with “The Church”, but with people and ideas in many places well beyond “The Church”. That reasoning is why many, myself included, left the building many call “The Church”. 8/25/15

      • I like your take on those who left. The Lord said “I will never leave you.” My hunch is that he never lied and said what the Father told him to say. But those that left are really missing out on make life long friends and fellowship with brothers and sisters in the faith. Key word: Faith!

        Not ‘to feel offend takes work’ because to be offended and have your feelings hurt is easy. That is probably why the Lord said “Be not offended.” Being a doer of the word takes some effort but it is the healthiest way to live. It will keep you healthy. God knowledge is the highest knowledge in the world.

      • True church ppl aren’t going to church for a feeling of acceptance & relatability. They go, because they KNOW (from whatever witness of truth that they reviewed) that what is being taught is truth. & some days we don’t want to hear that truth. Some days we want to flee from it. Some days we don’t feel accepted & welcome in that building. But TRUE church ppl won’t flee, even if it’s uncomfortable to sit in the pew. Even if they feel like everyone around them doesn’t understand. They stay, & worship God. Because they can’t deny that HE is truth. He understands. & true church ppl still love those who left church. But church ppl can’t stay silent when past church ppl start demanding to destroy the rights & freedoms of Current church ppl.
        We aren’t judging you, but we can’t allow you to take away our right to Worship God. Just as we would never try to take away your right to leave the church behind. We won’t force you to stay. If you don’t like truth, you don’t have the be here. But when truth is being twisted & trodden under foot….a true CHURCH person will stand up for truth. Standing up for truth, for the commandments of God, isn’t hatred. It’s not an attack on past church ppl. It’s a simple statement. Following God will bring happiness. Sometimes it’s hard. We all have trials & challenges. So let’s not judge & hate on church ppl. Their life isn’t all sunshine & roses either. We just chose to whether the storm differently. ( @ johndpav )

        • I didn’t leave because it was hard to obey. I left because I got tired of all of the hate that was being spewed in the name of God. There was vitriol and ugliness towards people who were different. The adult Sunday school teacher frequently stressed staying away from unbelievers. That one really had me boggled. It was all a rather shocking and graceless experience. I worked at trying to get used to it for 5 years because I loved being able to join in the praise singing (the one time in the hour and a half where It did feel like there were some who loved God)..finally I could not stomach the hate and left. I really wonder if you can be a Christian if you fill your head with that much hate?

        • Following God will not bring happiness to all. If happiness is what a person is looking to as they follow God, they are following for the wrong reason. I am sorry to have picked one sentence to comment on, it just struck me in an odd manner.

        • No one mentioned any particular Church or religion. No need to start the attacks.
          This is the only complaint I have against those who choose to leave their particular church/ religion. They turn around and bash others for believing and try to pull them away as well. Live and let live.

      • Scripture tells us we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. What if this “unchurched person” who does not enter a building on Sunday’s and Wednesday’s IS INDEED FELLOWSHIPPING WITH ONE OR TWO OTHERS OF LIKE MINDED ACTION. I point you again to scripture that tells where two or more are together in My Name; there I am in the midst of them. I have fellowshiped in churches of over 300 in attendence and it was so dead. I knew Christ was not in the midst. You have no right if you notice someone not attending a traditional church building to simply assume they have “LOST THEIR SALVATION”. I am so glad to know that the BLOOD AND RESSURECTION OF CHRIST IS STILL KEEPING THESE “unchurched” souls name written in the LAMBS BOOK OF LIFE. MARANATHA. HALLELUJAH AND COME QUICKLY LORD JESUS????????????????????????????????

      • We have chosen to leave the church because the church did not welcome or include. Felt like an outsider in a church that my mom ran the office for 7 years, and I worked in the office for a year, and did the powerpoint on sundays, and PP and sound for VBS several years.

        The goats drove the sheep from the flock.

        (I’m aspergers and epileptic. Not athletic. I attended the community college instead of the university.)
        Another church asked me to not be part of the college and young adult group or play in the church band after I wouldn’t let the pastor call 911 when I had a seizure on a retreat.
        Another accused me of being there for the sole purpose of getting laid………………

      • It’s that type of thinking that is the reason so many former church people stay former. Do you really think you would be doing the Lord’s work to shun them? That God will reward you for it?

      • Obedience to God’s laws, or commandments is absolute. We must obey to return. However all of us fall short, I have fallen short. Christ died so that I might live but I have to strive to be better. There is no way I can repay the debt incurred by Him.
        We are called to love the church like Christ did. We do that by feeding his sheep. Not just the 99 that are with the fold, but also the 1 who has wandered. Love fosters friendship. That friendship can lead to many beautiful things with time. With love comes charity, the drive to act like Christ would. Whatever drives us to act like Christ undoubtedly will make us want to befriend those who were Once-Churched people. Those who were once active participants in our meetings might have made that choice to stop being Christian but that does not lessen our duty to go out and serve the 1 like the 99. We are called to serve, not to judge.

      • Obedience to God’s laws, or commandments is absolute. We must obey to return. However all of us fall short, I have fallen short. Christ died so that I might live but I have to strive to be better. There is no way I can repay the debt incurred by Him.
        We are called to love the church like Christ did. We do that by feeding his sheep. Not just the 99 that are with the fold, but also the 1 who has wandered. Love fosters friendship. That friendship can lead to many beautiful things with time. With love comes charity, the drive to act like Christ would. Whatever drives us to act like Christ undoubtedly will make us want to befriend those who were Once-Churched people. Those who were once active participants in our meetings might have made that choice to stop being Christian but that does not lessen our duty to go out and serve the 1 like the 99. We are called to serve, not to judge.

      • Not all “choose” to leave church. Until you have walked in our shoes, you should not cast opinions challenging whether those who “leave” are still Christians. There is a church outside four walls. None of us are good enough or deserving, but He still loves ALL of us, where we are…inside or outside the four man-made walls of a church. I was a worship leader who was forced out not because I did a poor job, but because they wanted to go a different direction. The human side of the pastors and others chose an underhanded way of going about it, instead of a full discussion with me about a new direction, they went behind me with lies and accusations…I chose not to defend myself anymore and left the church…for my own good and that of my congregation. No one really knows the true side of why I left, because I didn’t want to show the church leaders “human” side when I knew in my heart they could do good if I left quietly without making the waves that “my human side” wanted to do. I have been silent ever since and will continue until the day comes that He wants me to share my story…as maybe I am now. Unbelievably, I’ve accomplished more to further His kingdom from the outside of those walls since I’ve been gone than i could have ever imagined. And although there have been many times that I felt alone and discarded by the church, His church is still all around us. So you saying that people “chose” to leave…some may, some may even fall in their faith and beliefs…but not all. That is what he is trying to say. Remember my words the next time you want to judge those who choose to leave the four walls you call church. God calls us all to go outside those safe walls and reach out to others…the church is not just inside four walls of a building.

      • I disagree, I think it doesn’t matter if they are still Christians. “The Once-Churched People are counting on you to reflect Christ to them,,,” The question is, will church people still act like Christians to those who willfully flee fellowship?

      • I know you mean well but this is rather patronizing. I do not need or want the attentions and sympathy of Churched People. I don’t need anybody to be gentle with me. I’m not broken or fragile. And I’m most definitely not counting on Churched People to reflect Christ. I don’t have that long to live…

      • I can tell you one of the reasons we left the church was to remove ourselves from worshiping with unlike believers. Yet there was no specific event that caused me to feel this way, it was watching the years tick away, day by day, hearts void of true conviction to reaching those who need God, those who need their bellies full before you can teach them the gospel, those who may say…I need a friend, so you stand by them as a friend awaiting…….God’s Holy Spirit will move them to His house. God will water the seed, you only need to plant it. I have sang in all the churches in my whole area…they are all the same, we are not like believers!

        I was raised in the church, saved when I was 7 years old and now 50. Those who say, we will worship in this “house of worship” and not go into the communities where the poor, needy, widowed and abandoned are….your purpose has desperately lost focus! Both my husband and I had similar upbringing in the church, we most recently served in a church for 9 years in the town we live occupying very difficult positions; I, volunteer Praise & Worship Leader, he, Media Shout/PP Audio Visual ministry, for the services. We were expected and required to be at church at least 5 to 7 nights per week, plus the two morning services we had on Sunday morning, the church sat 500. Taking any time to be with family was seen as you being unfaithful. Make no mistake, there was an unspoken hypocritical view, discussed in your absence, if you chose to take a Sunday or two off to be with your family. You may get a card saying, “We really missed you.” Then upon your return, you received the, “Well, you don’t mean the Prodigal Son and Daughter has returned?” All of this was said in a joking fashion, but it was no joke; we found out.

        Hours spent in God’s house does not give you a higher place in Heaven. Neither do I feel it is giving you necessarily more than you already knew about God. Years and years, I heard the identical sermons…”pablem”, devoid of the “meat” needed for those who had been saved for 40+ years. We were trained Lay Pastors, give those people something new also pastors. I will tell you what angers lifelong Christians to no end, so much so that when I leave a church I’m so mad I could spit nails……Do not preach something from the pulpit that is not backed up by scripture, that makes it your opinion, not Biblical, there are those of us in the congregation who know the Word almost as well as you…maybe depending on the pastor, better. Do not…preach your opinion, EXAMPLE….”We should put on our very best for church and God, because he put on His best for us.” OPINION!!! Everywhere Jesus went there was worship and yet he wore what he had and that is exactly what is acceptable. If you want to wear a dress and suit, do so…but if I want to wear jeans and a shirt, that is fine too. God cares more about my and your heart than He cares what we wore in the sanctuary.

        I will go as far to say, less hours spent inside of “God’s house” and more in the community is what we should be doing as Christians. Not only to assist those who need it and God, but to put waking hours in with your family….those people matter also. If you wish to grow in Christ you must spend time with Him. Same with your family and spouse, so stop putting the pressure on spouses to be at EVERY service.

        Church, is not inside the building structure necessarily. The Bible says, “Where two or more are gathered together, there I am in the midst also.” So, church can be anywhere two or more are gathered together. Don’t forget the real reason for church…to worship/praise God. So, sitting in my car with my friend, singing a beautiful melody of any worship song is true worship….the Holy Spirit is there and we are exalting Christ…..therefore….CHURCH! Yes, I know the scripture, “Do not forsake the assembly.” And, “Worship with like believers.” But….what do you really believe? Are we like believers? Do you believe if a man’s house has burned down we should help him if he is a lifelong member of the church….I DO! We don’t need to send him to another organization like Christian Ministries, where we send $100 per month as a church. That is the church simply not wanting to get up and serve! I’ve lost faith in the “church” as a whole, not any one church, just the church. Working for a non-profit after a tornado I heard this from a church, “Oh we don’t help our members.” When the lifelong member’s house was totally destroyed and he was at the lowest in his life.

        We often opened our home to families and couples for church parties. We actually had a lady in the church have an ‘alternative Christmas party to their Christmas party’ once. When I found that out, it didn’t hurt me, it made me laugh. This person was the reason we had the Christmas party at our house anyway, she said they couldn’t. In the whole 9 years we served there, we had hundreds of people at our home, yet were we only invited to 4 homes. We found out some of the people were saying, “Oh well, I’ve never been invited to their home, ever! Of course said with comparison and jealousy, again…we were invited to 4 homes in 9 years!

        After we left, there were very nasty things said about us. There was no basis for the rumors, only nasty hateful people who chose to make up stuff. Sadly, the worst of the things said about us was said by the then pastor’s wife. We actually left seeking a more contemporary worship center. She said, “It is probably good you are leaving anyway, you guys have been nothing but pew sitters anyway. Maybe God will increase our church now. Perhaps you were a plant by Satan to keep the church from growing.” I never argued with her, all I said was if God moved you and the pastor to another church I would still love you. Years passed and she heard I was sick with a autoimmune lung disease, saroidosis and she wrote me a card. I simply picked up the phone and called her, still memorizing the phone number. I said, “Hey, I got your card. Thank you, I’m doing okay. It is just something I have to live with. I was never angry.” She apologized and said when we left it felt like her “lifeline” was cut because she was so close to me. But I said, I’m not angry, I know you were speaking out of pain….but you know me so well, just strange to me. It did affect our friendship, I no longer talk to her regularly. But not because I don’t think I could pick up the phone and call her. Because I do not believe we are like believers either. I couldn’t say that to a “like believer”. There are limits to what you can say to anyone, even a spouse when you are angry. Otherwise, you are not “like believers” and “you are unequally yoked”.

        My relationship with Christ has not changed, I serve Him daily. I think I probably have it more Christlike today than I’ve ever had it before. So…….don’t think just because one chooses not to attend inside a building they are not doing the Will of God. Perhaps, this is where I am supposed to be right now. Maybe it is a respite, maybe it is me blazing a new path for others, perhaps it is time for me to sit with my sackcloth on with the ashes on my body….But God speaks to us in different ways. I hear Him when He says, “Go take that lady groceries today. Just say God bless you and walk away.” I hear Him when He says, “Tell the lady sitting alone your thoughts…you just thought she was beautiful, get up and go over there and tell her…don’t second guess what others will think, I said..go.” I hear Him when He says…”Yes, I know your money is tight this week….take $100 to the family whose house just burned down, yes I know you won’t get a tax deduction for it….I can open up the windows of Heaven and bless you so that there will not be enough room in your storehouse to hold the blessings, so…Go”

        Perhaps putting this into words will actually mend my heart in some ways. I cannot understand why I’m so angry at “the church” as a whole. I want, I need all congregations to stop staying stuck in a building, get out and truly SERVE. This is our calling, to serve, not to sit in a pew and wait. Don’t say it, Works without faith is dead…yes, I know…..but faith without works is you sitting on your butt too, doing nothing.

        • As the daughter of a minister, biblical scholar, theologian and university professor, and very MUCH un-churched, having reached the age of free choice, when I read “I will tell you what angers lifelong Christians to no end, so much so that when I leave a church I’m so mad I could spit nails……Do not preach something from the pulpit that is not backed up by scripture, that makes it your opinion, not Biblical, there are those of us in the congregation who know the Word almost as well as you…maybe depending on the pastor, better. Do not…preach your opinion, EXAMPLE….”We should put on our very best for church and God, because he put on His best for us.” OPINION!!!” I was floored!

          How could anyone – including “lifelong Christians” think an ordained minister’s “opinion” has no merit – even in a church? Wow! First of all, the supposed “quotes” in our Christian Bible are hearsay – with no scanners or recordings at the time, in a culture where most people were illiterate, these “quotes” were not begun to be recorded until LONG after Jesus’ death and then written and copied and re-written for generations by countless scribes – and, in the process, were changed and adulterated…sometimes inadvertently and sometimes with a personal purpose. And, thereafter, those texts were translated and re-translated from Aramaic and Hebrew and Greek and Latin into various modern languages with NO guarantee the translations were true to the original use or meaning of the words, or preserved even the nearest version of what was actually said – or meant – when Jesus walked this earth. The thing that turns SO many intelligent people off on so-called churched “Christianity” is the rigidity so many churchgoers seem to need – and the intolerance of even carefully considered “opinion” that seems to create. Perhaps because they desperately need some kind of reassurance that their way is THE right way – that honest investigation seems to be too threatening to be allowed. Their judgment of the rest of us – and even of their own ministers – often appears to be, and too often feels like, intolerance to those who have reason to disagree. I am truly sorry this occurs so often, especially when it may simply be the effect of their need for a “guarantee” of “salvation” from the possibility of a supposed more terrible eternal fate than even life can bring. Good old Hades! Scares the devil out of us! well, some of us, anyway. But not all agree with this rigid view. With good reason.

          I was blessed to be fathered by a scholar and true intellectual, a man who understood the shortcomings of probable misquotations yet whose belief in the overall message of love and inclusiveness – that we are able to glean from what writings we do have – enabled him to take a church of 50 members and, within only a dozen years, grow it to the point the new Sunday School addition, alone, housed a thousand kids and avid students. And yes, he had PLENTY of spiritual opinions, that he shared privately AND from the pulpit, that sustain me (and countless others) to this day. Now, encouraged by his tolerance and blessed with an open mind and heart, I begin my 76th year of life knowing that the messages we have come to believe of Jesus’ love and sacrifice (those that have somehow leaked through 2000 years of human interference and meddling) are meant to soothe our souls and give us courage and strength for whatever we face. And, however they may come by a working and sustaining faith, we have no need or right to judge or bully others for their own very personal vision, or wrestle with them to impose our version of what we choose to believe about the bible as a guide.

          And how well that has worked for me in this life is a story for another day.

          • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. However, please allow me to clarify what I am saying regarding rigidity, I’m speaking against it! I was on a visitation once when woman told me she couldn’t come and visit our church because all she had were blue jeans and regular shirts. She went on to say, she tried attending some other church in the area of her home and the deacons ushered her out of the service because she had on blue jeans. I was astounded! I cannot imagine turning anyone away for what they are wearing!!!! What if a person who lives on the street stumbles into a worship service? Oh, they should leave because, if you are not in a Sunday dress or a man’s suit you are not welcome…pst, that’s insane.

            I have heard and know pastor’s who continuously tell their congregation members, if they listen to ANY other type of music besides Christian music, they need to CHECK their salvation. Meaning, if you listen to anything else you are not saved at all. Again, OPINION. Now, I don’t care how long you have been preaching, how many degrees you may have, that type of rigidity is CRAZY.

            Just because someone has Dr. or Rev. in the beginning of their name does not make them always correct! Trust me, I’ve heard racist jokes from the pulpit! That is what I’m saying…not every pastor is brilliant. Neither do they understand what you have explained your Father understood. I bet your Dad didn’t believe the Earth is only 2000 years old. Yet I’ve heard it from the pulpit and “fossils were placed in the rocks to give us a reason to have faith.” Yeah, I’ve heard some really nutty things from the pulpit from seemingly well-trained ordained, degreed ministers. All I am saying is, don’t take every word they speak is the ABSOLUTE GOSPEL, because they are human beings….they are not Jesus Christ. They are exactly like us…flawed. Some pastors believe it is okay to lie on your income taxes, this is a BIG ONE! I have seen this lots and lots! Does that make them right because they believe and preach they are within their right to lie….NO, NO, NO!

            So, I dare say from your description of your Dad…he was a unique man. He was brilliant and understood how God can orchestrate whatever He chooses. You were blessed to be raised by a man who thought it was okay to question things like….”Wait a second, how can alcohol be something we are never supposed to touch, if Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine?” Also, I’ve heard it preached it was unfortified wine because it was new wine. But the scripture regarding taking it to the headmaster for tasting, negates that. (I am not a big drinker, so not on that bandwagon.) But I am just saying, if the scripture negates your opinion then why even throw it out there for those who do not know differently? You are trying to bully the ignorant into avoidance. How about teaching anything in excess, including food is a sin. Why do you hear how the substance of alcohol is such a sin, but never hear that about cigarettes or coffee? Also another question/story for another day.

          • I love, love your response. I too,( with the help of a progressive pastor and church) have come to see that the bible is God inspired, not God dictated. Your insight into the human error and prejudice that has gone into all of the translations through the ages makes perfect sense. This truth does not diminish our love for God, it only makes it a more divine mystery. Thank you again for such an insightful reply. Your dad sounds like a man WAY ahead of his time. Change and re-thinking what we, as Christians have been taught over the years is scary for so many. But, as I have heard it said, the change will do you good.

            • Dear ylfrith, I do appreciate your very appreciative comment on my post. …… But then, out of curiosity, I made the foolish mistake of returning to read the other comments people had left while I was busy doing other things. YIKES! Where has John’s original message been lost on the responders? Or Jesus’ message? So many of these shameful mud-slinging “conversations” are precisely why I am decidedly un-churched! It appalls me that there is SO much historical inaccuracy driving many of their opinions (for example, the King James Version of the bible is NOT the earliest text, and is far from the most accurate) and there is so little even remotely polite tolerance for differences of ANYONE else’s opinion (for OR against attending church) in so many of these posts – not to mention downright meanness – that my decision to eschew GROUPS of people with so-called religious stands and mindsets, or reasons to reject all religious belief, and leave them forever in my wake, is hereby brutally justified and reinforced! John Pavlovitz is open minded and kind. How anyone could completely miss and attack his tolerant ideology in the rude way so many have is beyond my comprehension. From what I have understood of the messages handed down about him, Jesus wasn’t rigid and judgmental either! He didn’t scare and threaten people into following him. Whether these responses to John’s article were written by professed “believers” or by avowed “non-believers” where on earth is ALL this holier-or-more-righteous-or-more- justified-than-thou animosity coming from, for Heaven’s sake? And I do mean for Heaven’s sake. Meanwhile, I have learned another important lesson – the same opinionated, mean-spirited intolerance and hypocrisy that I couldn’t stand in the organized church’s congregations I am finding right here! And all it does is reinforce what I already learned the hard way. It is yet another strong and unavoidable message about far too many self-righteous self-proclaimed “Christians” whose personal opinions, no matter how ill-informed or misguided, stray so far from the original message of love and tolerance and inclusiveness ………….. Yep! I’m outta here!

      • I love the Church just as much as I did as a regular attendee of a building where the Church met. Just because I no longer feel as if I fit in that building does not mean I have left the Body or no longer love it.

        Embrace compassion. I once thought as you.

      • There WAS no “church” when Jesus lived besides the Jewish “church”. How could he possibly have “loved” the church? He often criticized it and was trying desperately to change the status quo.

      • You assume a lot about “these people”. They may love the church from an outside position ( through tithe, community supoort, etc.).
        Also, they haven’t necessarily fled fellowship they just practice it in a place that doesn’t cripple them and where they feel they can be more productive. Remember, the greatest is love, not judge.

      • Please consider the possibility that they have not necessarily fled fellowship from the church universal, just from churches with people like you in them.

        It takes a while to find churches like that. And it’s exhausting and discouraging. And sometimes when they do find one, it looks nothing what you think a church should look like.

      • Many leave because the message being preached by that particular priest/pastor is not the way they want to go. The answer is not to leave the church, but to find a priest/pastor that touches your soul in a mighty way. You’ll know you’re where you need to be at that moment. All priests/pastors are NOT created equal.

      • We as Christians” are the Church and should reflex the Church” that is within us…and should bear the Cross” as Christ did weather in a building or not” it’s in our walk that reflexes Christ…the building is just fellowship” without the body of Christ it’s just a building…no disrespect” Church people…

      • Very judgemental of you, I’m once churches, why did I leave?
        I was attending regularly, but over night I lost my vision became sick, could not tolerate light, where were my church family? 9 months, and no one rang or viseted. The very people, who every Sunday apparently loved me,
        I still have my faith, I love Jesus. I’ve forgiven, but I don’t want to be a part of such falseness,
        I had no partner, I came to faith as a single mum.
        Yes I did choose to leave, but the question you should be asking is, why do they choose to leave. Do not assume or cast judgement. Your place is to love on others not point fingers,
        Hope my story, while different from others softens your heart to the “once churched”

      • SOME are treated so rudely and with so much intolerance they have no choice BUT to leave. Sorry you are not aware that NOT all church members are treated in a “christ-like” manner. Yes, they often DO feel like orphans! Christians SHOULD be practicing Christlike EMPATHY and not so much intolerance and judgmentalism.

      • That is what I say if you were ever or never on the “straight and narrow”, and fell off for ANY reason, get up dust yourself off and get back on the path that leads to Life Eternal. The God of the universe And the Savior of all, has never stopped loving you. Their love is unconditionall. Repentance is not for punishment but for change, though it may bring with it pain and regret its for change. We become a new person in Christ Jesus.

        • Except for Wendy D. I find (most) the replies on this to be superficial and, well….I hate to say it, but ignorant.
          Thanks for letting me sound off on here.

          Probably continue to be unchurched. I can continue living and doing justice, , to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my god outside the church.

      • Christians are called to love all mankind like Christ did. He knew who would do what and when, but expected those of us who didn’t leave the church to love EVERYONE, regardless of what they have or haven’t done, or believe or do not believe. And your opinion on whether or not they are still Christians or not is not your business, or mine. “As I have loved you, love one another” is what came to mind when I read this post, and the many nasty, rude, and judgmental comments. I believe that this is what jMr. Pavlovitz is trying to get through to those of us who are still “Church People”…to LOVE ONE ANOTHER!! As He loves us!! Don’t hate, dislike, or dismiss anyone because their sins or indiscretions are different than ours. You don’t have to like them or the choices they make, but we DO have to obey this new commandment…to love one another. I fear everyday that I may feel, as Mr. Pavlovitz puts it…”There may come a day…for a million reasons that YOU no longer feel at home in that building, when YOU no longer feel connected to those people or confident in those creeds or comforted by those songs anymore…” THIS is my greatest fear…that I may one day decide the “Pharisees” and “Sadducees” are not worth the struggle of belonging to, or fitting in with them, the Church People. I think what saves me is the belief that the people are not the Church. Jesus Christ is the Church. And the real truth is that Christlike love or not, we will be judged, by He who atoned for us, whether we are right or wrong. I believe that if we are found standing on the side of love, love is what we will be judged for.

      • Seriously? You’re right. Things do chance, people evolve. You couldn’t really be suggesting that you must attend church regularly to be a Christian? The point is to spread the word, light, and love. There are no magical requirements. And perhaps that’s why there are so many “once church people”. Because of others who attempt to put their spin on His words, and belittle others personal relationship with God.

      • “The church” that Christians are supposed to love are, in fact, each other, not just those within the four walls of the church building. The church building is the box that some have put God inside, and yet, it is taught that His love knows no boundaries. It stands to reason that God still loves those of us outside of the church walls. And yes, there is a feeling of being an orphan, so to speak. To feel like you don’t quite belong anywhere & it can feel very lonely. Please try to think about it from another perspective.

      • Why did they choose to leave the church ? Because as soon as you no longer fit into the mold you once did, you are a pariah. As long as you plaster that fake smile on your face, attend the right classes, say the right words then you are a-ok! I’d rather not be part of the sham!

      • Church cannot save you…..some of us really can’t get there…There is online stuff though…….modern technology helps tremendously.

      • Of course they are or
        can be. It is arrogant to assume differently; as in I am “better” than you, because I go to church.

      • Not all people are Christians . Love everyone. Don’t judge and discriminate if people choose not to believe in Christ

      • There is no question that if they still claim Christ that they are Christians.

        They left because they had a hurt; they sought empathy and received judgement. They were not loved well by their community. The church has a responsibility to be kind and loving. I’ve been on the receiving end of some really horrible treatment by people I thought were my friends AT church.
        I’ve been a non-church person in the past, I was still loved and valued by God. I still followed Jesus with all my heart. But I couldn’t risk being vulnerable to others.

      • Christ didn’t love the Church, at least what we now call the Church, because the Church didn’t even exist during his lifetime.
        What we have made of Christ’s church, with all of its big fancy buildings, all the ornaments and fancy clothing, is an edifice of power and control, and Christ wasn’t about that. Where is the LOVE?

      • I believe Chirst himself said “Look under a rock and yeah shall find me”. I’m not sure fellowship is required to be a Christian, there are many ways up mountain 🙂

      • Why, oh why are Christians so obsessed with labelling who is and who is not Christian in their own limited viewpoint? Can we not see all human beings as children of God? Are we not called upon to “judge not”? Allow “Love” to be your guide, embrace your fellow men, and quit building walls with distinctions and labels.

      • No, Christians are called to love all people as Christ did. – not just church people. It was the church people of his time who crucified him. Sometimes that’s the experience of “used to” Christians as well. Others have been burnt out. Others have gotten tired of know-it-alls and people who seem to have answers for everything that don’t seem to them very Christ-like. There are thousands of reasons why people leave the church – I know, because I”m a recently retired pastor who always made it my business to find out what happened. Most of them, at least at first, say, “I don’t know – we just got away from it.” But talk to them a while about it – in.a sensitive manner and respectfully – and there are many reasons why. It’s rarely that they just decided to blow off something that had been important to them before.

      • idojunkmail; no, they have not left the church. Leaving the church is an impossibility; They are the church, you are the church, I am the church. Each individual in and of his or her self is the church. The church is not a building, organization, or religion; the church is the person. You cannot leave yourself, therefore you cannot leave church. And that building, that religion, and organization you see as the church; it is not necessary to be with Christ. Christ is Christ without that building, religion, and organization; he is also still Christ without you, me, them, or us. Us with Christ though; now that is church. As a matter of fact, that is heaven, that is the kingdom.

        • Oh no, you can definitely leave the church. You realize you never really believed in any of it, were just going through the motions because it was what you were taught since earliest childhood. Just stop pretending to believe. Christ has no claim on me if he doesn’t exist.

      • I’m still very much a Christian. I left my church about a year ago for a number of reasons but I did not leave Christ. The “church” is the body of believers, NOT a building. You can have fellowship outside of the building too. Imagine that.

      • It is not up to you to judge who is a Christian and who is not. I no longer want to call myself a Christian, because that name has been so tainted by hypocrisy, self righteousness and intolerance. I prefer to just call myself a follower of Christ, in my own way, I no longer attend church.

      • So quick to judge! I haven’t fled, but am not feeling Christ through many “church people”. Your response here puts you in the category of those to whom I’m referring. Sadness feels my heart.

      • Jesus did not love the Christian church. It didn’t exist until a few hundred years after his death. His ministry was directed largely at and for outcasts, people who were treated as “other” by those “on the inside,” as the article puts it. Our choice, whether we attend church gatherings in a church place or not, is to believe or not believe that all people are God’s children. If yes, then it means ALL of us. If no, well, that’s not Christian.

      • perhaps you had that jaded attitude because he’s never been hurt by anyone at the church or driven out of church by the pastor he felt threatened by your abilities in the church as well I’ve experienced both I never left my relationship with Christ and I am now starting a brand new church

      • The Church is not a building, a doctrine, a song service, a volunteer opportunity or even a message from a Pastor. The Church is the bride of Christ. It is the body of believers.

      • Hmmm…could be because they were abused and the “church” protected the abuser while spurning the abused. At least, that was my experience as a former Pastor’s wife and christian day school teacher. He was convicted by a jury of 12, sentenced and imprisoned, but somehow the “church” felt compelled to be harsh, abusive, and vindictive towards my children and me. My kids were not even in their double digits…. for me, for mine, church does not represent Christ or a safe loving refuge. Might want to reconsider your very narrow and unkind view. Compassion and love should define a Believer, not the length and width of the beam in their eye.

      • I willfully left. I am still a religious person. I believe differently than most but I still believe. I think Christianity has placed way to much focus on Jesus and placed God on the back burner. Just like Catholics place to much focus on Mary…. The church has become a social club. People dress up in their best and look down upon the people who’s best is a old pair of jeans and a polo. Also, “where two or more believers are gathered in his name, he will be there.” I don’t need a church for that…..

      • Your response is exactly the sort of judgmental, morally superior smugness that left me feeling farther from God when in a congregation of people with similar attitudes than I do when I pray alone. I hope that you will reread what was written and try to rekindle a bit of Christ’s compassion in your heart.

      • idojunkmail, have you ever sat in church with your life falling down around you and been utterly ignored? Not just one Sunday or 2. But for YEARS. You are absolutely right that Christians are called to love the Church. But what happens when the Christians inside any given church love their own comfort and ease more than the Church? What about those of us who faithfully wrap our shattered selves up every Sunday and Wednesday and go to church because we are not supposed to “forsake the fellowship of believers” but are forsaken again and again by our fellow Christians? What then?

      • What makes you think they have “chosen” to leave? You speak from a place that lacks knowledge…obviously. That ignorant, judgmental place you speak from is the same place that people flee from.
        Where does it say in the bible that fellowship is a requirement of “Christianship?” The bible says the “DISCIPLES” were called Christians (at Antioch). It does not say church goers were called Christians. Furthermore, “they will know you are my DISCIPLES by your love.”
        Your comment covered up the love. No person DISCIPLINED in the teachings of Christ would leave a comment such as the one you did. I sooooo don’t miss being around people who think the way you do. There is more love at an athiest community garden than at the church on Sunday morning.

      • How sad it is to me, a once-churched person who has not left the church at all but have found the truth that the church is not a building or a place but is part of the home of the soul. The connection to at least one other human is distinctly different and a stronger and deeper connection to the Great I Am but one can feel every bit connected from different physical locations on the phone in simultaneous prayer and share….Why so many people resent the once-churched folks who are simply relating to the infinite presence of God and Christ in whose image we were created were we not????

      • Your reply is why I will never attend church again. You don’t understand that the “church” isn’t the building it’s the body of all worshippers whether they go to your physical building or not. That hypocritical half love makes me question churches commitments god vs commitment to a preacher.

      • Chosen to leave? Or been driven away? The Church I grew up in changed, became so-called Evangelical, and in my view, became unChristian. I follow the teachings of the Carpenter of Nazareth, not not the politicized pseudo-morality of what I call “Christianists.” These are the people who reshape “the Church” in the image of their own bigotry. I have no communion with such.

      • They maybe should look to Christ to the scriptures and to the lost ones. I think your view is distorted and way off base. These people left for a good reason, they don’t need pitiers or someone to speak up for them. They did what they thought was right and led to do. They can speak for themselves to former congregationalist and express their reasons if asked or challenged. They were strong enough to leave then, they are strong enough to answer for their own actions. These are Christians, they are not alone and they are not weak.

      • Some do not willfully flee, Some have had their name brought before the church with slanderous and untrue accusations without a chance to defend themselves.

      • Not being sure is a good thing for most of us, because if you take a moment to reflect, I know an awful lot of the churched who do not know where they stand with our Lord and Savior.

        George Barna, several years ago, along with another writer argued how the traditional church needed to recognize the authentic nature and existence of those who find themselves spiritual but not in finding anything in common with the Church proper.

        And honestly: who can blame a lot of folks leaving the brick and mortar church these days? It is not that every single member is engaged in behavior that these people find disturbing, but my suspicion is they do so out of concern that the reputation of the church is being determined by the loudest, who usually end up being the most wrong these days.

        While Barna has been accepted through the years as a careful researcher for evangelical circles, ever since he wrote that book he no longer enjoys the same amount of respect he once had. Why? Could it be that he is onto something in his argument? Non-traditional church is here to stay.

      • Judgmental much? I left the church because of people
        Like you. I have more faith now than I did when I attended church. I do not need to make a show on Sunday. I only need one other person and God.

    • That seeker must, at all times, put his trust in God, must renounce the peoples of the earth, must detach himself from the world of dust, and cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords. He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vain-glory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison.

      (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 264)

      • Denise Godsey If we renounce the peoples of the world, and detach from the world of dust, in short if we stay separate from the lost; how then are the lost to be found. Is not finding the lost, rescuing the lost his commandment to us, our assignment?

    • Great read! I would also add that some are not bitter or sad but disappointed in their former church people who proclaim the good news but do not live it out within the walls of those church buildings. Where numbers and money and the social-ness are more important than helping the sick, feeding the homeless. Some former church people find that church really happens outside of a church building and would rather spend their time and efforts actually living the life of Christ instead of talking about it.

      • I suggest you look into satanism just to see what it actually is. Check out the Wikipedia article. Essentially, most satanists don’t even believe in Satan. They see him as a symbol of personal choice and freedom and a rebellion against slavery and intellectual smothering. I’m oversimplifying, but I was very surprised when somebody explained it to me. They’re not devil worshippers.

        I doubt you will, though. You’re half-threat to name names comes across as highly superior.

        And are you exempt from loving them and being Christlike to them? Nope.

      • ellenfrank you are correct; some are also Atheist, Islamist, Buddhist, WICCA, Some have left all titles of belief or non belief and choose to just be human beings. What most of them have in common though is this: They are good, charitable, loving, compassionate, merciful, empathetic people who live always for others over self; they are as Jesus commanded us to be. Servants. Are there some who are bad? A few, sure; but there are many more bad who remain still churched. It is those bad ones hiding within the so called church that I fear more than those outside the so-called church. Those on the outside are free to be openly bad, and they do so; therefore we see them for what they are and avoid them. But those bad ones within the church keep up their façade quite well, they are seen as good people when in fact they are not. You seeing them as good, fail to avoid them, and are easily deceived, and led astray by them. They are the dangerous ones, not the openly Satanist ones. I actually worked with a Satanist once; she was the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate person I know.

    • I honestly do not agree on some points…. I left the organized sterile ( fake ) sunday worshiping legalistic groups for these exact reasons. I am finding myself gaining revelation off without all that noise and distraction. Yes In solitude and silence . Being called back to the intimate relationship I once had before the ” christian Sub culture “. It is not a belief it is a knowing that withstands the tests of time. It is a inner work that reveals truth. I no longer can stand to be in the company of self righteousness … people who look to FIX the rest of the lost world so to speak. Finding the devil behind every rock and tree. Nope… I am a forerunner in many ways. Not easy to walk this narrow path.. but I believe this is where transformation happens..

      • You may not have looked far enough. (What you are speaking about is happening … and it’s hard to keep people away … they drive 2-3 hours one way…. full of life, joy, power, family!) There really are, though few and far between, that are not “organized sterile (fake)…legalistic groups” …. and revelation in a vacuum is exactly how those legalistic, organized, sterile groups began. Relationships are kinda critical for those called to follow Jesus… might be the reason He picked 12 and not just 1. Learning how to sharpen the iron of ourselves and each other is part of the process… if we can take the correction and not just be the ones who give it. It’s self righteousness to believe we are righteous and everyone around us isn’t… I believe it’s a journey… and in that journey… humility will be the key, not correctness… and that “narrow path” is the place where transformation happens…. and what Jesus called us to… it’s easy to walk alone… but that’s why Jesus is only returning for His Church, which is more than you or me… it’s a bunch… it’s folks we don’t agree with… it’s bigger than me… and it will be in UNITY… “I pray they would be ONE even as You (Father) and I (Jesus) are ONE!” (If Unity will ever happen, someone will have to be willing to be offended first! I’m game. Are you?)

    • Lots of research being done on these groups. They are called the “DONE’S” … they are done with Church… they love God… they just believe that what the Church is, and has been promising to become, isn’t that. They would embrace legitimate, authentic, powerful, Book of Acts stuff… but the forms they see right now are not even close, so they are done with Church, but for the most part still in love with Jesus and hopeful something fresh will so attract them, that they will be able to embrace the people who are now immersed in the monotony and superficial reality of what is commonly called “Church.” Another group, mostly millennials, are called “NONE’S”…. many of them grew up in Church… but the apparent disregard of the establishment to the cries of this generation has left them reeling… wondering if there really is a God… wondering if there focus should simply go somewhere else. Their questions are legit… “Really, this is what you guys would give your life for? Really, this is what you call the power of God? Really, this superficial reality that captured you, but isn’t affecting your own children? This is Church? This is God?” The result… they don’t believe “Church” or “God” will ever be their answer. They have NO belief system… and values are defined individually, not on morality, but on reality. THEY ARE TO BECOME THE FOCUS OF THE CHURCH…. This is the time… This is the generation! Church arise… reveal whose sons you really are… stop the social networking groups that cultivate the feeling you are a part of something effective… go for the ones who need the reality of the Jesus we carry, not the talk we have! (Appreciated the post!)

      • The first research I’m aware of was in the mid 1990s in England, by Leslie Francis and Philip Richter, called “Gone But Not Forgotten”. It was where the term “de-churched” (including the sub categories of “open de-churched” and “closed de-churched”) originated. Being still establishment men, Francis and Richter were rather self-serving in the interpretation of their findings.

        More recently, and much better, is Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope’s “Church Refugees” (on which I’ve written a number of blog posts, starting with this one https://pastchristian.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/church-refugees-the-most-important-book-most-church-leaders-wont-read/). Better, because it is actually written from a non-clerical point of view, and seriously engages the phenomenon and experience of leaving church).

    • I grew up in the Catholic church & parochial school. As an adult I looked into other religions and found that I did not feel the need for someone to translate or explain the bible to me. I do not feel the need for someone to act as a go-between, beteween me and my God. I don’t feel the need to wear my religion on my sleeve, i.e. Mouthing words and phrases like “Praise the Lord”, Amen, & Bless you Jesus”, whenever a good or bad event happens, (which can be hundreds of times a day). Instead I quietly say my prayers, and offer up the good things I do everyday as testament to my love for God.
      I don’t judge people who feel that they are more comfortable when doing or experiencing these things. Mainly because people are individuals, and I treat them as such. Live and let live is more then a saying, for me it is a way of life. Many Christians, espouse this , but don’t seem to live it. It seems their way, is the only way. And that is why I’m an outsider, and intend to stay that way. Oh and by the way, I don’t spend my time trying to recruitothers and trying to convince them to feel as I do.

  1. Wow so dead on! Sometimes I miss being a part of a church family yet all my attempts in the past few years have just left me feeling disappointed and even more alone.

    • Same here. The church where I have been a member of for more than twenty years has stopped feeling like home for me. My beliefs are still the same, but where I feel closer to God has changed. I feel much closer to God amidst His creation, not in a building.

    • “I will never leave you.” The Lord is with you no matter where you are 24/7. All we need to do is activate a little bit of faith to communicate with him. He doesn’t lie. Satan maybe on your shoulder saying doubtful things in your ear but Jesus never leaves if you have accepted his finished work on the cross. That Divine Blood spilt,washed our sins away. Romans 8:1 will boost your reality of who you are.in the faith. No part of the Body of Christ is not needed. Even those that have stopped attending but still walk in the Spirit are the salt of the earth.

      • abigbuck99,

        Or maybe he did lie. And you just don’t realize it because you’re not the one he lied to. Or maybe he never said that in the first place or never was God at all but some other people wrote lies in a book you believe.

        These are possibilities most Christians don’t honestly consider.

  2. Reblogged this on Charissa's Grace Notes and commented:
    Constance, I give you the always on point words of my brother John.

    Reader…I offer you this…from across that river which you by your own vow asserted you will not be crossing.

    How does it feel to know that “the mission field” is a place you swore you would not go?

  3. My wife and I are in a season of searching for a new church home. Our church of 10 years is in a transition that we have chosen not to be a part of for various reasons. We felt we needed a fresh start too. In our search it’s been good to be a nomad so we can be blessed in different ways in different places. It’s interesting how this process is shaking out.

  4. I am one of those Once Churched people; a missionary even.
    There are times that I want to stand up and invite the churched and oft-smug, “Let’s just not be pretentious judgmental a**holes, shall we?”

    Treachery. Rape. Fear-based circling the wagons. Judgment. Duplicity. Assumptions. Hatred. and more drove me from a most devastating trauma and crawling away from the epicenter of the church to make it back up to the surface of the earth.

    I cannot sing your songs. I cannot pretend. I have no answer for the catastrophes that prayer and seeking and wisdom and oversight plowed me through.I could probably still handle the mystery of not-knowing why or how if it weren’t for the insidiousness of pretense, white-washing, and allowed sexual violence of your members-because god-knows-we don’t want the unChurched to think that our members are messed up.

    Thank you for being kind. You offer a bit of fresh water as I trudge on to rebuild a life after such a catastrophic loss. I am sure there are legion who would agree.

    • Based on your post I do not blame you for leaving such a terrible church or feeling the way you do. You were right to leave. That is no God-fearing church, it is Satan’s playground disguised as a church. I can only imagine what Paul would have to say to such a “church”. Please do no think all churches are like that. I have grown up in church and been involved in several churches as we moved and all were welcoming and loving. Of course no one is perfect but such evil should never be allowed to remain in a church! Just know that was not of God but rather the enemy. Lean on Jesus and trust Him, not people. God is not a man that He should lie! I am truly sorry for what you went through. I am praying for peace and healing in your life.

    • I am also in the same phase of struggling to find my way after the same loss. (see my post further down the thread). It is a lonely feeling knowing that what we have believed for so long is just not true. Yet for so long we have created our lives around a belief system that we now know (for us) to be false. It must be a new start – and that is hard.

    • Allie, I am so sorry you went through what sounds like virtual Hell on Earth…I have no answers as to why God allowed that to happen…I have asked many questions to/of Him as to why He allows some of these terrible things in our lives…I know all the “pat answers” that never really explain or help. After all that, the only thing I did was to come to trust Him when I did not want to and to know He still loved me even though I didn’t feel it…Again, I’m so sorry.

      • Allie and Ken, I have been through some heavy emotional and physical abuse in my life and questioned God’s purpose and how could he allow such things to happen. I find solace in knowing he has never left me. He is beside me and within me. This took a long time to figure out and a direct spiritual intervention which I cannot doubt was real. I still am putting pieces back together and trying to find my way. And there are times I feel I will never find my path and purpose. My life is half over and I have so many questions. But, the only question I do not have is “Is God with me?” He is, always.
        This is how I see it and how I have reconciled myself to such things. We are not puppets. He did not create us to hold our strings and direct our lives. He is there to support and guide but not to force. We have to grow by making decisions. If we were to be guarded from everything bad happening in the world or could happen in the world we would be stunted in our spiritual growth. We would not walk through the fires to be made stronger. Like steel in a forge. It takes many elements, and time to be made strong.
        We have paths throughout our lives, choices to make and we must be able to make them, mistakes and all in order to become fulfilled. Even those we consider evil and have done evil things have the choice of changing their direction. It is all about freedom and choice.

  5. “The Once-Churched People are counting on you to reflect Christ to them, even if it is from a distance.”

    When I was writing the conclusion to the research I conducted on trans gender spirituality as part of my Master’s degree, under implications for the church sub-heading I wrote very similar sounding words to yours, John.

    As you suggest, for many transgender persons, a catastrophic life event rocked their faith to rubble and they slowly watched their beliefs weathered away by the waves and winds of the disappointments and sadness of their life. This event and sadness is known as gender dysphoria, combined with the often hostile rejection by their families and church communities.

    However, what the study revealed and confirmed is what researcher J. Genke (2004) opined, “[A]s transgender-identified people experience societal stigma across the lifespan, [results] in the development of a mastery or crisis competence, culminating in the ability to better negotiate the stressors, losses, and changes…” In other words, the crucible that has typically been their life has often transformed them; and it has transformed their spirituality.

    When compared to the general population, only 39% (v.s 72-80%; Pew Research) claim to be Christian, yet transgender persons have a daily spiritual experience that is deeper than the general population. They are more than twice as likely to be spiritually touched by the beauty of creation, seven times more likely to be thankful for blessings, two and a half times more likely to feel selfless caring for others, almost three times more likely to accept others even when they do wrong, and 25% more likely to desire to be closer to or in union with God/Higher Power, and In general, feel closer to God/Higher Power.

    Additionally, being trans caused or compelled some to shed religious conditioning and dogma; their spirituality became more authentic and honest and made them become more compassionate; and their spirituality has intensified and become transformative. The majority of participants said being trans has made them feel more connected 
to God/Higher-Power, 
to others, or life.

    With respect to church or faith community involvement, only one in seven trans persons listed this as one of their intentional spiritual practices. When you do the math, it’s a pretty small number; only .021% of the population is a trans person who may be a church “candidate.” Given this reality, it’s amazing to me how many Christians are so obsessed with judging and rejecting transgender persons, and as the Family Research Council’s June 19, 2015 document advocates, are trying to do everything possible to ensure no trans-inclusive policies or laws are passed.

    I know this is getting a little long, but I would like to share the following from the study’s conclusion:

    “The implication for the church isn’t that since the numbers of church hunting trans persons is so small, it shouldn’t waste time and energy worrying about a trans person walking through the church door. Nor that it shouldn’t develop an affirming position. The real implication for the church is that it should be asking itself if negative and judgmental messages in the past have contributed to the exodus, and if the current position could be suppressing one of its members from emerging safely from within, or worse, driving them to commit suicide. The implication, too, is that the church must be willing to defend marginalized trans persons, stand with them, and speak up in their defense when politicians and special interest groups rail against the trans community. What trans persons are watching and waiting for is for the church to stand up for their defense in the public square, when it’s not just trans voices advocating for trans inclusion that are heard at city council meetings, school boards, legislatures or in the halls of Congress. This may not result in trans people joining the church, but it would help repair the damage and not drive away those who may be silently struggling inside its walls. It could be a young child, a young adult, a parent, or even a grandparent, not to mention the priest or minister himself/herself. There is another important reason for being a trans-inclusive and affirming congregation, it is preparing “church people” to be accepting and affirming of trans persons outside the four walls of the church…how will they treat the barista, the lawyer, the doctor, the hair-dresser, the clerk, the gardener, the police officer, the food server, the teacher, the nurse, or their neighbor who is trans?” (Transgender Spirituality Pulse Survey)

    In closing, trans persons are not likely to be church people for valid reasons. This truth helped me deal with my own sense of disenfranchisement, I no longer consider myself a church-going follower of Christ and am almost loathed to call myself a Christian. Frankly, that table is a liability for me as a transgender spiritual care provider to the trans community. Church, for me and many, has been reduced to it’s most basic equation; when two or three are gathered in His name, He is in our midst. Church can be as simple sharing a cup of coffee with someone…no need for steeples, organs, PowerPoint worship, or collection plates.

  6. There have been seasons in my life when I was Once-Churched and found Church and its people uncomfortable and even annoying. Thankfully, when I was ready to return, I always found a welcoming Church and community.
    I have discerned that first, the way back to God is through His Son, Jesus the Christ. God can be scary stern and unforgiving (as can some people), but Jesus is gentle, kind and forgiving. It is His welcome that beckons us back and keeps us tethered to what we deem ‘church’.
    Secondly, the alienation from Church, for whatever reason, need not be forever. Some seasons push us away and others pull us back. So, try not to burn the bridges that will allow a return or take another route.

  7. Reading this I finally feel there is someone who understands why I no longer am in church on Sunday mornings. I did not ask to feel alienated; that feeling came despite my attempts to shield myself from it. It came when I realized the depth of hypocrisy I was witnessing was indeed for real. It came when I was in emotional crisis and was rebuffed when I asked for spiritual guidance – not once, but many times. Thank you for writing this. It brings home the truth of what I experienced.

  8. Oh wow, this is so heart achingly true. I am blessed to attend a church (finally) that celebrates the wounded, welcomes all, really everyone. Has opened their doors to the LGBTQ community, not just as a tolerated group of outsiders, but as full members with all of the rights, responsibilities and privileges that comes with membership. Keep going John, you are the mouth peice for so many more that you probably are even aware of. Blessings.

    • My alienation from being very churched came with the realization that I was gay and that even though my home church was full of loving people, that my denomination as a whole was very rejecting of me for something that I had no control over … and has gotten even more overtly so over the years. Moreover I have problems with a 6,000 year old earth, Adam and Eve only having two sons but everyone is supposed to be descended from them and many other things I was taught. I still have a core faith but haven’t found a local congregation where I feel welcomed and comfortable. Maybe one day.

      • Adam and Eve only had 3 sons mentioned in the Bible. Cain, Abel, and Seth. It then says that Adam and Eve had OTHER sons and daughters…. They are just not named.

  9. Sadly I left the Church because there was very little walking the talk. I just got to the point that I didn’t see the point of going somewhere that after that hour most acted as if they never heard the words. I now live what I was taught and have no need for a building.

  10. I don’t go to church anymore because I don’t see Christ there. I see people who are against a lot of behaviours they see as sin, but I don’t see much love.

    • i think its time that those who have been rejected by the church stop pleading to be understood and trying to get back in. do we really want to be part of an industry that is so Christ-less? I think its time to follow Jesus and realize that the staff of the temple in His days on earth were the ones who were good at quoting scripture and twisting things for financial gain and poplularity, they were the ones that decided who was good enough to attend, they complained about the roman government often but Jesus never did, they knew the law so very well that they were able to falsly try and convict One who had no sin, they were the ones that delivered Jesus up to be crucified. Jesus suffered outside the camp and i think its time His true followers did also, despising the shame, as He did.

      • I am confused by your comment. You state we, Once-Churched People, should stop trying to be understood and try to get back in then give all of the misdeeds by the church of what Jesus went through by the church? Do you think the church does not do this to people still today? I did not leave the church I was told not to come back. Where would you stand if you caught you Pastor in a lie confronted him about it and was asked not to come back? I still have my faith and I am still a part of the body of Christ. I just don’t attand a building which people designate a church when it is the people that are the church, not the building. I can find no where in the Bible that says you have to be part of an established church. On last question, Why should we, Once-Churched People, stop trying to be understood?

      • Your post and your lying pastor reminded me of an old comedy routine my friends Tony (now dead) and John (now an IFB pastor) used to sing about people like your pastor. It was called “Singing a Hymn.” It went:

        F-Bomb Hymn.

      • sorry i wasnt very clear, i was responding to the article not the previous comments. i said stop trying to be understood (by the church) stop trying to fit in (with the church). I meant about coming to the sad realization that most churches have forsaken following Jesus and become like the temple was when Jesus was on the earth. He went to church a few times and it didnt ever go very well, they kept trying to discredit and destroy His ministry and His doctrine and Him. If we have His Spirit in us we will be treated the same by people that are religious but dont love Jesus. People at churches nowdays love to argue about doctrine and other peoples sins and most dont talk about Jesus except in relation to what they can get from Him and His death. A guy named Dudley Hall, who is probably a pastor with a church, i dunno, (i dont agree with everything he says) has a pretty good video about Trophy Churches. in it he talks about the apostle pauls letter to the Corinthians and how paul is defending himself to that church and what their apparent view of him is. Their view is: that he is not an eloquent enough speaker; if he had the Holy Spirit he wouldnt have a thorn in his flesh he would have power over the devil instead; he would have more followers if he were really a christian; he hasnt had a new word from the Lord or a new vision every single day; so they didnt need to listen to what he said because he wasnt a flashy popular charismatic preacher with alot of fans like they were, and he wasnt rich like they were, and if he had faith he wouldnt have gotten shipwrecked so often or gotten arrested.

  11. Then there is me – and I’m sure I have lots of company – I am at once “Once-churched” and also a “Church People”. I have one foot in and one foot out. I was invited to leave my church home of 10 years by leadership that turned on its own congregation, painting us with those lazy broad strokes you refer to. More than half of a robust community accepted that invitation, along with me. Now, over four years later, I am still visiting churches nearly every week, but I no longer refer to it as “The Search” for a new church “home”. You might say I am an itinerant believer, whose itinerary is to stay within hearing distance of the brotherly love, the community, the messages, and the songs, but not willing at this time to get close enough to the fire that defines me to risk becoming “Once-again-burned.”

  12. Hi Jon
    Thanks for your blog. Appreciate your perspective on things. Would it surprise you to hear that the still churched feel these same things at times? My own growth and evolution is taking me in directions that are foreign to my tradition and this places me in the role of outsider on the inside. It may eventually result in a complet break, but I feel the need to bear the tension for now. Sometimes we the questioning are the means of grace by which everyone can grow and expand. I have been a part of my church for over a decade. I have deep relationships there, and so far they are tolerating the weird contemplative chick who primarily interprets Jesus thru the lens of Franciscan Mysticism. And this is why churches need to be big tents of inclusion rather than narrow Puritanical cults who hang all who dissent with the rigid party line (which seldom has anything to do with the actual Gospel). That said, I have nothing but compassion for anyone who is walking the road you are describing and have obviously traveled yourself. I know all to well that it could be me someday…..

    • What is most likely happening is that the Pastors, staff, and other members of your church are still sucking on their spiritual milk bottles—but Jesus is calling you away to eat solid spiritual food. By all means, attend the banquet to which you have been invited.

    • I too have often felt like an outsider working on the inside, Melissa. Though I’m sure it’s uncomfortable at times, I appreciate your choice to stay for the time being because that’s where God is calling you to be. I’m sure you are a blessing to them more than you realize.

  13. As a member of the once churched I give this a hearty Amen.
    Nine years ago I left my church home of many years for reasons that I won’t bore you with. Suffice to say I became a prodigal. After many years of doing my own thing, a Buddhist hippie encouraged me to return to my faith. (How’s that for ironic?)

    I went back to my former church for a second time a few weeks ago. The treatment I endured was inexcusable.

    The senior pastor was talking with me when a long-time member interrupted our conversation to give him a last minute announcement (Seriously? You couldn’t have written it down and given it to him?) thus ending our conversation. Considering he was the primary reason I left the church the fact he was open to talking to me was huge. And yes she knew because her husband was on the Board at the time I left.

    At the altar call I was on my knees at my chair. Despite the fact the chairs can be unattached, a woman in my row chose to climb OVER me. Wow.

    Later this same woman who interrupted my conversation with the pastor came over to where I was talking with an old friend to ask if we wanted to attend a convention. Really. I haven’t seen you in nine years and THAT’S how you greet me?

    I realize this all sounds petty and I’ve worked hard at processing my reactions. I know these women meant no harm. They were just focused on other things. I get that. What bothers me is they don’t get how their cluelessness affects those of us who try to come back.

    I love God with all my heart, mind, body, and soul. I’ve come a long way from where I was when I left. No I don’t want to be a humble bragger. I DO expect to be treated with some respect. Unless the church is on fire, someone is bleeding or choking, your “emergency” can wait. People come first. Yet when I stressed this to the church I was accused of being a rabble rouser.

    Acckkk…sorry for the rant. Thanks for writing this. I hope the now churched learn something from it.


  14. This is excellent! I resonate as I am one of the no longer Church People. I am however an ongoing seeker of God and His grace and love. Thank you for understanding !!

  15. I’m a Once-Churched Person who is out in the cold. Your words are so true. How I would love to be in that place of Church again – secure, comforted, inspired and encouraged. But where I live it is not possible because of who I am. It’s a very lonely place to have to keep strong in faith without the help and support of others.

  16. Thank you so much for posting this. I for one am “one-of them.” I left the church for many reasons and have lost many friends because, I no longer regularly attend a church. It hurts deeply that people I once called a friend, no longer wants to be friends especially those of who know the reasons why I stopped attending church. Again, thank you for sharing this.

  17. I agree with everything except the next to the end sentence: “The Once-Churched People are counting on you to reflect Christ to them, even if it is from a distance.” There are many of us Once-Churched people who still reflect Christ to everyone around us. Just because we are no longer part of the Churched people, doesn’t mean we are not Christ people.

    • That is what I say if you were ever or never on the “straight and narrow”, and fell off for ANY reason, get up dust yourself off and get back on the path that leads to Life Eternal. The God of the universe And the Savior of all, has never stopped loving you. Their love is unconditionall. Repentance is not for punishment but for change, though it may bring with it pain and regret its for change. We become a new person in Christ Jesus.

    • Ted is now going to tell us that communities of people cannot exist without standards because all communities are founded on laws, rules, standards, and the pressure to thoroughly conform with them. Ted needs permission from the in-group to take a leak. Gosh Ted. That must be totally miserable.

    • This is about the oldest misconception there is regarding what “church” looks like. I’ve said it before, but “The Church” and a “church” are different. “The Church” is a living, breathing, moving organism. A “church” is an organized institution; a place; a business. “The Church” typically has little need of a place. Sure, there are times when it’s fun to have the good ol’ ice cream social. There are times when coming together for a time of corporate worship might call for a place larger than a living room.

      I guess my question to you, Theodore, is this:
      What do you picture in your mind when you read, “…do not forsake the assembly…” or “when two or more are gathered in my name, I am in their midst”?

      I would venture to say that most people envision a “church” as opposed to “The Church.”

  18. Dear most perceptive John Pavlovitz, once more you have hit the nail squarely on the head. As a minister’s daughter, I attended church every single Sunday of my life – until I had a choice whether to put up with one more personal dig about my dress or singing or hair from the lady who sat directly behind me, or the discomfiting critical glances from those old biddies from the other aisle who didn’t know me at all. Granted they were the minority, but isn’t there something in even the most horribly translated King James version of the bible about “judge not…” that church people seem to forget?
    Now, even Catholic Pope Francis has recently said “In a way, the traditional notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money – for many, nature can be a church.” Oh yes it can! But I will tell you honestly, as a soprano soloist I miss the good traditional hymns. My dad’s music director was the manager of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra….we had MUSIC in our church! Not garage band rock and bar jazz stuff – true God-inspired, spiritually inspiring, classical music on an organ with real pipes in the ceiling and the walls! It was spiritually transporting. I cant sit through the other pseudo-sexual hip-gyrating stuff without a feeling of loss, disappointment, and even disgust. Have we fallen so far culturally that the work of the great spiritual composers such as Bach, Tchaikovsky, Handel, or Fauré are suddenly too good for us? If that theory is true, why to we need the often culturally outdated messages in the bible, for heaven’s sake?
    But lacking quality music to inspire me, the didactic verbatim preaching of “exact words of Jesus” by local preachers that biblical scholars sadly assure us, in direct disagreement, are merely hearsay given the lack of literacy of the people in those times, the countless times the writings ( begun seventy years after Jesus death) were then copied and changed by scribes, and the fact that Jesus wrote NOTHING himself and the books of Matthew Mark Luke and John were not all of first person witnesses and were not even written from scratch by four different people…..well, I simply cant sit and listen. And I am offended that my not agreeing with such narrowly interpreted preaching would send me directly to hell – as they claim. So, in today’s typical church I am left with nothing to share or discuss without creating terrible resentment.
    No – there is nothing to share within a church when the need for simplistic assurances leads the people therein to fear intellectual exploration and greater understanding and causes them to become cruelly judgmental and threatened by those who would merely ask valid questions in order to find a deeper, more substantive belief.
    We are in the scientific age. We cannot go back, And it offers us something even greater than we believed before we had full knowledge. Scholars can now date written works and they have tracked these stories back even to the common “Q” source. Now we MUST not be afraid to open our minds to the intriguing possibilities of an even deeper and more meaningful faith that such new knowledge can bring, and not be threatened by new facts nor judge harshly those who explore exciting new facts that offer even deeper understanding.

    • Barbara,
      It’s clear by your writing style that you are highly educated. You’re extremely articulate, and I appreciate that. I found myself in agreement with just about everything you wrote.

      The music is/has been/will be an issue with people as long as the institutional church lives on. As dearly as you hold on to classical music, I find the newer styles deeply moving. As a former Worship Pastor in the institutional church, I’m not biased toward one style. I’m moved by music. I like classical, rock, pop, country, and even hymns. I’m sure you’ve studied this, but a good portion of the hymns we sing are words that were put to popular music from their day born in various places like pubs.

      I very much enjoyed reading your comment, and as I said, I agree with just about everything else. I just feel strongly that the evolution of music is pivotal. I would compare the way I feel about the evolution of music to the way you feel about the advancements in technology.

      Thank you for your input.

      • Oddly enough, I agree with both Barbara and you, David, on this matter. I played keys in a worship band for years and was a staff pianist of another large church for many years. I have been everywhere from hymns to orchestral arrangements to CCM. For me right now in my “once-churched” walk, I have to say that the most moving thing to me is either very high-church classical music or sounds of nature, like birds or even the whales I heard on an NPR story the other morning. (I know that probably sounds weird, but it’s the truth) CCM and praise choruses seem a mile wide and an inch deep to me at present. There was a time where that wasn’t the case, and there may come another time depending on my circumstances that the CCM of that new day will speak to me more clearly. As a musician, I guess you could say an eclectic mix is fine with me, but unfortunately most people have to “take sides” when it comes to the style of music in church. My brother was a worship pastor for 30 years, so I understand the crap that worship pastors have to go through because for some reason, we’ve made the music such a volatile issue because everyone wants it “their way.” I say to each his own and whatever speaks to each person. And I think you both would probably agree with that to some degree. Just wanted to throw in the thought that it can even change with the same person over the course of time, that’s all. Thank you for your thoughts you’ve expressed.

    • I am a big classical music fan—have been since my teenage years—know Act 1 of Tosca almost by heart. But this is good evolved music too:

      Leonard Bernstein was a lover of all really good music. Gave a short speech on it that I heard. He would have loved Gagamusic if he had lived long enough to hear it.

    • I’m sorry only 1 kind of music makes a church suitable for you How selfish & shallow.”Sing unto the Lord a new song” “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord”Our church welcomes all ages,races,people from all countries. Our praise band is not everyone;s favorite,or “This Little Light of Mine”For you ,we must have ONLY classical organ hymns or you won’t go to church.Open your eyes, there are many types of people in this world.Red yellow,black & white.Old & young.Your superior attitude would send me away.I also love the old hymns but I’m open to others taste. Our church not just yours A bit for everyone.”Do Lord” suddenly set our church into a joyful state As “Mary Did You Know?”made tears flow Open your mind & heart to others

  19. The only thing that really bothers me is that you say: “They once believed as strongly, participated as fully, worshiped as reverently, stood as securely as you now do.”

    Going to church can truly mean nothing in regards to how strongly you believe or how reverently you worship. I think there is an important message here, but it bothers me that at the end there you make it sound as though people who no longer attend church don’t worship quite as strongly. In reality, it goes both ways. Many “church people” show up, but that’s the extent of it. Please don’t use church attendance as an indicator of a person’s faith.

  20. Jon! Excellent article! I can so well relate to this as I am now in the ‘Once Churched’ group. After many years of attending a large church in our city I fell out of touch due to working schedules {healthcare industry} & so forth. I am also now disabled w/ Agoraphobia so just opening my front door is a ‘ritual’. Then a few months after the sudden & devastating death of my older brother, I returned to this church of 1,000+ members seeking the fellowship I so badly needed. Shockingly, this once loving & caring group of people completely ignored me, as I openly wept w/ grief from the loss of my brother. In the ‘fellowship’ hall fallowing the Service, I just stood & looked around for anyone to return my look or to acknowledge me in any way. Nada. I truly was shocked & deeper saddened by this.
    I returned the next week & wrote a prayer request for healing as I was very depressed & suicidal & how I had been ignored the previous week. Several days later I received a ‘greeting’ card in my snail mail from one of the Pastors encouraging me to join some group I had attended many years ago!
    Um appropriate for someone who has just stated she was suicidal? Once again, I was just stunned & have not returned, nor tried to attend a different church service. & yes, I do feel much grief & guilt because of this but…I remain ‘stuck’.
    And ironically, my parents are highly regarded in this church! If I were to mention to someone that I was their daughter, I would then be ‘welcomed’ w/ open arms. But silly me, I want to be cared for for who I am, not my DNA markers!
    Shalom friend & thank you for this totally spot on article!
    Maggie Rezac

    • Could the card possibly have been God or the pastor’s way of reaching out and trying to encourage you to join an activity you once enjoyed? Attending church is not a requirement. However, you become like the company you keep and perhaps a group somewhere has an activity you may enjoy where you can make supportive friends and find the healing you are seeking while you grieve. I can understand your pain as I have lost my mother and brother in the last year and a half. I miss their presence too. I seek God thru prayer and he gives me comfort and strength. I also fill my time doing things I enjoy to make friends. Although I do attend church…… These two activities are both done completely separate from church. Prayer life is personal…. Developing a one on one relationship with God and that doesn’t require a church. Finding activities you enjoy can be in the church or outside it. Taking a new class, starting a new hobby, volunteering for an organization you believe in, etc can all help you find friendship and support. I truly wish the best for you.

  21. The problem is the word “assumptions.” Church People (as you call them) make assumptions about Once-Churched People—and those assumptions are often very wrong. Some of those assumptions are canned and preserved on a shelf for instant use in whatever Bullshit stew a Church Person might want to cook. That can contains words, phrases, and sentences such as:

    1) Backslider

    2) Must not have been a TRUE Christian to begin with.

    3) An obvious sinner because she has “forsaken assembling together.”

    4) He no longer comes to church because of the great weight of sin he bears, and he knows that the preaching will cast a spotlight on all those sins and force him to confront them before the Lord—staying away from church allows the person to avoid that spotlight and keep on sinning.

    I think people stay away from church for all sorts of reasons that have little or nothing to do with the ones in the can. More often it has something to do with the social/cultural atmosphere of the church (and they cannot find anything better in their immediate geographic area), the people factor in the church, not liking the ministerial staff, or no longer agreeing theologically with one (or usually more) of the things a particular church claims to believe.

    I watched two very interesting videos last night that highlight why so many people are now leaving the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches in the United States. Although I might not agree entirely with everything the man says, he does make some very interesting, Bible-based points that are TRUE about church history because I know about them from independent study and experience. Click and watch:

  22. Like you said, there are a lot of reasons why people fall away, and some of them never repent. Narrow is the way, and strait the gate, that leads to life, and few there be who find it. All you can do is get ready, be ready, and stay ready. When you die, if you turn away, you won’t be able to get nobody to go to hell for you, because Jesus already did that, and you rejected Him.
    From the other side, when you minister to someone, you never know whether your words will reach them or not. Some plant, some water, and God gives the increase. All you can do is witness and pray – witness to the truth as it is in Christ, and pray that their heart will be softened by the Holy Spirit to receive the Word.

  23. I am no longer a Church person, although I am a Kingdom person, a Jesus follower. We’ve actually been in and out for 15 years, but mostly out because we don’t fit. The Kingdom doesn’t really seem welcome in most churches, although celebrity and personality and (depending on which church) being cool/hip or being traditional do. But actually doing the stuff and following Jesus and being a disciple? Nope. Sad to say. And I love it out here with the real people, just trying to live and love as Jesus did.

  24. Very well presented. Have been a once church for many years
    A divorced male church leader is not welcome. Is treated as a Pariah
    Did not lessen my faith made me a better witness.

  25. Thank you John, for sharing about the big, hurt, abused, unloved and judged “un-churched” elephant in the room. Your words resonate with the multitudes that have suffered partial or permanent damage to their spirits and to their lives as a whole. We “churched people” must never stop loving, ministering to & encouraging the present & future “un-churched people”. In church or not, attending or not, involved or not, if we are followers of Jesus, we are “all the church” according to Jesus. I look forward to seeing all of you, “all the churched” in Heaven one day seated at a big banquet table, the Lord’s table, talking, laughing and enjoying each other’s presence with our Lord Jesus at the head of the table welcoming us all.

  26. Very enlightening. Thanks for your openness. As I was reading your post and many of the comments that it brought out, I did notice something. We all seem to dwell on ourselves and our experience. We leave or stay because of what we experience there or how we perceive the treatment that is given to us by others. I do the same thing quite often, no, almost always. So what! Well its not about my views, perceived or actual slights, mistreatment, etc. It is about Him and only Him. On a second level it is about others. I usually only see me. Love God, love others. Those who aren’t loving you, need you to love them!!

  27. I have been reading your posts for some time and have shared some on FaceBook. I pastor a small rural church in Indiana and have been working–with some success–opening their eyes and heart to what Jesus really teaches. I was wondering if I might have permission to occasionally reprint your posts–with proper credit of course–for our bulletin or newsletter? If you would be kind enough to reply at my email address it would be most appreciated. God Bless you for what you do. In Christ, Wray McCalester

  28. Excellent John. I’m a PK (preacher’s kid) since birth. My dad was called to preach in 1957 at the height of civil unrest in the deep South, and in the middle of it. Our hometown is in Jones County Mississippi … the ‘Free State Of Jones’. A quick history lesson will give you the gory details.

    That said, we grew up ‘churched’. Like, old South ‘churched’. Took me until my early 30s to grow totally exhausted and weary of the legalism and bigotry I’d been encumbered with since birth. As the Lord ‘freed’ me and my wife from our blinding religion, God began His work of renewal, refreshing, and reviving Grace in my heart.

    Now in my 50s, I am realizing how FREE we really are IN Christ. This morning, we were honored to worship with a long-time favorite worship artist — Darrell Evans. As Darrell sang his award-winning worship songs, taught us from scripture, and simply emoted FREEDOM and JOY … I was once again overwhelmed by God’s amazing and matchless GRACE.

    Keep on plowing this stuff, John. The world needs to hear YOUR song! I’m lovin it.

  29. I spent a good decade or so of my young adult life in that once-churched category, only to return and later to become ordained as clergy myself. I’ve always had a very soft spot for those like myself who lost the faith first and then gave up the church. However, I’m especially saddened by many who I find have left the church in order to save their faith. For these, and there are many out there, the church was destroying their faith to the point where their continued relationship with Jesus required “breaking up” with his church.

  30. Unfortunately, most SINGLE PEOPLE, especially most OLDER SINGLE PEOPLE (never married, divorced, widowed) ARE treated in most churches as if we are the carriers of a filovirus (eg, Ebola, Marburg) – bludgeoned under the constant drumbeat of marriage-and-family, IGNORED AND INVISIBLE…so many do become part of the Once-Churched…why try to be a part of something that DOES NOT WANT YOU AROUND??????????

  31. I’ve been in and out of Church my whole 49 years. I’m “out” at this moment because church is no longer Church. It’s a gathering place for a significant number of people who want to be on parade. I’ve sat with the deeply devout who walk the walk and I’ve sat with utter frauds who treat their families and neighbors like piles of dog droppings but in church, they act like perfect saints. I’m not interested in sitting in a Church where the leaders tickle the ears of the congregation, I’m not interested in sitting there while the Word of God is diminished by “progressive” thinking. I’m not interested in listening to leaders downplay the act of sin and encouraging the body to live by mans laws and wants. My time with God is well spent Andy relationship with my Lord is conducted whenever and wherever we choose. A church isn’t a Church when you’re simply walking into a building. Sadly, I left a church because it wasn’t a Church, I personally watched as the leaders spent $100K on bling but then refused to help a woman who was being beaten by her spouse. All she wanted was a $68 bus ticket but she was turned away. That’s not a Church, that’s an empty building full of people.

    • Just like Gaga says. “It’s the music—not the bling.” The love of Jesus is the music in all of our lives—-and all the bling is worthless in comparison to it.

  32. Reblogged this on christinejbaxter.net and commented:
    For all of my friends and family who were once Church People, I will also ask in addition to what the author so eloquently asks, that you the former Church People don’t give up on us yet. Someday, hopefully sooner than later, we will indeed, Be The Church, to everyone!

  33. Excellent observations. As Lenny Bruce once said, “Millions of people are leaving the Church every day and going back to God.”

    • I believe our great Nation is on the precipis of revival. We were placed here to have communion with our Lord…and now it is our purpose to share t love of Jesus Christ. We are all blessed with spiritual gifts…we are to use toward that goal. Stop looking at what people did to you (or did not do for you) and pursue those who are in more distress than you. When you take charge and do what you were placed here for, you will find comfort and the love you are missing. Experience is the best teacher…

  34. “They are not at home in that building or connected to those people or confident in those creeds or comforted by those songs anymore. Their presence there doesn’t make them better or feel lighter or believe more deeply. It only leaves them feeling depleted and bitter and sad.”

    These are not at all the reasons for me personally. I am comfortable in the meeting house, I enjoy the music, I’m simply not interested in spending my day this why. Boring! I would rather become closer to Christ by spending the day with the ones I truly love, doing something that brings us closer to Christ and Nature. Doing something that reminds us of the beauty he has bestowed upon us.

  35. For all of us: The enemy of God works to separate us from God and each other. Grace growers are everywhere even in churches including me and you. I understand and sorry you /we go through negative experiences in church. Hebrews 10:25 I believe it’s important to seek God in all situations. Maybe it’s an experience to grow; in grace, to reach a deeper understanding of forgiveness, loving, and practicing Matthew 18:15. Maybe even indicating it’ s time to seek another church? Maybe take a break from church? Some who leave the church leave God and seek other beliefs or nothing and are used to damage others perception (just read these posts) of the church and God… everyone loses. Let’s take our focus off of the people and not use them as an excuse to be unforgiving, unloving, offended, protective, defensive… when God will use all of them to grow us in all these areas… Romans 8:28 Let’s experience the love, pgrace, joy and power in Jesus and know God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit-living inside of us. Let’s be in Community inside the church walls and outside and show Jesus’s love to all human beings in this world. That’s Heaven on Earth. Peace and Love. 🙂

  36. Doesn’t anyone go to church to worship God? So what about what others have done or are doing to you or anyone else. You eyes are not focused on Him. Your personal relationship with God should take priority during your visit. If it doesn’t, then maybe there is an issue with your relationship with God and you need to figure out just what is going on.

    1 John 2:19 says; They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

    Chances are you were there for the wrong reason to start with.

    • That is victim-shaming for those who have been traumatized by the church. This is one more reason why those of us who were “once-churched” are failing to go. We are DONE with the shaming. “Look to God, not to man” is a pathetic excuse for the deplorable behavior done by people who claim to know this God.

      • Hey Shannon. I was wondering something related to this because, like you, I am a close observer of human behavior. I wonder if all the dysfunction we see with people in church is a parcel of human culture outside of the church that is being unconsciously brought into the church. I see it at the supermarket or Wal-Mart all of the time. For example, I can slowly round a grocery aisle to go into the next one and encounter a person and their cart. I grew up down south where we were taught to say “excuse me” and “thank you,” etc.—and really mean it. I always do that in the market aisles. But when someone almost runs into me or slams my heels from behind with a cart, or whatever, I always get these hard looks that say: “Damn You!!! How dare you get in my way. If you knew who I was you would fall at my knees and worship me.” It is just plain crazy like no one ever learned any empathy, sympathy, or etiquette when they were growing up and like two out of every three people become narcissists when they enter a store. I often wonder if these same people are bringing that state of mind into the church—and whether that is one of the reasons many people in church are so miserable there. And what is generating this state of mind?

      • kbshannon – I didn’t shame anyone. I merely implored anyone who has dropped out to search the reason why they dropped out. If your decision to attend church is based upon a human relationship issue and not a spiritual one, you either have a problem between the humans involved or the spiritual. Yes, there can be a issues within the human realm of church. The problem can lie with either party. If anyone really wants to attend church they should figure out what/where the problem is and take appropriate actions. If you are blaming the other person for how you were treated and think that they did not act in an appropriate manner, why then if you are a true Christian, did not approach them and discuss the issue at hand. If they don’t recognize their shortcoming (or you, yours) then someone may or may not be a true Christian. If the “church” is littered with these types, by all means get out and find another if your true desire is to worship God. If the problem is you, then you have bigger issues on your hand and it’s between you and God. Dropping out and staying out doesn’t solve any problems. It’s only a way of avoiding them, no matter who or what the issue really is.

        Philippians 2:12 says – Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

        PS – Remember, everyone is a not a victim of sin. Sin only has encouragers and enablers. We all chose not to obey at some point or another.

      • People like that want you to put yourself in harm’s way again without even giving you a solid assurance of safety. I can’t blame you for deciding that your safety matters more than validating such Christians’ comfortable delusions. Their response is to lecture and shame you to manipulate you rather than to focus on the fact that Jesus most definitely is not making these churches, organizations, and people less likely to victimize others, or warning such potential victims of their danger.

      • I don’t consider this article to be the end-all, be-all source of what I need to do. This article is not my source of truth. The author seems to put way too much emphasis on feelings and not enough on facts. Facts should be evaluated before feelings are registered as what should be done. Feelings are fickle at best and tend to get people in trouble when they are registered as the sole source of impetus.

        • What about the fact of love? Or is that fact too feely for you? Love one another is not hitting your bro over the head with the book and saying you sinned again. Love covers a multitude of sin. Lol!

    • Edward, I would suspect many do their best worship of God well beyond the sanctuary walls, some while in service to “the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.” We should probably be a bit careful as to how we classify those who are “IN” the Church and those who are “OUT.” It may have little to do with attendance in worship but far more to do with worship in service.

      • pastordanheld – I agree with you that Sunday worship is only a part of what we should be doing, but if you’re saying that we can’t take an hour or two out from our busy schedules of feeding and clothing the homeless to focus solely on God and give him and hour or two of our undivided attention, then we may have a problem. If He isn’t worth it, then who is? For a relationship to be a relationship, you have to have some quality time together. If having other people who supposedly believe the same as you interferes with that relationship, and they are there for the supposedly same reason you are, then maybe that relationship isn’t as strong as it should be or needs to be, or the reason for being there is lacking in some form or fashion.

        Hebrews 10:25 says – Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

    • Oh right, Ed. It is impossible to think there might be a church somewhere that on this Earth that is just as screwed up as you are—but you can deny that such a church exists even though one of them screwed you up. Sounds like a dog chasing its tail to me.

    • that was the church how it was suppose to be with leaders who really followed Christ, here in America it usually will not cost your life to make jesus lord of your life. if your worshiping alone in church why go . in reality the church is two or three gathered together in his name. whos name are they really gathered together in. we don’t have the church they had. we don’t suffer like they did. at least they had enough truth not to divide themselves from one another. nor set themselves up as judges quoting scriptures. anyone can do that, it takes a real death to ones self to love

  37. I am a once-churched person. You ask church people to not paint once-churched people with broad strokes, but you state at the same time that out experience has left us bitter, depleted, and/or sad, thus we are now once-churched. For many of us, this is not so. I can still walk into a church and feel at home, feel a sense of community and tradition that reminds me of where I come from. However, I did not leave because of some bitter, depleted, and/or sad experience, I left because I can’t believe it anymore, and happily so! I will always love my Christian community and traditions- they are a part of who I am, and always will be, but believing in the literal truth of John 14:6 is incredibly dangerous in my opinion. One will find that it is history that can provide the answer to why the concept of exclusivity reigned supreme in the early Holy Roman Empire, leading to why it is still considered inextricable from Christianity itself today.

  38. We must add to the list those who have been called by the spirit to get out of churches where the culture is overthrowing basic biblical principles. Many churches are calling good evil and evil good as mentioned in the bible. Some may go to a different church where they consider those principles are more respected and kept. Prophecy reminds us that in the last days we might have to meet in secret at our homes, may we be able to hear his voice.

    • Yes, one of the things I have been noticing is how Christian fundamentals and conservative evangelicals have turned to a pattern of telling lies right and left to get what they want. Weezuns is added this to our “Rot Docterns.” Lying, deceiving, and cheating are just fine as long as you are doing them to further the Kingdom of God. Now, I have to ask. What Bible verse is that?

  39. Those on the “inside” too often look down the length of their noses at those of us who have left our church communities, because they became incompatible with our “Faith.”

  40. Pingback: Read This: What Church People Need to Know About Once-Churched People | Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  41. I see a lot of “I feel” and “I believe” and a lot of “I’s” in general. But not much about what God has said about this. Hebrews 10:24-15 ” And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 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.” I see plenty of support in Acts for God’s people congregating together. I see plenty of exhortations in the letters of Paul to hold fast to the faith. I read warning over and over again in Revelation not to fall away. What I don’t see any of is “If you don’t like the way you feel at church, don’t go. Those people are no better than you anyway.” To be brutally honest, God’s primary concern is His holiness not your comfort. God demands our worship and that is fostered and encouraged best in the local church.

    I get it, I have also gone through times where I didn’t want to be in church. I blamed the people there, I blamed the rituals, I blamed God, but in the end, the problem was always me. My sin separated me from God and broke my fellowship with His bride but rather than confessing and repenting of my sins, I talked about all the hypocrites and walked away. It turned out that the same sad and unwelcome feeling that I felt when at church was actually the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sin. I have heard from husbands who cheat on their wife and then cannot bear to be around her because the shame is so great. We are by our sinful nature an adulterous people. We cheat on the Loving God by giving our hearts to the idols of this world. Instead of chasing those idols from our lives and returning to the Lord, we flew from Him and abandon one of His greatest gifts, the Church.

    Sure there are some people that talk and act one way at church and then live completely different during the week. Does that change who God is or the fact that He command me to set aside 1 day per week for corporate worship. I know, I know, the church is a group of people, not a building. I used that one too, but funny enough I wasn’t spending my time away from the church meeting with God and worshiping Him. I was just being a sinful selfish butthead, living as if I could hide from God.

    • Yes, but this does not seem to be helping those folk who have left to feel welcome to come back at all, does it? And anyway, maybe they didn’t leave at all. Maybe they were made to leave. Oh, sorry, I guess they sinned (in your book) so that’s why they were asked, told, made to leave, and until their sin is dealt with they not welcome back. I thought the church was for a place for sinners? No? Only for the sinless? Oh dear! No wonder!

    • Could you really sit in meeting where you feel like lies are being spewed out. Where you fundamentally disagree with half the stuff that’s being preached. Where your afraid your children might actually come to believe that stuff. Does refusing to stay there make me a “sinful, selfish, butthead”.

    • I left so that my wife and kids wouldn’t be abused as I was in the church… Outside the official church, fellowship and community are much stronger. Limiting God’s word to specific arbitrary instutions of our own choosing isn’t particularly solid ground.

    • Josh. Does God pet you and give you a few Milkbones every once in a while? God’s primary concern—above everything else in the universe—is his Holiness? Did that come by telegram, e-mail, conference call? Oh, let me guess, this is how your half-literate preachers interpret the Bible. But wait. You guys don’t interpret the Bible. You read it and whatever you say it says is what it says because you are the one saying it. “I AM fundie, thus I know all things.”

  42. Perhaps the saddest thing is all of the people who are the Once Church People who could not go back to their former church and decided to go to church through their television set. And I have a question to ask here, and I think it is a very important question: “Why do the things criticized on the following videotape arise almost exclusively within and model themselves after the 100-year-old Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical tradition in the United States?” Do you see Episcopalians doing this? No. Do you see the Sunday school children of the United Church of Christ doing this. No. This comic routine, if not created by Jesus, would almost certainly be approved by Jesus. Take a look at this. You will not be sorry:

    • I find it even more amazing that Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals can gather hundreds or even thousands of people to create protest signs and march around in front of an American courthouse deliberating a LGBTQ ruling, in front of a local abortion clinic, or in front of a courthouse demanding that the 10 Commandments monument not be removed from the courthouse lawn—but you never see them marching against these money-gathering ministries on TV, supporting the marginal people who get ripped off by these ministries, or protesting hundreds of other sins that are probably more worth their time, money, and energy. It is really sad—and they wonder why the Church People become the Once Church People. An HBO comedian, with the use of bad language for emphasis, had to do this for you. And do you know what the real shame is. Most of your are more upset that John Oliver used the F-Bomb than you are that these poor people from one end of this country to the other are being ripped off in the name of Jesus by these TV ministries when you have it within your power to do something about it and also demand that your elected representatives tighten up the IRS regulations so these ministries will find it harder to operate. Where are you fundie children of Jesus?

      • I’m guessing all religions have some “IN” group that thrives on self-righteousness and a holier-than-thou attitude toward others even in their own faith. For the Jews of Jesus’s Palestine, they were the Pharisees. For today’s Jews, they may be a Jerusalem sect that still refuses to light their lamps at home after dusk on Friday evenings and who pay paltry wages to Arabs that delivery services to high paying tourists on Sabbath. For Muslims and Christians alike, well you’ve nailed it, Dover1952. They are the fundamentalists and conservatives. Perhaps all faiths have their highjackers!

  43. Pingback: The Un-Churched Pioneer - Walking with Shiloh

  44. .. and many of ‘them’ (us) are happier, more content, more spiritually connected, and far more healthy in every way than they were “in church”. So many of them/us look back with a little sadness but great appreciation for the influences that helped us save ourselves from religious hell. Many of us feel zero guilt, zero fear, zero isolation, epic joy, boundless courage, passionate connection with love and life… Finally. Perspective. What glasses will I choose to wear tomorrow?

    • Just so you fundies get Walla’s post and never forget it—because he is spot on correct. The man is saying that you turn church into a living hell on Earth by your extremist beliefs and behaviors. When the vast fields are ripe for harvest they see YOU and how silly you look—how mean spirited you look—how country bumpkin you look—how legalistic you are (in opposition to Galatians)—how merciless you are—how cold you are—and how unloving you are. They do not see Jesus in YOU They see YOU and YOU ALONE. And whether you think they are right or wrong is irrelevant because their perception is everything in this transaction. They perceive that the salesman is sleazy, therefore this Jesus product you are selling must be sleazy too.

      And here is the really funny thing about you people. As your churches begin to sink into the quicksand, the idea of saying, “I am wrong and I must reform” never really crosses your minds because everyone else is SO WRONG and we are the only people one Earth who could possibly Be Right. So, you choose to save yourselves and your churches by DOUBLING DOWN on everything you believe that is wrong and everything you are doing that is wrong.

      Right now you are hanging yourselves and your churches with a long rope. Something is wrong. So you decide to fix it—by replacing the rope with razor wire. All I can say is: “Keep up the good work. Double down, triple down. and quadruple down on all the things that are going wrong. Why dissolve slowly when you can be done with it and be gone overnight by your own hands.

      And where is God? If everyone else is so wrong in faith and you are so right in faith, then why did God not help you to keep your slaves? Why didn’t God step in to save you from having to attend school with black people? Why did God not step in to prevent you from having to hire negroes? Why did God not step in and allow you to force a classroom full of diversely religious students to pray YOUR WAY AND BELIEVE YOUR WAY? Why did God not step in to save the Blue Laws? Why did God not step in to ensure that all businesses are closed on Sunday like they once were? Why did God not step in and make Prohibition work in 1919? Why did God not step in to prevent abortion on demand? Why did God not prevent same sex marriage for you. Why did God not produce American victory in the Viet-Nam War? Why did God not stop the use of contraception for you? Why did God not inform your 1960s children that money really is more important than people? Why has God not set Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism on a high pedestal, stood beside you, and said to the world, “See these. This is the only one and true church and these are my only one and true people. Everyone else is apostate and wrong?

      Maybe Benjamin Franklin new why:

      When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.

      —Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Richard Price. October 9, 1790.

      Have you ever considered the possibility that God sees you dressed in the same silly, mean-spirited rags that everyone else does—and He does not want much to do with you either? I am not saying He has because I do not know such things—but I do know that your track record looks like the track record of not just a loser—but a truly extraordinary loser. A loser that defies the laws of 50/50 chances. Just sayin’.

  45. One of the reasons why I am “once-churched,” depending on what church to which you refer (I attend some types and brands which are not considered “churches” by other churches) is the platitudes which are spouted to those who are hurting (including myself at times). Platitudes are not connecting. They are disconnecting. It says, in essence, “your pain makes me uncomfortable, but I feel that I should or have to say something, and I am kind of scared that I will catch your sin/pain/shame/what-have-you, and I trust that we will not speak of this again.” It really is more about them than it is about the person in pain. I don’t want answers to questions. I want to just be free to talk about questions.

    • Ah. We agree. Perhaps to “placebo effect” we should add the “platitude effect,” both having in common a certain degree of falsehood except that the placebo helps in the same way that the local witch doctor helps—-but the platitudes—not so much. Peace and love to you.

  46. Good article. My wife and I were “Once Churched people.” We did, Bible College – Missionary work – leadership in an evangelical denomination. We’re not done with God ~ we’re done with having our faith interfered with, by man’s doctrines and religious organizations. So the bottom line is. If true faith exists – it should not be hindered by how people choose to express their faith. We should be willing and not defensive to discuss with other people who claim to have faith what our doctrinal stance might be. Jesus would expect us to, whether we’re in or out of regular attendance at a religious gathering. That’s what being the Church / Body is all about. Being the unified Body doesn’t mean to divide into differing and contradictory factions / denominations.

  47. Disagree with your assumptions that The Church is the same as those people in that building. In the same vein I feel that the once-churched should look upon those in that building, who affirm a creed, drink a little grape-juice (or wine), sing a song, say a prayer, with the same type of compassion. I find that this article is rather patronizing than edifying.

    • Perhaps you are right. The Once-Churched should show pity and compassion and mercy on those lost sheep that are still caught in the constrictions of this religious monster called The Church!

  48. I became a Taoist fifteen years ago after being in a Christian church my entire life and even completing a seminary degree at a conservative Baptist seminary. I like your thoughts in this post, yet, by using the categories of church-people/once-church-people, you seem to perpetuate the system. What I most want church people to know is that I don’t need church for happiness, salvation, or any thing essential to my life. I have grown tired of trying to meet church people where they are at just to have a conversation about life and spirituality, and I’m certainly tired of having to defend myself from accusations of being a “back slider” or heretic. I’m neither. If church people want me to respect their faith, they should respect mine. I don’t need church people to “be The Church, People.” I don’t need them to reflect “Christ’s love”. I don’t believe in those things. Those are categories and imperatives that have meaning only to church people, and it is this kind of insider christian language that is often annoying (at best) and oppressive (at worst).

    • U-h-h-h-h-h. John’s writing is far from “insider language.” Insider language is like this:

      “And God jist, jist, jist laid it on my heart that I needed to jist plant a small seed (jist $50) that would grow into a spreading green bay tree, fall on my husband, and crush the iniquity in his adulterous heart.”

      Now that’s insider language boy!!!

  49. Pingback: What Church People Really Need To Know About Once-Churched People | Heavenly Places

  50. Excellent post. Thank you. About two weeks ago I realized I had become an atheist towards all organized religion (after over 50 years in the church) and an agnostic (I feel there may be something else in the spiritual realm but do not know what it is). I am sad and brokenhearted in many ways. But I cannot turn to my church family – they will not understand. But I know there is no truth to the faith for me anymore. My years of reading (my bookshelves are full of Christian apologetics), my research and questioning – have all led me to the truth (for me) that there is no God. At night when I start to pray I have to question “who/what am I praying to?” It truly hurts my heart. I still find myself praying all the time but they are more prayers of general gratitude, not the “thank you Lord” prayers I have prayed for over half a century. It is an empty feeling. I do not know what will fill it, but I do know that I have found my truth and cannot turn back. I still deeply love and respect my Christian family and will never try to change their minds about their beliefs. But I am just no longer able to be part of that world. To all others who are questioning/struggling – you are not alone.

    • Wendy McClelland, It sounds as if the light of Christ (that we are all born with) extinguished as a result of the situations you have experienced in your life. Do you want it back? Pray to God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are, with faith, nothing wavering and He will touch your heart and comfort you and bring peace to your mind. It works for me when I feel unsure or confused.

    • Wendy, I’m in exactly the same boat. After several years of private questioning and searching I too could not say yes there is a god. It was a very painful time for me. I grew up in the church, taught Sunday school, helped in other children’s ministries, etc. I’m still on my journey and I would encourage you to not lose hope and keep seeking. Whatever answers you come to will be better than pretending to believe in something or someone that may or may not exist. This article really hit home for me and I hope the “churched” people I once called friends read it and are guided by it. Because they may stand in our shoes some day.

    • I’ve never responded to something like this but your words are moving. Very poignant and introspective. It is extremely tough go through these dark nights of the soul. I know that I will probably be mocked by some here-but I was a fallen away Christian who came home to the Catholic Church simply because I was embraced in my unbelief (I believe, help me in my unbelief…). Sometimes I just sit in His presence in front of the blessed eucharist just to feel Christ’s love-no prayers, no speaking-just being. Peace be with you.

  51. There are a lot of positive euphemisms thrown around here, at the heart of this is typically bitterness. People who refuse to forgive. You can end up on the outside for a lot or reasons, but it is you who decide to come back in (not necessarily to the same fellowship). It’s possible you were mistreated or wronged, or you were a member of a harsh denomination, or possibly your were asked to leave because of certain egregious and unrepentant sinful behavior. Ask yourself, this: What is stopping you from fellowshiping with other believers now? Chances are, it’s an unforgiving heart hardened by bitterness. This is a dangerous sin, one that can cost you your soul. Jesus himself warned of it many times. Pray to God right now. Ask Him for forgiveness, and ask Him to soften your heart so that you might forgive those who wronged you. Find a new fellowship or return to your old one and heal those relationships. When you die to yourself, and put on Christ, and enter his kingdom you are repeatedly instructed in the word to fellowship with other Christians for reasons to numerous to list here. Don’t put it off. Stop hiding. Stop lying to yourself. Come in from the dark. Your brothers and sisters need you, and you need them.

    • you can worship WITH others if they worship WITH you – if you are IGNORED and INVISIBLE, as A SINGLE PERSON, a SINGLE OLDER PERSON, then what???????????????

    • Yes. Do what Todd says. Go find the man who raped you. Hug him. Thank him for your broken bones and shattered spirit—and ask him if he would like another go at you. Tell him that you will cry out “Stop. Stop. Stop.” as many times as he would like to get him even more violent and excited. Todd, go find Josh and chew on a couple of Milkbones.

  52. Thank you for this. I actively chose to leave. I did as a teenager after enduring hideous things by the “men of God”. I tried to go back a few times as an adult. Every time, I was sitting in a pew wrestling the same questions, observing the same behaviors.

    I wish that those in the church would read this and realize there are SOME of us who don’t want back in. You didn’t run me out, I fled. I wish those in the church would realize I don’t need your “saving”, I don’t want to hear your interpretation of my actions – I am being kind and loving by biting my tongue until it bleeds.

  53. I was an atheist until I was 30. I came to know Jesus then and I jumped into everything the Church offered with both feet. Because I was a Baby Christian who was now working “behind the scenes” with everyone from the Pastors and Church leaders, seeing everything that went on, good and bad, a very wise Brother in the Lord told me, “Never confuse Jesus, with some of the people who claim to represent Him.”
    That has served me very well for the last 30 years…

  54. I know there are Once-Churched persons in every stage of journey, but to me your last statement is not at all correct. If we were looking to the Churched for anything, especially any example of God’ s love we would probably also be Churched. We are Once-Churched because sometimes over very long periods of time, and despite all our hope, and often in desperate grief we have been forced to acknowledge that the church has nothing that can fill the void, so we strike out in search of God.

  55. All emotions and sentiments aside… What does God say, “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.” (Hebrews 10:25)

  56. Focus on Jesus, and all that other stuff becomes a non issue… Focus on Jesus and keep walking and keep meeting together even if the people don’t smile at you or say hello, Are you there for them? Live for Jesus, Pray, worship, and seek his face. Seek Him on the mountaintops and even in the valleys. To everyone who feels like they are cast out or have walked away… today is the time to get close to Jesus, put everything and everyone else aside and seek HIM.

    • That’s a very good point Daniel. But…Jesus so often comes to us in the form of another person and talks to us and loves us with their words—-because the one who created us and lived among us knows we need to be touched warmly and positively by other people—just like small babies need that same touch to grow and develop properly. We never outgrow our need for that touch—and Jesus knows that. The problem is that “the touch” has left our churches and the people in our churches—if it was ever there to begin with—and I feel certain it was never there to begin with in many churches.

  57. I was raised in the Deep South. Church was not optional. My step father was a deacon in the church. I watched as he stopped to speak to everyone in our path. He would smile and shake everyone’s hand. People are always coming up to me and telling me how great my step dad is. I never understood, how none of them could see the monster behind the mask. He is not a great person. He is a violent sexual predator, who made my childhood a living hell. I was taught to keep horrible secrets. I was taught to step out our front door with a smile on my face. I was taught that anyone can pretend to be a Christian.

    My mother chose to stay with a pediphile, than to risk being alone. The one person, who was supposed to make me feel safe, made me feel isolated and alone. Years later, my younger sister and I put our lives on hold, as we cared for our mother. We stood by her as she fought, and eventually lost her battle with breast cancer, at the age of 46. In her final days, we prayed together. She asked that I forgive her failings. Of course, I forgave her. After all, she was my mother.

    Three years later, I stood in shock, as I was informed of my baby sister’s death. She bled out internally, in a hospital room, surrounded by doctors and nurses. She had undergone a partial hysterectomy a few hours before. She was only 28 years old. Her daughter was three, and her son was born only a month earlier.

    Losing my sister was a turning point for me. She was my best friend. She was a terrific mother. I was heartbroken. I was angry beyond belief. I had spent my whole life praying to God for strength and guidance. I had prayed for the horrors to stop. Yet, I would have gladly gone through all of it again, for just one more minute with my sister.

    I was told it was God’s will. I was told that my sister was in a better place. God’s will??? Seriously??? It was His will that the anesthesiologist and nurse, chose that day to not do their job??? She’s in a better place??? No, I’m sorry, I’m not buying it… I’m pretty, sure she would much rather be able to be a mother to her babies!

    It has been six years since my sister died. I am still overwhelmed with pain and anger, whenever I think of her senseless death. Church is not a place of comfort for me. Church only reminds me of hypocrisy. Church only reminds me of loss. Church is a place of resentment and fury for me. I am not sure what I believe anymore. I’m not saying there isn’t a God. I’m just not feeling like singing his praises, anymore.

    • Hi Brandy! I’m a little confused. Did you post twice under different names? Or did I just mess up with my posting? Sorry if I did, but made comment to your post on bwest110 (I think). Hope you find it. Praying for you to find faith and comfort in Jesus, not the church!

    • Choice is about the most empowering thing you can do. I don’t a problem with not forgiving, anyone. Including God. Personally, I want to find God should I be allowed where he/she is, grab him/her by the throat and say, “WTF were you thinking when this happened?!”

  58. I was raised in the Deep South. Church was not optional. My step father was a deacon in the church. I watched as he stopped to speak to everyone in our path. He would smile and shake everyone’s hand. People are always coming up to me and telling me how great my step dad is. I never understood, how none of them could see the monster behind the mask. He is not a great person. He is a violent sexual predator, who made my childhood a living hell. I was taught to keep horrible secrets. I was taught to step out our front door with a smile on my face. I was taught that anyone can pretend to be a Christian.

    My mother chose to stay with a pedophile, than to risk being alone. The one person, who was supposed to make me feel safe, made me feel isolated and alone. Years later, my younger sister and I put our lives on hold, as we cared for our mother. We stood by her as she fought, and eventually lost her battle with breast cancer, at the age of 46. In her final days, we prayed together. She asked that I forgive her failings. Of course, I forgave her. After all she was my mother.

    Three years later, I stood in shock, as I was informed of my baby sister’s death. She bled out internally, in a hospital room, surrounded by doctors and nurses. She had undergone a partial hysterectomy a few hours before. She was only 28 years old. Her daughter was three, and her son was born only a month earlier.

    Losing my sister was a turning point for me. She was my best friend. She was a terrific mother. I was heartbroken. I was angry beyond belief. I had spent my whole life praying to God for strength and guidance. I had prayed for the horrors to stop. Yet, I would have gladly gone through all of it again, for just one more minute with my sister.

    I was told it was God’s will. I was told that my sister was in a better place. God’s will??? Seriously??? It was His will that the anesthesiologist and nurse, chose that day to not do their job??? She’s in a better place??? No, I’m sorry, I’m not buying it… I’m pretty, sure she would much rather be able to be a mother to her babies!

    It has been six years since my sister died. I am still overwhelmed with pain and anger, whenever I think of her senseless death. Church is not a place of comfort for me. Church only reminds me of hypocrisy. Church only reminds me of loss. Church is a place of resentment and fury for me. I am not sure what I believe anymore. I’m not saying there isn’t a God. I’m just not feeling like singing his praises, anymore.

    • I cried over your testimony. How tragic! How sad! This is the church at it’s worst, but it’s not Jesus’ fault nor His doing. I really hope you find faith in Him and His love and the comfort that you so much need.

  59. My experience over the past 50+ years with organized religion has convinced me it is broken; I’ve been judged, pressured, told how to vote, told how to act, told how I should judge others, told what to buy, been excluded for not fitting in, etc.

    As a result, I consider the great outdoors my church now and I spend as much time there as I can.

    • Yes, and there are even some who will exclude because you fit in. I think the problem is people and aspects of our human culture that Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are blind to. Let me give you and example. I had a subscription to Time Magazine when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. Nearly everyone (including me) was overjoyed that this event had occurred. But one writer was more cautious—and he was no communist. Here is my paraphrased jist of what he said:

      “Now that the Soviet Union has fallen, we may be in even more trouble than we were before. While no one liked the Soviet Union, its presence in the world was a warning to evil business men and governments that they might fall and become communist if they did not treat the people in their countries well. Now that the Soviet Union is gone, there is no countervailing threat to hold these evil men in corporations and government in check. I see a world where ordinary Americans will no longer be beloved employees and customers. Business and government will cease serving people become predatory in nature. People who had been employees and customers will become sheep to be devoured by the wolves.”

      This is precisely what has happened here in the United states over the past 24 years. Comcast—widely known as the most hated company in America—is a good example. It is bad out there and it is getting much worse. I think one of the problems is that the evil hearts that run these corporations are required to check their Christian faith and any love they might have in their hearts from Sunday morning at the front door of their workplace on Monday morning. And even worse, the 60 hours of work per week as a predator—learning and applying a heartless and predatory philosophy—goes back into our churches from these same places on Sunday mornings and COLORS the attitudes and atmospheres in our churches. It is a vicious cycle that is destroying our churches. Worst of all, the U.S. Supreme court has now ruled that corporations are people, which makes the whole thing much harder to fight.

  60. Perhaps the once-churched were no better at being kind and welcoming than the people they criticize.It is my job to try to be like Jesus among other beleivers, rather than to get angry and leave.. I find love,kindness, support, and encouragement in my chruch..Thank you, Jesus..

    • Lucky you, Mary! But do you understand that many don’t have what you do? Sounds to me like you enjoy being comfortable in your little zone but don’t pay any regard to others outside that zone, so long as your life is nice and cosy. Bless you! I’m OK, Jack, so not interested in your problems. Too bad!

    • It’s “your job?” To try to be like Jesus among other believers? How cozy. It seems to me – wait, according to the scriptures – Jesus spent most of his time with the sinners and outcasts of his day. Yes, there is love, kindness, support, and encouragement in The Church, but not always in the church. Mary, you’re entirely missing the point. Your words feel neither kind nor welcoming, so thank you, Jesus, that this lady’s church is not one I’ve stepped foot in if others there share her attitude.

  61. And sometimes you just have to be in the wilderness, like Moses did before he came back and faced pharaoh. Church doesn’t make or keep our Christianity, The Holy Spirit and your relationship with the Father and his son Jesus Christ does.

  62. Well, such drama. Have faith. And watch. All around prophecy is being fulfilled as the four hidden dynasties converge to cause the end times tribulation. As Jesus warned many times to not allow any man to decieve you, pastors are telling their flocks that they will ‘fly away’ and thus avoid the tribulation and the appearance of the anti-christ (instead of christ). They are setting up their flocks to accept the anti-christ with the ‘any time’ doctrine. I can fully understand leaving the building. But this was predicted. It should be expected. Those of you who have eyes to see and ears to hear maybe need to do for the ‘churched’ what the pastors are not…… explain the word of GOD. For those who understandably have doubts, when you see the two witnesses standing in the great city preaching the word and yet another appears claiming to be Jesus and is performing miracles, then know that the word is true. And please remember that as long as you are in a flesh body, the “christ” you see is not the true Christ.

  63. Thank you, Jon. I will be reading and re-reading this for some time. You must need a certain balance to speak for people to people. A prophet’s balance… speaking words that stir as is reflected in these responses.

  64. I empathize with much of the hurt posted here. In my situation, problems in my church caused a painful split and I had to leave. Now my job schedule does not allow me to attend any church except on very rare occasions. I miss it very much. But why do I miss it? Not just because I don’t get to see my fellow Christian friends. It’s because I miss being able to worship as a corporate body. If you are going to church because it’s a habit or a social event, you’re going for the wrong reasons. We are there to WORSHIP GOD.

  65. This is a debate that will go on for some time still – maybe until most of the Churches have closed. I am sure we don’t really know why ‘Church’ does not work anymore. The era of the ‘Fish’ is slowly coming to an end and perhaps – as some would say – it is in our stars! ‘Ages’ or eras seems to last around 2,000 years each. Before the ‘Christian’ era of the ‘Fish’ or Pisces was the ‘Roman’ era of the ‘Ram’ or Taurus, which began around 4300 BC and ended in approximately 2150 BC. One astrologer suggests that the era of ‘Pisces’ or the ‘Fish’ began around 100/90 BC and will end around 2680 AD, whilst another suggests it will end sooner: in 2150! Another astrologer suggests that we will soon be entering the New Age – the ‘Age of Aquarius’ or ‘Water’ and it will begin around 2062 AD and some others sense that it has already begun. Perhaps for some, it is a conscious choice to leave or stay in the Church. Perhaps for others, it is a way of life that no longer works for them. Both ways, we need to live with respect for one another as human beings. We certainly need to think about it. In earlier eras, the priest was in charge of ‘The Gospel’ – most of the ordinary people did not read and write and they depended on the priest to tell them the stories of the Bible. Even when I was a child (in the 1950s) my Roman Catholic friend didn’t understand their liturgy because worship was still conducted and experienced in Latin. In the Protestant tradition we have been more fortunate but the Information Explosion of recent years, people can find out anything they want on the Internet. Love, fellowship and having all things in common unfortunately do not come from the ‘World Wide Web’ but from human community. People have often misunderstood Christ’s mission but I believe his life-giving message will indeed live into eternity. Like Paul, I too agree that Love is the greatest!

  66. Reblogged this on closetohomewithteresalee and commented:
    It was never in my plan to belong to the group of the Once- Churched people. In a way that building is till ‘my’ church, and I love the friends I have who still attend. Reading this shed a bit of insight to me on why I no longer feel as though I belong there. Thank you for this blog.

  67. you are painting the Churched people with the same broad brush that you complain the Churched do to the Un-Churched. I hear a lot of excuses for staying away, justifying themselves, bashing each other is not the answer. Church is to worship the Holy King for His sacrifice without which we are all doomed. How selfish and self centered to make this about us.

    • “How selfish to make this about us”? Are you expecting God to sort it out? The “church” is us. We need to be doing what God has called us to do in the church if we are obedient. We can’t be worshipping Him while we messing up His church and whipping others. We need to worship God by reaching out to all those who are hurting, or lacking understanding.

  68. It just wasn’t gonna happen when I saw other members doing gangstalking behavior in services. I would come, tithe on a 6 dollar an hour “pay”, and would not even get the church bulletin! I went around to other churches in town and saw the same old bullies in different bodies. I even tried Catholic Mass. It has ended up me having church at home alone hearing a preacher over an mp3. I was even ostracized attending Internet church services.

  69. It is a shame that the people who most need to hear this message are the same ones who are too busy spouting Bible verses — without even the slightest hint of love or human understanding — to actually take the time to read it and take it to heart.

  70. Thank you so much for this! It’s lovely to see someone reach across the aisle, and even extend that hand outside the stain glass door to the rest of us! I just wanted to say that the reasons you listed for people leaving the church (catastrophic life event, damaged by those within the Church, betrayed trust, etc.) are not the typical atheist experience (and definitely not my own after 30+ years in church, or any of my friends). But the reason you listed last (realizing you don’t believe) is actually first, and most common, at least for Christian de-converts. I just wanted to help you understand better why people like me leave so we can understand each other and show even more grace! I highly recommend a book by a Christian author, Randal Rauser, called, “Is the Atheist my Neighbor?” if you haven’t heard of it, it’s pretty great. Cheers!

  71. Reblogged this on Out of the Boat and commented:
    This captures so much of how I’ve felt in my own journey out of the Church. Thanks to John for writing it and for a friend of mine for sending me the link.

  72. Oh man, I was there. I was that once a church person, then not a church person…before the Holy Spirit moved in my life and set me on a new path. There were few times I set foot in a church door during those years, and I remember being overwhelmed by the pain of believing that God didn’t love me. (Stuff happened in my life and rather than running to God, I thought He had abandoned me.) During that time, I couldn’t sing those songs…You couldn’t really tell, but I could barely speak to anyone because I would be doing everything I could to hold back my tears…so I just stopped going to church. On days I did consider attending somewhere, I thought, “I’m divorced. I’m a single mother. Where will I fit?” I immediately felt I would be rejected or judged. Now realistically if you put me in front of 100 or so people, someone is going to judge or reject me…church people or not. So who were these people actually judging and rejecting me? No one. It was Satan…in my head…lying to me…playing off of my wounds. We’re going to have our “human” encounters within the church building, but the truth is that I was SO immensely wounded and SO desperate for God that I hoped to step foot in a church building and find Him…but all I found were people. And Satan is a liar. He was the one telling me that I don’t belong with those people. Some of those people really did act in a way that is unkind or unloving…and that’s all the confirmation that a wounded person needs to believe every lie Satan has told them about their life and were they fit is true. I think the biggest confusion is this, we don’t find God in a church building. We find God on our faces crying out to Him. We find God in the pages of His word. Those people in that building, Christ taught us to fellowship with them for support and encouragement and to point each other to Him. But those people in that church building are all broken. And even in their brokenness…they are the bride of Christ. This is one of the biggest lessons I had to learn before I could move into fellowship and friendship with those church people… It’s not fair to walk into a room full of broken people and expect them to fix your need for God. They can’t. It’s when we’ve fallen on our faces and cried out for God…day and night…and He meets us there…. It’s when we pick up the word of God and eat it everyday… That’s where God fills in that empty place. When we’re getting our God needs from God himself, that’s where our wounds are healed. That’s where we find how much God truly loves us, each of us. That’s where we understand that Satan is a liar. That’s when we walk into a church building to serve and encourage the broken people there, rather than expecting them to heal us. I don’t go to church to be accepted. I’m already accepted. I go to church to worship God, sharpen iron and love on broken people. Do many of our churches fall short of being what Christ commanded us to be. Yes. Maybe our churches are full of a lot of people playing the part…but they’ve never actually surrendered their life to Jesus. How will they ever know the truth if we just abandon them to their social club? Let’s get on our faces and in the Word…and find God. Let’s march in those church doors and show them who He is. We can’t waste our time being offended. WE are the church.

  73. I think the authors intent here is good by trying to evoke sympathy rather than contempt for those no longer churched, but this makes people outside of the church out to be damaged in some way ,to have lost perspective and faith or to have had some catatrophic event that has reduced them and their spirituality to rubble. This characterization doesn’t fit with me and a lot of others. I have always felt uncomfortable being within a group of people who try to persuade me to accept their doctrine and,in turn, expect no queries or challenges from me as to whether or not this doctrine is evidence based or, more importantly, the ideas expressed within pose no threat of harm to other people. My morality is sound without the use of the guidelines set forth by any religious doctrine. My mantra is to do more good than I do harm and to show respect for my fellow human being. I am confident in saying that there are a lot of good moral people in this world who find themselves outside the confines of organized religion and who choose not to adhere to a particular doctrine. I am happy.My foundation and my and belief system is solid as a rock. I have no fear of being reduced to rubble because I fall outside of Church. I don’t fear people who have perspectives that differ from mine and do not view them as a threat or someone to pity. Please extend me the same courtesy and don’t pity me because I choose not to be a part organized religion. I am not fleeing from it. I do not pity those who choose to remain within it. I think it is reasonable to expect my fellow humans to try not to be a judge and jury to those who’s beliefs and spiritual practices, or lack thereof, are different from theirs. Personally, if I look at a group of indoctrinated people and see that they are doing good within the community and aren’t doing others harm or ostracising them for their beliefs, I am more inclined to give them my ear and try to understand them. I certainly won’t look upon them and see them as being condemned to a life of suffering on earth or in the eternal and I hope they wouldn’t believe condemnation and suffering to be what’s in store for me.

  74. Such a scolding, John, such strong finger-pointing and lecturing. I don’t feel encouraged or enlightened by what you must have felt was some kind of evangelistic or prophetic word. There is nothing new in your message that “church” people are not aware of. “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people….” The church is not confined. Those who are “outside” of it are not. But how one addresses this concern makes such a difference. I felt no spirit of hospitality from you, only one of condemnation. And that doesn’t make for much, if any, dialogue.

    • If the shoe fits, as the saying goes. I think it’s meant more as an exhortation to do something to stop the exodus and bring the church back to what it’s meant to be doing, in love!

  75. There’s a lot of hurt and pain in many of these posts. What I’m about to share is my journey through my own hurt and pain. I do not judge those in the midst of storms or struggling with issues of dealing with fellow Christians or struggling with dealing with whatever issue is happening or has happened. I know we all have struggles and no one of us is perfect. As a staff member pastor, I was struggling to transition from part time to full time and could never seem to make it. After several years of working bi-vocationally, I became disillusioned and started to withdraw from the church. Eventually, this lead to my falling back into some of my old sins. During this time, God was reaching out to me but I was ignoring His urgings and leanings on my heart. At one point, there was a tragic family event that my wife, kids and I took the morally right stand on, which lead to my extended family and some of my old church friends ostracizing us. During this time my mind went further and further from God. Eventually, I began to listen to the Holy Spirit’s urgings and realized I was heading down a very wrong path. Jesus said, the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I realized I had been listening to the wrong voice for several years. As I began to get back into God’s Word, I realized that I was the one bitter at my Savior. He had already expressed His love for me. My sins nailed Jesus on the cross. It’s my fault He had to die on the cross for me. He expressed His love for me by taking on my sins and the punishment for my sins. That settled it for me. My anger and bitterness were misdirected. I realized I had let Satan interpret my circumstances, which always leaves God the one to blame. The Bible states, though my mother and father have rejected me, the Lord He takes me in. I surrendered myself to spending time with God in prayer and Bible study and growing my relationship with Jesus. At one point, I read the verse, “a new command I give yo, love one another as I have loved you”. This changed my whole view of how I was to deal with others. Not loving as I wanted to be loved, but rather to love as Jesus loved me. He loved me, when I hated Him. My sins nailed Him to the cross. Yet He still loved me. I’m in no way perfect. Nor are the others sitting in the pew seats next to me. We Christians hurt those closest to us not because we are hypocrites, but because we still have a sin nature and when we spend a lot of time with those we care about. Our sin nature is bound to occasionally raise its ugly head and bite someone close to us. I know this does not address every circumstance, but I do know that Jesus loved me long before my circumstances ever existed. My hopeful encouragement is don’t let Satan interpret your circumstances. God always loses in that situation. Rather read in God’s Word that He loves you and wants a growing personal relationship. The church attendance stuff will work itself out in due time. Again, I don’t intend to be judging, or insensitive especially to those whose wounds are fresh. Just please don’t waste time away from a relationship with Jesus. That’s my biggest regret during my struggle. Blessings to you.

  76. I think what “once-churched” people should be aware of is that in leaving the mission of the church gets weaker. It’s great that so many are “finding themselves” and their own spiritual connections without the need for a formal church connection, but what is happening outside those warm fuzzy moments is that food pantries are closing their doors, benevolence & mission is being handed over to the government and private sector, and in the worse case scenarios, churches are closing their doors leaving a slew empty buildings which serve as sort of “religious brown fields” in our inner cities.

    Proverbs says that without vision, the people perish (or people are unrestrained). Lacking a vision to see what we can accomplish missionally & together as the Church and maintaining only an introspective vision regarding “what the Church does or doesn’t do for me” has compounding and generational negative results on culture. It’s American narcissism ultimately that has crept into (and then out of) the Sunday pews.

    • So my leaving makes the mission of the church weaker? So you’re assuming that when people leave the church, they don’t participate in ministry outside the walls of the church. That’s not necessarily true. Some of us DO volunteer in a variety of ways in order to serve others. There are a LOT of ministry efforts that take place that aren’t tied to a church, believe it or not.

      My exit was not prompted by “what the church didn’t do for me.” So you shouldn’t be painting us with a broad narcissistic brush. Although, I DO agree with you that we, as Americans and as pew sitters are far too often caught up in a type of narcissism that all too often only wants to know “what’s in it for me.” That happens in church as much if not more than it happens in most business establishments, which is pretty sad. I got really tired of seeing the church “marketing” itself as if it was the next greatest product on the shelf and spending more time on polishing the product than getting down to the business of service and worship. And that extends down to everyone putting on their pious masks instead of being real. I don’t have time for that.

    • If my understanding of John’s blog here is correct, I don’t think he is saying that leaving the church is either good or bad as such, but rather that those in the church need to be looking out for those that have left the church rather than ignoring them. So perhaps one should then be seeking ways to bridge gaps and rebuild the church. Perhaps the main way would be to love them with the love of Christ.

  77. This was a great blog post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Its good to be reminded on how people’s faith change for good or bad. Please, feel free to check out my blog to let me know what you think. I am just getting started and would like some feedback!

  78. “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
    Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT

    • Please do not simply quote Scripture without any commentary or personal viewpoint. We’re trying to have conversation here.

      So the only acceptable “meeting together” is in a traditional church campus? Where does this Scripture say that?

    • This scripture sums it up. We need to encourage each other and not neglect meeting with other followers of Jesus. Every church meets in four walls somewhere. It can be a building, a house or coffee shop and if the weather is nice on occasion somewhere outside – people are the church but a church is not one person alone – the Bible tells us to gather – at least two or three people (Jesus said: Matthew 18:20 (NLT) For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”). ALL churches are imperfect and they are filled with imperfect people. I just worry about the disenfranchised leaving and go off alone. That should not be affirmed. However, too many people make church about themselves and their needs – consumerism. We NEED people. We do not grow in our faith in isolation sitting alone all the time. I feel this scripture sums it up clearly. There are some dysfunctional churches full of dysfunctional people – but there are many, many, many GREAT churches – find one and invest your life there.

  79. I am one of those and so appreciated seeing an explanation in print.
    I still believe in God. I was raised in my faith and left when the politics and hurtful ways of others in the church made me leave on Sun. feeling worse than when I came.
    I miss the hymns and way it “used to be”.
    Thank you for writing this article.

  80. I sympathize with those who used to be church people. Churches die often because they are not following the will of God. Churches move towards the left along with the world and make themselves weak. The bible commands that we not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. I challenge you if you no longer go to church to reflect on your relationship with God. How much time do you spend praying? How often do you read your bible? What is your foundation of faith? Did you build your faith on Jesus or did you go to church because you liked the preacher? Did you go there because your parents made you? Perhaps you went because a friend was there. People get hurt by church people yes, but why would you not still want to be around like minded believers. If you are sick do you not seek out a doctor? Or car troubles a mechanic? Jesus is the great physician able to seek and to save you from any ailment either spiritual or physical. If someone hurts you don’t fall out of church pray for them because they may not be saved. And remember, Romans 3:23 KJV
    [23] For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; don’t hold it against someone that may cause you pain. They are not being obedient to God but rather are yeilding to the flesh.

  81. I go to church for a reason. I want God to change my vile mindset into his right mindset. I want my faith to be encouraged. I want my joy to be constantly renewed. Therefore I will wave and smile from afar, but I will not fellowship people who have left, and are possibly disgruntled or have complaining spirits and are no longer supportive of the place where I get help. I don’t want the influence of their negativity on me. That doesn’t make me “judgmental” of them or their condition. I have to work out my own soul’s salvation and they have to work out theirs. I’ll pray for them, hope for the best for them, and never say an unkind word to them, but if they are negative, I won’t be having much to do with them.

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  83. In our final church experience, 13 years ago, we helped (both with physical labor and economic assistance) a hip young Episcopal priest establish a new “church plant” near Nashville. After he had collected a few thousand dollars from us — which was VERY difficult for us to come up with — he suddenly decided to be one of those churches that split off from the main denomination, because of the installment of Gene Robinson (A homersekshul, gasp!) as bishop.

    This character knew all along that we were a gay couple. But suddenly, his sermons became all about the evil of same-sex relationships and people. Long story short, he left both the Episcopal and American Anglican denominations, and tried to become a Catholic priest. They, for whatever reason, wouldn’t have him either.

    I communicated with him one time, several years ago. Told him he would be perfect for the Southern Baptists. I never heard back.

    John, thank you for your thoughtful writings. Personally,I’m done with Christianity, but I’ll never be finished with good, kind Christian people.

  84. There are other things to know, too. Some of us left because we realize that it just is not true. (I won’t even go into false teachings, historic and present evidence against things being taught in many churches, etc.) We are seeing that all of us are part of the great spirit that permeates through all of us – that we are all spiritual beings having an earthly experience. It’s not because we had a bad experience in church, or a rough life, or any of the other things this article said that makes people leave usually. There are hundreds of thousands of us that are realizing that there isn’t some man sitting up in some heaven acting as a god over us, judging us – and teaching us to judge each other. We are raising our spiritual vibrations, knowing that love, forgiveness, and gratitude are the greatest things we can do for raising our spiritual vibrations and evolving spiritually. And we are not judging you for still believing the old traditions that some kings had written into ‘scriptures’ to control a people. If that is what you still need to help you, ‘serve you’, then we are happy you have that for now – as we once did. We are not judging you for only being as far along the trail as you are …. we are offering pure love and are ready to help you and serve you along your paths of spiritual enlightenment and growth. What we don’t like is being ‘judged’ or being looked at as if we are somehow missing the truth and too weak to go back to church. We are not judging you because you don’t understand yet, and still need a crutch of an organized religion that teaches you a man or men are in charge of your lives. We offer full love, and send that love and gratitude out into this Spirit that is in us, through us, part of us. Because what we believe is what we create. We hope you don’t create a world of “us against them” or “there are so many wicked people in the world right now because it’s the last days”, etc. We are creating that we are ALL loving and good, and that includes everyone. It appears to me that this article is saying “We church-goers are the perfect ones, those that have left are misguided and will come back some day”. Instead, I hope church-goers will say “we are all together, and at different spiritual places, yet we are all one”. BTW: there are so many people that are ‘awakened’ or ‘enlightened’ to the reality that we are all spirit together, creating and evolving, that we have our own communities – we don’t need the church-going community. Yet we send out great love for everyone, because we all – everyone – are one spirit together.

  85. I have been a church person, a once churched person and everything in between…multiple times. Right now, I am a church person. I go and sometimes I feel comfort from the people around me and most times I don’t. Most times I still feel like the once churched people you described. It often makes me want to leave again and then I remember it’s not about them.
    Here’s what I’ve learned in my 40 years of trying to figure it out:
    It’s not about church people or once churched people. In fact my reason for not going, or choosing to go, should have nothing to do with PEOPLE at all.
    Right now I go to have a connection with something bigger than myself. I go for God. I go for the “me” I become… when I go for God and not because it looks good, feels good or I feel I should. I go to have a connection with God.

    And contrary to what anyone might think, I make zero judgments about the reasons anybody else does or does not go. I don’t love them less or love them more. I don’t think one group is better and one group doesn’t get it.
    And by the way, you shouldn’t give a damn if I do. After all, its not about me either.

    People will always eventually let you down. (We are human)
    Unwavering belief (in what ever you choose) will not.
    Don’t let people be your excuse for anything.

  86. The people in church are human, and they’ll disappoint you every time. You have to have a witness that God is real, then you attend church for that reason – to be spiritually fed, and then it’s easy not to let their imperfections affect you. The bulk of spiritual teaching/learning is supposed to happen in the home, not the church. The church is supplimental, and in my opinion, a chance to learn to love/serve others.

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  88. Its not our place to make a judgement as to whether anyone is a christian or if they go to church or not. That isn’t scriptural. The church is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. People are not going to hell if they don’t go to church. I love church but if you don’t want to come I understand.

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  90. I am currently a churched person and am thinking about being unchurched. I grew up thinking that church is a place where people love and support each other in God’s grace, even if we don’t have all the same exact beliefs. As an adult, I have been to many different churches and have found that they are some of the most dysfunctional places I have ever been. The gossiping, tearing each other down, undermining each other is insane. People would be fired if they behaved this way at a job, so why should I want to worship among this?

    I am so tired of hearing people judge others. I am tired of feeling like I am such an outlier with my beliefs that I feel like an alien. I am distraught by the loss of what I thought the church represented. I understand that the church is made up of imperfect people, but I’m tired of the holier than thou people backbiting and hitting people over the head with bibles. What happened to Jesus’ admonishment to love God and love each other? It seems pretty simple, except for all of the exceptions that get added in. I will probably try out a Unitarian church, and if I find the same thing there, I will probably quit.

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  92. I’m someone who has been to the established church all my life and leaving is extremely foreign to me. I still love God in three with my whole heart, but I no longer feel like the church is doing what it what created for. Jesus spent His time with prostitutes and tax collectors. The disciples were not a part of the established church either and house groups was how they met. Politics and ego have very much taken over. So has manipulating broken people from the platform to do what you want them to do. The more whole I have become the less satisfied I have become. I meet more and more people in my day to day life that feel this way and I sense God may be doing something new, but change is always opposed by the established church. It has been the same throughout history. I have been someone that used to encourage others to stay connected and not give up, but at the moment I know I am in the right place. I am still connected to lots of good Christians and meet with them regularly. Like it’s been previously said the building is not the church it is the people. So don’t worry if anyone judges you for your decisions they haven’t worked your journey and therefore have no right to.

  93. It’s times like these when I like to remind people that no matter how advanced we like to think we are, we are still spiritual beings having a mammalian experience (and all that entails). http://www.slideshare.net/LorettaBreuning/nature-of-hierarchy-41525591?qid=7c22aaeb-60ce-4143-8615-e7a3e0fcac20&v=default&b&from_search=1 . Christ Himself walked the earth alone, didn’t have a place to call home, and was persecuted and crucified by his own religious leaders. If we are to pattern our lives after His, how can we expect to be treated at times any differently living amongst other fellow imperfect beings?

  94. What all human beings need to know about each other: “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.” I left, not because Christianity is wrong for all; I walked away because I, personally, was no longer convinced it held answers for me. Refuge, for this soul, was no longer being found through continuing to practice in the Christian faith of my family. I found my way to Buddhism and have been a practicing, active member of a vibrant Buddhist community in Raleigh for 8 years. We are compassionate in word, prayer, and deed, within our community and through deliberate, interfaith outreach to our fellow citizens in the Triangle. If one cares to see it, the kindness and compassion taught by Christ and Buddha both, are more similar than different.

  95. I remember someone saying once about people leaving the church: ” How sad that they don’t want to know Jesus anymore” I remember thinking to myself, “How sad that she doesn’t understand that’s exactly why “some” people leave the church, to know Jesus more” I love Jesus w/all my heart, But don’t feel most “churches” I’ve been in know the difference between “what is law” and “what is grace” it’s like a big stew for the taking, and that grieves me to no end. I would go home and, grieve and get mad, and go speak to people, but no one wants to talk to someone who challenges their learning or understanding. Faith does not = works. I know it’s in James, but no one knows or teaches who James is… or who he was speaking to… (1st sentence btw) so the idea of Faith, which is a gift, not something you can muster… becomes a requirement… a building block of growth. The many churches I’ve attended will teach Jewish is Christian is Jewish = faith = works = competition = comparing yourselves = climbing ladders = exactly what Jesus made upside down, but you’d never know that in most churches. And, it makes me sick, and I got tired of going home and throwing up. The only Faith that is real is the Faith I live by the Son of God, Jesus, not the Faith I live by my works. Works is a nice consequence, but it is not understood in churches as a desire of God, they teach it as a requirement, and to me that is anti-God- and twisted. All glory to Jesus, none to “my” works. Remember, we were first called Christians in Antioch, not Jerusalem.

  96. And I loved the singing, I loved hearing people’s testimonies, I couldn’t stomach most of the teaching and the idea of requirements around “faith”. as I stated above. And I am not sad or lonely, I have my “tribe” just like they do in the building, in fact some in the “building” are still in my tribe. : )

  97. As a “once-churched” person myself – this article hits the mark. I wish more people would take the time to empathize and understand why so many are leaving and/or loosing their faith. I see far too many articles written on this subject from people still firmly entrenched in their beliefs who are only looking to cast judgement and point fingers – and who really have no clue what they are talking about.

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  99. I love reading your articles because you do really get it, John. I am a “once-churched” and my problem is not with, nor has it ever been, with God. My problem is with other Christians. The ones that don’t practice what they preach. Entering a building once a week for an hour or so and waving your hands during worship so everyone can be sure to see how “godly” you are does not a Christian make.

  100. Thanks for sharing this! Very helpful to begin to gain a better understanding. But just to let you know that at least in my case I am not connected to so many people there, I am not always confident in the creeds or comforted by the songs. My presence there doesn’t always make me better or feel lighter or believe more deeply. In fact at times it also leaves me feeling depleted and tired and sad. And yes, I have also had some catastrophic life events, disappointments and sadnesses that have seriously rocked my faith.

    So maybe we have more in common than it feels like at times after all.

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  102. There are many notable Catholics–e.g. Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Karl Rahner, Catherine of Sienna, Teilhard de Chardin–who were given plenty of reasons to “leave,” but they chose to remain because they believed in their own fallibility and in the church’s (the people’s) divine character in spite of its sinfulness.

  103. I would also say that there is only one fair way to evaluate a church (or any other human institution) and that is by evaluating its ultimate principles, goals, and ideals, not by how successfully the people in that church live up to those principles, goals, and ideals; because no person or persons ever do so except imperfectly. To reject the church because its people are hypocritical and sinful is unrealistic and implies that the one rejecting believes him/herself to be superior to all those hypocritical, sinful people who continue to participate in the life of the church. (Of course, I could be wrong. . .)

    • Easy enough. The church (and I worked for several years for the church, plus time in seminary/PhD in theology) is where I’ve encountered the most duplicitous, unethical behavior in the name of God. If the God of the church is really God, the God of the church is not deserving of my loyalty.

      The church does not uphold its own principles. I know it will never be “perfect”. I’d just like it to be as good as it says it is. Most secular companies manage it, you’d think divine institutions could get it right.

      • Yes. Exactly. I think it was Wayne Jacobsen who said, “If you wouldn’t have a friend like that, why would you have a God like that. ” I’ll add if you wouldn’t have friends like that, why would you attend a church with people like that. I saw sex abuse cover ups, a pastor with a porn addiction, mysogyny, greed, control, etc. Why on earth would I as a fairly sane human being, want to subject myself to that type of institution?

        • I had a physician friend argue with me about leaving the church. I asked him, if you had a patient whose spouse was alternately neglectful, abusive, dishonest, and unfaithful, would you insist on the person in question remaining in the relationship? He said no, of course not. So I asked why he is so invested in my misery to insist I remain in a church which has been neglectful, abusive, dishonest, and unfaithful? The response–nosepickingly stupid silence.

          But Mr. Pavlovitz has no real authority to write on the subject of people who have left the church. He has the right, of course–people can write on whatever they like. But having not left the church himself, he has no real knowledge of what those of us who *have* left want or need.

    • If you’re going to be part of a church, it doesn’t need to be perfect, but it should be relatively healthy. From my 20 years of experience many if not most, are a hot mess, especially when you look behind the curtain.

  104. I read that article. I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ and committed to a local church. My Christian agency makes that a requirement. But these first two paragraph DO NOT describe me. I think made show up Sunday morning. But that’s all they do. I believe people leave a particular church because so much does not reflect the teaching of the Bible, even they quote the Bible. I grew up in Europe where you were born/grew up either Catholic or Protestant, without any Christian life. These first two paragraphs describe exactly that kind of people. Conversation and a daily walk with Christ outside the church walls is not mention. So these people who eventually leave the “Church” were NEVER part f the body of Christ.

      • Exactly. If you’ve ever read James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith”, you realize there are six stages, and conventional church participation is stage 3. Halfway there. Leaving church is probably more often than not a sign of deepening spirituality rather than the backsliding and apostasy which most conventional churchgoers believe it is.

        I’ve had it with the judgmentalism of the church.

  105. Like a lot of people, I was part of an all-consuming “our place is the only right place for Christians” group from birth (Plymouth Brethren), and was then excommunicated from it for questioning it. Like so many, I am barred for life from all of the social activities of my birth culture. And other groups make no sense to me at all.
    I have written a book about it. The audio book version of it can listened to without cost here:

  106. I attend church for several reasons…1st: The KJV bible New Testament discusses the church and commands us Christians (those that can and are not sick/disabled/or confined) to come together on the FIRST day of the week to worship, sing praises, and take communion. 2nd: The KJV bible also tells us in the NT to change from OUR sinful ways….those sins are listed and so are His commandments. I am a sinner and I am surrounded in church by others like me needing support and encouragement…. to help fight the many demons tempting me/us every day. 3rd: I also know…what the KJV bible says about false prophets and satan being the great deceiver/liar! Satan wants to see the churches torn down…he wants sin to rule….and we are being deceived by those not wanting to be criticized…BUT….quick to criticize those that DON’T agree with them. That is ok with me….YOU don’t have to believe in God, satan, sin, or anything else you don’t want to believe in…..BUT don’t expect me to believe in the things you believe in! I was born to hippie atheist parents free to do what I want and learn from the errors of my ways without disapline. I’ve been blessed to travel a lot and meet ppl from all over. I have studied many different religions and beliefs. The one that makes the most sense is the KJV when studied with a Greek Commentary. Many Christianphobic ppl don’t want to believe and do their OWN preaching against the church while using bigotry mocking insults! Some believe Christianity and other religions are myths and fables! Look around….everything we see (and don’t see is amazing)!!!….Over a billion people, on a evolving rotating ball, spinning in this thing we call space. we don’t fall off because this ball has this thing called gravity, and we’re the right distance from other planets for existence….and ALL of this came about because of a so-called MAGICAL EXPLOSION…yeah, right! Monkeys turn into ppl, changing some but not all, and no one ever witnessed it happen…even scientists disagree on the subject because there is NO proof! I repeat…I believe in the KJV bible….and all it has to say. It hasn’t been changed the way satan’s prophets preach…..abt 95% of all prophesies foretold have come true and the other 5% are in the works. The KJV bible is full of historic facts taking place 100’s of years before man could prove what was already written….and the reason many atheist scientist have changed and committed their lives to Christ. Sharing HIS message is NOT judging… for that is one of the most twisted bible verses by those that don’t know…or don’t want to know the bible. I am not perfect…and I will fall…and the love my Christian brothers and sisters share with me will be there to pick me up.
    One bible verse that comes to mind…..2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
    4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

    I can LOVE you…everyone of you…..without agreeing with you!

    • Well, ain’t all that special for you, snowflake.

      We don’t care if you “love” us, if that love mocks our journey (as your “love” does), dismisses our sometimes very painful experiences, and attempts to bully us into returning to an institution (and don’t give me crap about the church not being an institution) which has harmed us. If that’s what you’d call love, please serve me up a healthy hot steaming mug of your hatred. It’s probably better for me.

      Some of us can hold science in tension with the Bible. You can’t. Sorry for you if you need to deny the hard work of understanding more fully what God has made. God gave us brains. Some of us use them. Some of us realize the Bible is more poetry than science (certainly, its writers did).

      Some of us have grown up spiritually, and don’t need the third-grade spirituality of church. Most church leaders are not beyond conventional faith (Fowler’s stage 3), and can’t fathom the thought of their congregants going beyond where they themselves are stuck. So they are incredibly incompetent even as elementary school teachers, because they don’t want you to move on. (See here: https://pastchristian.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/third-grade-church/) Or perhaps evil: A teacher who wants to keep you in his/her classroom forever is not doing their job, either through willful misdeed or through just being piss-poor at it. Clergy do this all the time–once in, never out. Clergy are people who are incompetent or unwilling to teach third grade and move people on to fourth grade, so the only thing they can do is work for the church, where the goal is to keep people immature and dependent.

      They’ve done a great job with you. Less well with me.

      Some of us tried to give our best to the church, and had it thrown back in our faces like so much rubbish. You’d leave a job, a partner, a friend who treated you badly. Some of us have decided Christian “love” is a smarmy, dishonest, abusive thing, and we’d rather endure honest hatred than false love.

      I can’t convince you to move beyond the brainwashing. But don’t bother to “love” me, if your little oh-so-Christian rant is what you believe “love” is all about.

      Grow up, as they say, into the “full stature of Christ.” Mostly, the church doesn’t help you do that.

      • Hmmm….Snowflake! I’ll take that as a compliment (since I find snowflakes unique and beautiful)… instead of being one of those Christianphobic bigotry rants and critical insult. I find it sad when one like yourself ‘preaches’ hatred for the church based on their limited experence and believes all church relationships are the same! I was not raised in a Christian home and through my many travels with my parents was smart enough to know there was something more out there… than some so called ‘magical explosion’ supposedly creating life and beauty… instead of destruction. ALL churches are NOT the same! Some are controlled by selfish individuals seeking self gain, others by satans false prophets working to destroy the church and put a end to one of the Fathers commandments! Like I said in my earlier post…YOU DON’T have to agree with me…..and I don’t have to agree with you! You DON’T have to LOVE me…. or care about my love for others! I have found a AWESOME church family that I enjoy and need! I yearn for the worship and praise with others believing like myself. There is no way we are going to all agree….and have to learn to agree to disagree!

        • “Christianophobic” is a complete and utter bullshit. I’m glad you get what you yearn for, that you find your church “awesome”, and you “enjoy” being part of it.

          But “Christianophobic” implies “fear of Christians”. The only thing to fear of Christians is their need to control. Your use of the bullshitty term “Christophobic” is some weird combination of Christian arrogance (“we’re so powerful, people fear us”) and the paranoia built of the early, pre-establishment period which ended over 1700 years ago, wherein the fledgling church was actually persecuted. “Christianophobic” is a way of perpetuating a persecution under which the church falsely believes it thrives and grows. It’s a nice way of being both humble and arrogant by use of the same word. Convenient.

          “Limited experience”: Yes, limited. To a seminary degree, licensing as a lay preacher, a PhD in theology, several years of practical theology field research with over 100 churches, working in ministry education, and a modest list of peer-reviewed publications and presentations at international conferences. Everyone’s experience, yours included, is limited. Mine has moderately broad limits.

  107. Church seems to be filled with people who’ve sinned and feel it absolves them. Filled with people in need of meeting with others and feeling like they belong. Please read the bible thoroughly before deciding to follow it. It was not written by Jesus. There is no evidence that what it contains is true. People have the morality to live without religion. We just need secular places for people to gather, get a hug. and sing some songs.

  108. The ‘church’ is like a set of training wheels. For those who choose to depart, they are removed so as not to impede further progress and experience. And those who dare for whatever reason to venture off the institutionally chosen path it’s an honest and faithful exercise of agency. All the good things that are taught and experienced under the church umbrella are perfect as they are, but the true test is the recreation of all those good things in the boundarylessness beyond the sequestration of steepled spaces. It’s a true religious adherence to principles without the reinforcement of the comforting and comfortable designated cloisters… it’s a recognition that the destination is the same for all of us regardless of what is believed.

    • I wasn’t raised in a church. My parents were teen hippie’s in the late 60’s and continued living in the “flower power”…”free love”….and “make peace” generation. What some ppl fail to recognize…this was/is their religion and one preached to me for most of my life. Most of my friends envied me for being so free to do pretty much whatever I wanted to do… as long as it wasn’t cruel…and wouldn’t get me arrested. Free to go out as often as I wanted…. for as long as I wanted…..and with whoever I wanted. Smoking pot was illegal but accepted/approved by them when I became of age. My parents are college educated and did insist on good grades… and poor grades was about the only reason we were punished. My parents never separated/or divorced…..married almost 40 years! As I approached my mid 20’s my life definitely spiraled out of control. I fell into a very dark hole and did things I am not proud of…although not illegal….it was sinful! I met many ppl and have been to many churches studying several different religions. I haven’t been to all but enough to know all churches are not the same. I am a sinner ….and my fellow sisters and brothers are too….asking for forgiveness often. God is good….always forgiving those that repent….helping those that want change to slowly be reshaped and molded to be more Christ like. That is my choice and my will….not my parents! I will be criticized by some unwilling to understand, don’t believe, or believe differently than I do. I believe in the oldest bible…the 1611 KJV bible… and today the words are still very close to the scrolls found hidden in different Continents! Yes….it is written by men…but men CHOSEN guided by God to write and share what many intelligent scientist have NOT been able to disprove. Historic and scientific facts are found in the KJV bible…along with lots of prophesies that have already come true. All I am saying is ….ppl against what they claim to be bigotry….are doing the same when criticizing others…even if it is going to church. I’ve explained WHY I attend and can say that I am happier today than I have ever been! I have been blessed in so many ways.

    • Greg, that’s exactly it. You need the church (or the institutions of some other religion) early on in your attempt to become a spiritually grown-up human being. Different people need the training wheels for different lengths of time.

      It’s also like a school or hospital: The point of a school is to get you smart enough to move on to real stuff on your own, not to stay in school forever. Teachers may be pleased to have you come back and visit from time to time, catch up on what you’ve done since you graduated, and maybe even invite you to have a talk with the people who come after you. (Did you EVER hear of a church who wanted those who have moved on to come talk to those still in the pews?) That’s healthy school. Not once-in, never-out.

      Likewise, the point of a hospital is not to keep you there forever, but to work hard to get you healthy enough to leave. I’ve broken a couple of bones over the last three years (a kneecap and a wrist). The hospital put them back together, sent me to rehab, where *they* in turn worked hard with me for months to make it possible for me to walk, write, dress, drive. I occasionally run into therapists, doctors, nurses who helped patch me up when I’m out at the supermarket or movies. We have a nice chat, they wish me well–but they NEVER want me to need them again in their capacity as doctors, therapists, etc.

      Church should be helping people be independent, healthy, smart. It should be happy to have them come back and visit when they have achieved these goals. But it shouldn’t be desperate to have them dependent, sick, and ignorant again.

  109. I’m not an orphan, a victim or even ‘unchurched.’ I no longer believe in the supernatural, but I am both an organizer with Sunday Assembly and a regular at a local Unitarian Universalist congregation. I live a meaningful life and don’t suffer from the deafening cognitive dissonance that I did previously.

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  112. Wendy….you may not be aware of yourself being one that is ‘judgmental’ despite claiming you left a church/s for being judgmental. So…you judge and criticize Christians and ‘church going people’…why? Why be concerned with those content with going to church and worshipping God? Perhaps it really goes much deeper than that….you just don’t like what the bible says, what it condemns, what it teaches, ect! I know some ppl have been to some pretty hateful, self serving churches…. leaving a bad taste in their mouth…and they leave blaming the church….instead of the church leaders….and throw in the towel turning on ALL churches and ALL Christians (turning christianphobic)…not out of fear…but resentment! Those that don’t like or believe what the church preaches are usually ‘free’ to leave! I have attended many different congregations and a variety of religions and NOT once forced to stay! Christianphobic’s resent God’s word, the bible, and Christians! Christians have ‘freewill’ to believe the way they want…..and so do non believers (who also work hard to CONTROL things to be the way THEY believe…so they’re hypocrits)!

    • No, I’m not judging *all* churchgoing people, Kaddi. Just those who behave as you do, because you express yourself like an idiot, and try to bully those of us who have left for reasons you will never, in your immature and selfish narrow-mindedness, understand.

      I’ve not once said “don’t go to church”. I’ve not once ridiculed belief in Jesus, as you have so stupidly ridiculed belief in well-established physical and evolutionary science.

      I’ve never told you (or others) not to go to church, not to worship as you see fit. (If you think I have, please learn how to read, and apply your newly-found skill to what I’ve written.)

      Once again, “Christianophobic” is a stupid, silly, meaningless term. I don’t fear Christians, I don’t hate them. I’m just not sure I want to be identified as one any more.

      I do blame the church–for following bad leaders, and thus making it possible to behave in harmful, nasty ways. You don’t have leaders without them leading someone (I mention this in case this fact had had to be made apparent to you). So the leaders can only get away with crap because the followers allow it. When a follower breaks ranks and says “this is not right”, what usually happens? Exactly the sheepy behavior you’re exhibitihg–close ranks around those who have the power.

      You love your church, it makes you happy. I have no problem with that, and I wish you well. (I do think you should learn how to spell, however, and write like a grownup.)

      But yes–I’ve tried other churches. I puke a little in my own mouth every time I enter one. I don’t like that, it can’t be good for me. So, I stop.

      If something made you sick every time you encountered it, you’d avoid it too.

      Keep going to church, sure–but stop being a brainwashed idiot.

        • Okay, Kaddi, I am sorry. I am sorry I can’t get on board with your bullying. I’m sorry you can’t see some people don’t need church. I’m sorry you feel so terribly persecuted you’ve had to accuse me of the ridiculous “Christophobia”.

          I apologize I haven’t been adequately clear about this.

  113. God’s people, even the followers of Christ…. Church people are those who follow christ as he walks down the street serving and helping others, even offering a helping hand when needed. The Church, is Christ, the Church is his kingdom to which the Celestial Kingdom resides. Not all who believe in God attend Church, thus not all who believe in God will be in the Celestial Kingdom. That is not a punishment, that is free agency to choose whom to follow in this world. If you are choosing not to be Church people ie part of Christ as he walks and serves but only wish to believe in him then you choose a lesser kingdom out of free agency. Do not mock,condemn or attempt to cause those who walk and serve with Christ feel as though they are doing something wrong or unjust or not greater than that which is lesser. There is good, better and best just as they’re are the kingdoms in Heaven. Now, I would speak something of a greater value and that is your ability to walk with Christ, serve with him and lead others out of the gal of bitterness. Let me start with saying if you believe in Christ then follow him daily, walk with him always and serve in his Kingdom not for yourself but for those who do not have your belief. In otherwords… FORGET YOURSELF even as Christ forgot himself and gave himself for you and all mankind. Be obedient and do as the Father asks and think not of yourself and who offends you or if you do not like the songs; obviously you have to change your perception.attitude and faith until you do enjoy the highest kingdom (Celestial) given to man. Anyone who has a mind set to disagree with this does not have eyes to see or ears to hear the love God has for you. He did not ask you to think about following him or ponder if you should, he said, “Come follow me!” So, you do it, period if you cannot get yourself to comprehend why, for the answer to that question will only come when you obey, have faith and forget yourself. Then you will be writing what I am writing and your eyes will be open and your faith will become perfected, even like the brother of Jared! Feel free to reach our for further discussion, for nothing brings greater joy than when in the service of your fellow men.

    • Interesting ideas but I don’t really see Scriptural support for them. Sounds like you making an exclusive club out of this Celestial Kingdom idea. Did Jesus in the Gospels set up His church? Was it a formal establishment of some sort? Just asking as I’m curious to know your thinking here.

  114. I think I’m ready to simply do good in the world. I’m better for having been a Christian, but I think I will do more good by putting my church affiliations in the past, and doing justice/loving mercy outside of the oversight of church leaders or church communities or ecclesiastical structures and instructions.

  115. I love seeing the posts by the ME generation. Go to a church that has people who are better suited to your weird ways. instead of saying *sigh* I am so emo.. think of me.. *sigh*

    No one cares. If you don’t like the church quit going!!!

  116. I laugh at the idea that “Church people” all feel a sense of connection and belonging with each other. I often feel alone and different.
    But I go. Because I believe in God and I believe He wants me to. And that’s all that matters to me.

  117. If I weren’t a Catholic “Churched” person, I would definitelly be a “Once-Churched” person and I know how they FEEL. Feelings are fleeting. Let me explain 🙂 If it weren’t for my faith in Our Eucharistic Lord, the One who I GET to RECEIVE every time I go to Holy Mass, I would not be a “Churched” person, but would definitely be a “Once-Churched” person. Why? Because I don’t have that feeling of closeness with the people with whom I worship, most of them anyway. But that doesn’t matter! My feelings don’t matter! I’m not there for the other people, but only to worship God with them, as a community. I go to Church to offer Holy Mass for four ends: Adoration, Thanksgiving, Reparation, and Petition for/to GOD! It’s all about GOD, not the people. Mass/Church is a form of public worship that God wants. Read Luke 22:14-20, Matthew 26:26-29 and John 6:25-71. The problem with most Church is that the people make it about themselves because we are selfish people. When GOD is the center, we are properly “Churched”… and our feelings go out the door. So when Church stops centering on people and their feelings and instead becomes all about worshiping GOD, then people would rather die than not go to Church. “Mass” means “to send”… that’s where we are Christ to others… we receive Christ at Mass and are sent out to the world to give Him away. All with great LOVE. Thank you for taking the time to read this. God Bless You!

  118. I randomly stumbled across this post tonight–although, I’ve never really believed in coincidences so maybe it was actually a little tender mercy from my Heavenly Father. My road these past two years has pulled me outside the church–something I had been confident would never happen. I actually wonder if that’s why it did. Maybe I was overconfident and too secure in my beliefs. Don’t get me wrong. I STILL VERY MUCH BELIEVE in SOME things, but I’ve had too many things that have shaped my beliefs in others. I’ve gone through the anguish of ‘not enough faith’ and I’ve hated myself for stepping away. And yet constantly, my loving Heavenly Father still reaches out to me and tells me that this is my journey, that there is still so very much for me to learn and experience. The hardest part of all of it though has been the loss of my church people. My family. My friends. My loved ones. Because they don’t understand. Because they judge from the outside-without all the facts, with out knowing all the spiritual promptings and confirmations that have occurred. And what hurts the most is that some of them stood in my place and while they were there I loved them as deeply as I could, but their response was to shun me, to chastise me, and to criticize.

    Thank you for your words. Because they were beautifully written. Because they brought a sense of peace to my weary soul. And because your words served as a tender mercy to a person who still very much believes in her Savior, but is just trying to figure out the rest on this road of their own.

  119. I am a once churched person but not for any reasons listed! I developed a lung issue and going into a room filled with people dressed to the nines with heavy perfume and cologne causes my lung to stop working. I had my pulmonologist tell me one more bad flare and I was going n the lung transplant list. I have been ridiculed and critized for not going. I still have a very strong faith. there are many reasons people don’t or can’t attend church…..don’t label or group them with out important information.

  120. What about the Never Church People who may not have any faith or belief in God, God forbid? Sorry if this question was already asked.

  121. I understand exactly what this post is saying I really do I’ve been there I still am at times but I go and endure thd looks and whispers because that’s were god asked me to be. The members might give up on me but he won’t.

    • I guess what bothers me most about so much of the responses is, those of us who have left would *never* be so disrespectful as to try to take others with us. We’re not trying to talk anyone out of the church. Please respect us by not trying to bully us back into the church.

      If we return, we will do so at our own pace, for our own reasons. And we will be *different*–we won’t just be nice good obedient little congregants. And if the church tries to treat us as such, we will leave. Again.

      WWJD? Jesus didn’t strike me as someone who was a good obedient congregant. He didn’t strike me as someone who felt the most important thing you could do was to be a member of the organized religion. Indeed, he was pretty critical of the religious institutions of his day. Perhaps those of us who have left are equally obedient to the call of Jesus as those who stay.

  122. John, can you speak a bit about “obedience” and “submission”? As the daughter of a Marine and a woman, my whole being cringes with these two words.

  123. Thank you for this well-written article.

    I am “Once-Churched.” I won’t rule out the possibility of going back one day, but I can imagine even if I did that church will no longer fill my soul like it does for “Church People.”

    In honesty, much of my life that I did attend church I was going though the motions, doing it as a habit and ritual. I was brought up in a Christian home and we attended every Sunday, almost without fail. I drifted away from church in college and early adulthood but returned to bring my children up in the teachings of the church.

    In mid-adulthood, I faced a prolonged, multi-faceted crisis and had never trusted sharing my personal problems in the church. I had distress in my marriage, in my career, in my finances. I acted out with extramarital affairs to fill the emotional void I should have been filling with my wife. While alcohol had long been an issue for me, I began to drink more heavily and recklessly. Eventually, it accelerated my problems and led to a car accident under the influence which involved an injury. Fortunately, it was not a severe injury and no one was killed. I went through a long, agonizing, pre-trial period and then many years of felony probation where I was often treated like the scum of the earth. It was an extremely dark time of my life and I had suicidal thoughts on repeated occasions.

    My wife and I were estranged and eventually divorced. I stopped attending the church where we were members. I live in a large city and as far as I know, no one at the church ever knew about my car accident, but I didn’t want to show my face there and pretend everything was fine in my life. And I was ashamed about our failed marriage, also. I’ve never gone back. And like others, I didn’t get calls from my fellow members checking on me. I just disappeared, apparently not missed.

    In the process of getting and staying sober through treatment centers, extensive therapy, and 12-step meetings, I began to address the underlying issues that led me down that road, beginning with an emotionally-abusive childhood. I had some twisted, fundamental beliefs instilled in me from the time I was a little boy. I didn’t trust others and I felt like an outsider, always less-than. I had deep anger and fear that had never been allowed to be expressed by my inner child.

    While I learned to share my story with others in recovery, I also know that people like me have to be careful with who and what we share. Even though the church teaches us to love our fellow man, to be tolerant and empathetic, the truth is that many WILL and DO judge others for what they see as simply “choices”. The reality is that while I made some bad choices (which I have owned and accepted responsibility for), I was also put into a different set of circumstances in my life than many people. And I know that many are incapable of deferring judgment and practicing true empathy as I have learned with my brothers in recovery.

    I still feel tremendous shame for the mistakes I’ve made in my life and I can’t imagine ever feeling free of it, even though I know that God forgives everything to the truly repentant. It’s a burden I will carry for the rest of my life, and I feel as though I’ve been given a life-sentence of sorts. I have the scarlet letter of the alcoholic, adulterer, and convicted felon on my forehead and am horrified at anyone outside of a tight circle finding out my past. I’m a societal outcast. All you have to do is read the newspapers or online postings from people angry at drunk drivers who would lock us all up and throw away the key if they could. Or look at the eternal (and legal) discrimination against convicted felons of any type, regardless of circumstances or rehabilitation. My civil rights will never be fully restored.

    So this is my journey. How I became “Once-churched.” And why I don’t believe I’ll ever feel a “part-of” a church “family” again. There are probably thousands of others like me with a similar story.

    I hope my sharing this will help at least one person to become just a little bit more aware of their own intolerant attitudes and lack of empathy towards people who have walked a different path in their lives.

  124. The only thing I want “churched” people to know about me, a once-churched now-atheist, is that the judgmental hatred I’ve been fed all my life (as a gay man) is why I no longer wish to have any association with any of you. Even the ones of you who are basically good people have failed me, with your unwillingness to take action against the bigotry and hatred spewed by most of your fellow religious types.

  125. As mentioned, people who no longer attend church do so for many reasons. Some no longer believe in Christ or God. Some were asked to leave through no fault of their own. And some left for a variety of reasons.
    Almost two years ago, our pastor’s wife died. When she died, the church fell apart. We tried, we really did, but she had the vision, the fire, and was the glue that held us together. When she was alive, I felt supported, included, and welcomed. After she died, I was still there, but I went back to the outside loooking in…. I no longer felt supported or included. I felt out of place. At Christmas, my father went in for surgery. He was very sick and there was a chance that he wouldn’t live through the surgery. He had progressed from walking with a walker to a wheelchair that he needed help to get in and out in 3 months time. He could make his arms and hands move, but not always in the manner he wanted (so could not effectively feed himself.) That’s when I started to feel hurt. As time went on, I found reasons to not go to church…. one of the kids were sick, and I’d stay home. I wasn’t feeling 100% and I’d stay home. I’d go to church and fall asleep during the message (because I’m sleep deprived, I could not stay awake and I didn’t care.) This church closed its doors yesterday, and while I am sad for everyone else, it finally gives me a chance to find a new church. My husband would have never purposely left…. he played bass guitar there and that was more important than the teaching of his children (too small for an effective children’s ministry.) I never really told him how I felt, but I really think it would not have made a difference…. (We started going after the last church edged him out of the ministry position that he had…. him doing ministry was more important to him than his family… Yes, I know it is sad. )

    • What I felt was most sad is when you said that your pastor’s wife “was the glue that held us together. ” I’ve seen that too many times, when it’s supposed to be Jesus Christ who is the “glue” for believers. God never meant for just one or two (or a few) in a body of believers to be the only ones who have the vision and the fire, but that together we have His heart — sharing it with one another and edifying each other. If a person is the “glue,” the body is missing the fullness of life God wants to give us through Christ.

  126. A lot of us who left an institutional church have NOT done so out of hurt, sin, guilt, crisis of faith, etc. We were there and gave everything to it, because we’d been taught that’s what church was. But we never really felt connected or a part of a community. (And, believe me, leaving a church will reveal just how much a part of a real community you were. Most of us hear…*crickets*… from many we thought were friends.) We felt like cogs in a wheel being used to keep a system going rather than a companion of others seeking Christ together. And we couldn’t see any way to squeeze the mammoth system church has become to fit into the simple example of a local body shown in the NT. So we left the church system and gather with a few others who are also seeking Christ. Those we gather with come from a wide variety of denominational backgrounds, so we avoid getting caught up in non-essentials and encourage each other to keep our focus on Christ.

  127. I apologize if this is a duplicate comment, but I’ve experienced a lot of problems with this page.

    A lot of us who left an institutional church have NOT done so out of hurt, sin, guilt, crisis of faith, etc. We were there and gave everything to it, because we’d been taught that’s what church was. But we never really felt connected or a part of a community. (And, believe me, leaving a church will reveal just how much a part of a real community you were. Most of us hear…*crickets*… from many we thought were friends.) We felt like cogs in a wheel being used to keep a system going rather than a companion of others seeking Christ together. And we couldn’t see any way to squeeze the mammoth system church has become to fit into the simple example of a local body shown in the NT. So we left the church system and gather with a few others who are also seeking Christ. Those we gather with come from a wide variety of denominational backgrounds, so we avoid getting caught up in non-essentials and encourage each other to keep our focus on Christ.

  128. I can only say thank you to the Author, who obliously thought long and hard about what was said in this article. Well done! I will NOT comment on my opinion or views as I have walked a mile in both pairs of shoes. So, I choose to search my heart, mind, and soul to determine… am I the worst of either of these and if so, that is where my focus of need for growth is.
    Blessings and love to all who commented and who have lived, walked for a while, or chosen to stand in either shoes! <3

  129. Sometimes God in His kindness and compassion spoke truth to people and they held their hands over their ears so they couldn’t hear. At one point, the entire “church” up to that time turned their back on Him, abandoning Him to be crucified. We tend to focus on His forgiving those who abandoned Him, and that is certainly our example to follow, in fact 70 times 7 times. But, He also did not abandon His Father. He did not doubt His character or love. He did not decide to disobey what God had ordained or commanded, even though it must have seemed fairly incomprehensible. He trusted His Father. He had faith in Him. When John 13:35 tells us that it is by the love we show each other as the body of Christ, that the world will know we are Jesus’ disciples, then continuing to be with other believers, building each other up and loving each other, is paramount for Jesus to be revealed to people. The reason is that the whole world is at war with each other over the simplest of things, so to stick with each other as a body of mostly strangers is a feat that only can come through the Holy Spirit. My prayers are for people to see the goodness of Jesus, not a religious list of do’s and don’ts. To stay loyal to Him and therefore, love His body the way He asks, and see what beautiful things He will turn it to. Btw, I spent 25 of my 30+ years as a Christian being told many hurtful things, totally alone in the church, but God always helped me build my life, teaching me what I needed to correct, and one of those was to just love people no matter what they do to you (1 Cor 13). God has now planted me in a church where I enjoy wonderfully spiritual fellowship and purposeful work. There are a variety of reasons we may be hurt (I was robbed, had an attempted molestation by a pastor, told I didn’t have the Holy Spirit, etc) but Jesus was there every step of the way to teach me how to view and respond to these things, as He is for everyone. We abandon Him, He never abandons us. Some will be able to hear this, others may not. But I post it out of love for hurting people and knowing that the truth is always the best way to assess our circumstances and gain understanding. Prov 27:5 better open rebuke than hidden love.

  130. Excellent! So many of the people who have been wounded and hurt and no longer ‘fit in’ somewhere have so much to teach us and give to us. I understand, as I was in that fringe group for a very long time. We moved to a different area (retired, found our forever home) and the cry of our heart was to find a place to fit in again. It is like using muscles long atrophied and it is foreign to do some things, but, slowly the shell that protected us is coming down. Worn away by a new body who loves the loveless, who embraces the weird and the worn out… my heart grieves for those who have lost that feeling of community, that feel alone, for no one should feel that way. Thank you for putting into words so eloquently what my heart has cried out.

  131. Maybe there is something wrong with me….But I don’t agree with this article at all. I am what this article would consider “church people” I’m there every week with my family all dressed and shiny. I do my callings faithfully, I visit teach…etc. etc. But never once in the 51 years I’ve been attending nearly every week have I felt like I “belong.” I don’t have a lot of friends in the ward. My kids usually don’t have friends in the ward. My calling is usually being stuck behind the piano in primary with no opportunity to “mingle” anyway. “Church” isn’t about getting warm fuzzies from the people there…although that is one of the perks. Church is about worshiping God. If I only went to church when I felt warm fuzzies, love, affection and Christ like friendship from everyone, when I felt like I “belonged” (whatever that means) when I wanted to go…..I’d probably be at church maybe once every 2 or 3 months if even that often. I drag myself out of bed, and my children (this year to get there at 8:30 am), and I go to church because even though I don’t fit in with the people, I fit in with God and I fit in with Christ. And even though the people there are imperfect and they sometimes say things that I don’t agree with or that can be taken as offensive, I on occasion find gems. I learn precious truths about Heavenly Father and his plan for me. I feel the spirit just often enough to keep me going the next time I don’t want to. And I’ve most of all learned that even those “church people” who appear to have it all together, who smile, who are there every week in a new dress looking gorgeous and happy, have trials that try them to their very core. No one gets away from that in this life. NO ONE! Those hardships make us stronger. They help us learn empathy, and love and patience and kindness….so instead of criticizing those “church people” and telling them to be more Christ like, maybe you should be the one reaching out….being Christ like and seeing what trials they are going through and how staying in church and being “church people” maybe gave them just a gem of hope to keep going

  132. Although I appreciate your need to be black and white on this to convey the message…. can we also consider that it is when we don’t feel like we fit in at church is when we possibly need to dig deeper instead of turning away? Don’t assume I’m judging here either. I’m one of those people who have sat at church recently and felt pain, loneliness, like I didn’t quite fit in and that my presence there didn’t matter and would leave feeling drained and let down. It would be much easier to leave at this time, and say it was because I just didn’t fit any more. But that’s not a life strategy I want to teach my children so I’m staying. I want them to understand what perseverance means and live it, to endure to the end as described in the scriptures, to sacrifice ourselves(ego) to know God…and that sometimes that sacrifice means our comfort at church and expectations that it should always be rainbows and butterflies to follow God and live in service to him through church for it to be considered right and true. It means that I dig in deeper to the doctrine, I really question and pray and pray and question. I hold God to His promises, but with the greatest amount of patience and trust. It seems false to say that God would lead us away from faith unless it was into greater faith and knowledge. There’s a difference to seeking greater truth, which may be found at another church however, that then brings us even closer to God and his light of truth with added knowledge. Our society is embracing this new age sort of religious belief that if something makes us uncomfortable then it must be wrong and we simply bow out. What about marriage (or any relationship for that matter). When things get uncomfortable do I want my children to simply bow out and say, sorry this doesn’t work for me anymore? What about their schooling…if it gets to hard to be there just stop and give up. NO! I want them to dig deeper, mainly inside themselves, and keep putting one step in front of the other…especially because it often produces the best fruit to do so and builds lasting character. Ask any old married happy couple….and I bet they pushed through real junk in their marriages to get to that point….and I’m not talking petty differences, but I’m talking about real life big problems that today people would just walk away from chalking it up to “well it just wasn’t working or the other person had too many issues to be with.” I’m sorry, but if God can fix anything, and you have any belief he can…then he can fix your unbelief when you turn it over to Him. Faith really is a choice….it isn’t handed to you and it’s in the hard times we have the opportunity to really establish it as a knowledge based foundation if we give it the breath, sweat, and time to do so. Some people just give up too easily and that IS a sad thing to those who’ve been there, done that, and know that on the other side is a very beautiful relationship with faith. Why wouldn’t I be sad for someone I love. Yes, I’d absolutely still love them as the person they are and respect their journey…but to continue to encourage them to pursue a path that has proven good in my life isn’t being judgmental or any other negative adjective people would call it….to me, that IS loving and caring, and one of the greatest ways I could show my Christianity. Ease, comfort, feel goodness…we can all look around us and know that those are not what truly builds character or strength in any area of life let alone faith, or always dictates that something is right or wrong, MY total point: there are many church people who are church people not just because it’s a happy place for them, with all the warmth and goodness and connection you describe above. Some, possibly many, church people are church people because they are choosing faith over fear, faith over comfort, faith over all the reasons it would just be easier to not be there….and that’s why when we see someone choose otherwise, it’s hard, because sometimes it IS hard to stay and fight the good fight and you do feel lonely in that. And yes, I know people who are very connected to a higher power who don’t attend church, good good people. I know religion doesn’t corner the market of being able to establish faith…..but I also know that Christ set up an organization of sorts during his time here on earth, he had apostles, performed sacrament, taught doctrine, established priesthood order, and that if you believe Him to be the God of the Old Testament, gave commandments and established temple worship. All this leads me to believe He saw importance in religious organization to strengthen people’s faith. I’m no religious scholar…but is this not so?

  133. My dad was kicked out of his church when he was 17 for having his hair longer than they thought it should be. The pastor cruelly preached a message about how men with long hair are gay and then after the service, told him that he was a parasite, a germ to the church, that he was polluting the church. He had been to church faithfully for 10 years, was always telling others of Christ, had friends there, was a good kid.

    He’s 47 years old now and I wish he would go back to church but I suppose if the last thing I was told was that I was a parasite and a germ to the church, then I wouldn’t want to go back either. However, he remains one of the most genuine Christian men I know. Better than a lot of people I know who go to church regularly.

    • I got the same “long hair” lecture and was kicked out of the church choir in High School. So I turned my attention to my public high school and sang in All State choir and garnered lead roles in three high school musicals. If the church didn’t want me, I went where I was wanted. That has repeated itself in later years even after going into the ministry. I understand your Dad and am glad you commented.

  134. My “church”? The Earth is my church. The Solar System is my church. The Galaxy is my church. The Universe is my church. The Sun is the only representative of the Light I need. Why do you think we call it the Sun- anyway? A man-made building? To worship in? Who needs that? It’s so small and limiting. Really.

  135. To assume that I am unchurched because my faith is less would simply be false. I am unchurched because my faith is too huge for the confines of a building and the judgement and smallness of the faith I find in the building. People who view God as a magician, who never question or use critical-thinking skills, who make God so very small and lock Him inside a box…a comfy space as long as no one questions. Or a mega church so huge that I can hide in it…but that stands empty while the homeless freeze to death on the streets. No I’d rather run miles outside during church (it’s safer between the time the churchgoers are speeding to church and then speeding away to resume their very, very busy lives) and breathe in the beautiful day, in awe at the wonder of nature and its inhabitants and the blessing of health…the times I hear God speak the clearest, the loudest and the sweetest…in His garden.

  136. Killing me softly with his song,
    Singing my life with his words.
    Killing me softly with his song,
    Killing me softly with his song,
    Telling my whole life with his words,
    Killing me softly with his song.

  137. Thanks, John. When the “ancient rituals bring no warmth” it can indicate our own growth toward a deeper relationship with God and with ourselves, not necessarily that we are “depleted and bitter and sad.” I’m not “wounded and hurt,” I’ve moved elsewhere within the infinite universe of how God reveals self. Blessings.

  138. I am unchurched, but don’t feel sorry for me. Leaving was one of the most powerful, liberating things I have ever done. In “church” terms I would even call it a revival. Leaving led me on a path hope to learn more about Jesus; who this radical I have fellowship

    • …my phone loaded my comment before I finished. I have fellowship with Jesus everyday,; He is everywhere, in the least of humanity, the outcasts, the refugee, neighbors, friends and yes even church people. I realized when I left that we are all flawed, and that the one thing that ultimately binds us is love and kindness. I don’t seek to receive these things but to be them. It’s amazing to look into the eyes of the lost or hurting, show love and kindness and see the spark of Christ emanating from their core. We are all unworthy and yet worthy of the good news. I don’t need four walls on a hill to go to church. Church is all around me.

  139. The church never felt like home to me. My mom dragged me to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day from the time I was an infant, and it was always a stultifying, alienating experience. Now that I look back, I realize I never really believed, just did what I was told until I was old enough to know better.

    Leaving the church was not an occasion of grief or confusion. On the contrary, it was a tremendous relief.

    Those who have left religion don’t need your pity or your prayers. They don’t need you to “mirror Christ” to them. They don’t need anything from you at all. That’s why they left.

  140. Pingback: Confession, I am a ‘once churched person’ | Blog Abandoned, it weeps.

  141. Dear John. I like reading your blogs however, this article seems much too general when speaking of the church, church people and how we think of the once churched people. I don’t treat one different from the other. We are ALL sick trying to get well and some are sicker than others. If anyone chooses NOT to attend a church, that should have nothing to do with how they are viewed by people that DO go to church. To us, Church is not the building, it is US! We are the church! Yes, I encourage people to attend church but I don’t brow beat them because that is their choice. I also don’t view one person any differently than the other. And I definitely don’t feel that I am better than someone that doesn’t attend church. I, myself, have a passion for the Bible and my relationship with Christ just as anyone has a passion for anything that they do. If God is in your heart, that’s all that matters. How anyone deals with Him or doesn’t deal with Him is their business.

  142. I get what you’re saying. I really do. But so much of this comes across as so condescending.

    “They find themselves refugees and orphans and estranged family members. ”

    No. I don’t feel like an orphan. I have never been happier. I am more fulfilled as a father, a husband and as a person. I am not a refugee. I am complete as I am, and I don’t need your pity, no matter how well intentioned.

  143. I don’t feel that anyone can judge why a person is un-churched. If you think about the word un-churched, it means just that and nothing else. Instead of assuming that a person stops going to church because they are non-believers, or are orphans. When I used to go to a Protestant church, I never felt that church was a family, so I am hardly an orphan because I don’t go to that church anymore. I don’t believe in labeling people because of their religious beliefs or whether they go to church. When I used to go to a Protestant church, the people were convincing me that if people are not Christian, then they are going to hell. Really?? This church that I went to spent most of their time judging other religions, including different Christian denominations, especially Catholic and Morman. That kind of talk did not make me feel good or close to God. I feel that the more that I went to this church, the more I was wasting my time. So, if churches say that un-churched people need to go to church to be (good) people, I can say that I can spend my time better with people while not in church.

    When I left the Protestant church, I did not go to church for probably 15 years and then started going to the Catholic Church. I eventually converted and went to church regularly. I now go occasionally, but not all the time. I just feel that I need some rest from the hustle and bustle.

    If churches want people to come back to their church, then they do need to stop judging and putting labels on people, and I will add that it is never okay to criticize or condemn another person’s religion or beliefs. A friend of mine who was always hell-bent on having me go to church is very anti-Catholic. She acts like there is something wrong because I am now Catholic. Wanting someone to come to your church to yank them out of their church is wrong and unacceptable.

  144. I grew up in the Methodist church, my grandfather and uncle were both ministers. When my children were young, we went to church, but over the years, I found more and more that my spirituality was a private matter that I didn’t necessarily want to share with others. I didn’t leave the church. I just stopped going. I am a devotee of Jesus’ words and acts, and, I believe, no less religious or spiritual than those who are “churched.” You didn’t speak to those like me who find our spiritual place in our hearts not in a building. I would like to find a different word for people like me than “un-churched.”

  145. “And I need you to know some things about them, because it can be very tempting from the inside to generalize them all; to paint them with the same lazy, sweeping strokes.”

    You are doing just that by labeling us ” refugees and orphans and estranged family members”? I am not a refugee because I have run from and escaped nothing. I am not an orphan or estranged family member because the “Churched” have never been my family.

    From my pre-teen years until recently (I’m 65) I have immersed myself in many religions, Christian and otherwise. I have found them all lacking and (mostly the Christian) filled with people adept at mental rationalization and compartmentalization. When one believes their way is the best and feels pity for those who are not aligned with that way, the supposed love being felt is a facade of the ego and all suffer.

  146. Dear John; I feel as this could have been written about me, or for me. I was once a faithful church-goer. Every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, I attended. I chose that church on my own, as a teenager, because my dearest friends attended there. I enjoyed the fellowship, until . . . Until I noticed the (Baptist) Church ladies looking down their noses at me, in their new every week fancy clothes, while I wore my one nice but handed down dress every week. Until I saw gathered church families watching with horrified eyes as I climbed into the chrch bus, or, later, my 10 yr old beater, while they drove off in their brand new cars. Until my best friends’ little sisters were hit and killed by a drunk driver and our pastor preached about original sin and the will of God at their funeral service. I left the church at 18, because I felt an enormous disconnect between what I read in the Bible and what I saw going on around me.

    I found I didn’t need the building to be with God, and didn’t need the fellowship of people with whom I had nothing in common. I was fine speaking to God on my own, every day, just to check in and say, “Hi God, thank You for being You.” I still read the bible, I still had devotions, just had none of the people and the building.

    Then I went to (Catholic) Church with a friend, and found comfort in a building again. I loved the feeling of fellowhip, I loved the Mass. I read my catechism, and found much that filled empty holes for me. Then, I asked to have my newborn son christened, and I found out I wasn’t as welcome as I thought. The people who were so terribly pro-life, were less than pro-living. Eventually, I left that building too.

    I still worship. I still say my prayers. I still rejoice in being a child of God, and a follower of Christ. I still need to be in touch with my spiritual side, and I give in to it.

    But I don’t need the building. I don’t need the hypocrits.

  147. On the fourth day of a Vision Fast, having spent four solitary days in Death Valley, drinking only water and eating no food, sleeping on the desert floor, I heard a commission, “Re-envision Christianity. So many people are hurting.” Of course, I shot back, “Whaaaat???” and wrestled with the angel all night. “Who are these hurting people I’m being sent to?” The answer was, “They will find you.” And so, I am still a “churched person” in a most liberal church, I have trouble with the creed and with the idea that this life is a kind of waiting room before a judgment day that will send you to either heaven or hell.

    And so, I rewrite Christian hymns, to reflect the work of Thomas Berry, Teilhard de Chardin, David Abram, Richard Rohr, and Alfred North Whitehead, to name a few. So much of what we sing in church uses metaphors of an external divine entity, a hierarchy with God on the top and rocks on the bottom, and an assumption that we humans, while possessing original sin (ugh), are the only ones here that matter.

    I have seen the light in the faces of those who have been depleted and saddened by the church, when I sing what I have written for them and with them. They say, “I love the hymns, but I cannot sing them. I can sing yours, though, and they feed my soul. Please, please, keep writing.” When I witness that, I know that what I have written is life-giving and holy.

    Thank you, John, for writing this column. It needed to be said. It gives me heart.

  148. Another thing that just wears people out is the “building” that houses “the church.” I get more inspiration from gardening on Sunday morning than I ever did hearing sermons about tithing followed by announcements about yet another capital campaign to fix our aging church building. The drag of hearing one desperate plea for money after another to an aging, dwindling congregation of people is what did it for me. I can practice my faith volunteering in the community and have a lighter heart doing it now that my soul is free from the weight of worry about an aging church building.

  149. My husband and I have been members of the same Lutheran church for 33 years. For most of those years, we were very involved, having raised our three sons there. Until a year ago, one of our sons was the director of youth ministries, a position he held for seven years. My husband and I stopped attending that church four months ago, and not ONE person — not even the pastor — has reached out to see if everything is OK. What kind of faith community is that? One that has appeared quite myopic to us too many times over the decades.

    We tolerated the country club image of that large “corporate” church for years, hoping someday it might shift to become more welcoming, more inclusive, more accepting, more loving, more supportive. The messages from the pulpit seemed rather self-congratulatory, boasting of the material wealth of members and how we all were so very “blessed” and thereby more fortunate than those “out there.”

    A shift eventually did occur — but in the wrong direction. When another of our sons was diagnosed with cancer, the response from the congregation was stunning: We were abandonned. The pastor walked with us on that terrible journey and was a valuable support. Some congregants sent get well cards, but only three people called. No one visited. (His brother was serving on staff at that time.) When our son died 2 1/2 years later, we received a boatload of sympathy cards and a few people stepped up to ask what they could do to help, but by then it was too little too late.

    My husband and I became more sporadic in our attendance after our son died (it was all too painful). The reception we received from congregants when we did show up for services was more along the lines of a judgy “Where have you been?” than a caring “How have you been?”

    Further, losing our son brought my husband and me to a crisis of faith, which the church was not equipt to address. We were discouraged from asking our questions, and expressing our doubts, about God’s role in our personal tragedy.

    If that’s what it means to be a Christian — to be an unquestioning believer, oblivious to the pain of the person sitting next to me in the pew — I’d rather be something else. My husband and I are preparing to join a Unitarian Universalist church, where we’ve been welcomed with open arms and open minds. We are accepted for who we are and are encouraged to express what we now believe. Maybe most important, the UU church is ready to embrace our third son who is gay, something the Lutheran church hasn’t always been sure it wanted to do.

    I suppose all this qualifies us as once-churched, as we no longer believe in the creeds or tenets of the Christian church. But we are joyful in this new place.

  150. Are you all saying that you have to some sort of Christian to be a good person? How about all the other religions which do not follow the Bible or Jesus? It takes a very narrow mind to believe only those who think Jesus was God will find peace.
    Bottom line: No matter what anyone believes whatever happens after death will be the same for everyone. Your belief should give you comfort but do not make the mistake of thinking you have the answer. No one does. The Golden Rule can be followed by those of any or no religion. That should be enough.

  151. In my past, I have been a teaching Pastor and worship leader for over 30 years. I have studied theology for decades. I am a Christian. I have not attended church regularly for over 3 years. When I attend occasionally (maybe once a year to because my son plays on the worship team of a large church) I can hardly stomach what I experience. We have created something that we call church. It looks absolutely nothing like what Jesus described, or what the apostles participated in during the first century. Let’s be clear here – the most laid back, loving, non religious churches we have today look nothing like the biblical church. So we, not God, have created something. We call it Church. And then we us scripture to slam people who don’t attend it. Guess what. Just because you all it church doesn’t mean that is what it is. Our churches resemble corporations, where there is a hierarchy of leadership, with varying degrees of power (and varying degrees – mdiv, etc). We have a career path, for the up and comers. We have professional ministry that “do” Christianity for the congregation. We have leaders who, while with their mouths say “imitate Christ” – with their actions and sometimes their words say “imitate me because I have this Christianity thing figured out”.

    I could point out other things, but they don’t matter. Bottom line – calling what we have today “Church” doesn’t make it that. And then telling others that they are in disobedience for not attending the imposter thing that you created is just silly. Holds no weight. I have no guilt about not attending a regular meeting on Sunday morning. And believe me, I used to preach that guilt from the pulpit, so I know how it works.

    I love Jesus. I am nothing. I have no goodness on my own and depend solely on the finished work of Christ on the Cross for my standing before God. I minister whenever possible in my regular life – at work -at play – at parties – again – just at regular life. That is the example Jesus gave. That is definitely where His ministry happened. When he was physically in the synagog, it was usually to rebuke people.

    Churches have become fortresses to protect Christians from the “sin cooties” that are out there in “the world”. Jesus hung right in the midst of those sin cooties – and he was holy and sinless. I know this will get a very specific response from some, but I am extremely uncomfortable in church at this point in my life. And i am very comfortable out with people. Some may say this is because I am one of them. I say that I am called to be a light in the darkness, not locked up for protection from sin cooties.

    • Well said! I’ve been a part of an organic church for over 7 years. It’s a spiritual family of other believers (including a couple of former pastors and me — a former worship leader) who’ve come out of several different denominations and with whom my husband and I walk together in Christ. We have no hierarchy and all are empowered to share Christ and encourage one another as we feel led at our regular gatherings and any time we’re together. During those 7 years I’ve learned more about truly following Christ, as well as loving Him, His body (not just those in our church), and my neighbor than I ever even suspected we could in the previous 30 years in what we call the institutional church. I love my brothers and sisters in the institutional church, but they look down on us and consider us backslidden (at best) and have even called us a cult. Just a few weeks ago we visited a family member who knows about us being a part of this organic group, and he said, “So, are you still not going to church anywhere?”

  152. John,

    I doubt you read these replies since there are so many and probably really don’t read them years after the original article was published, but I wanted to say thank you.

    You put into words what I have wanted to express for years and have tried to express but with very little success.

    I know the narrative in the church about people who have left. I was one of the faithful, with every ounce of my being committed to my faith and my community. The church was my home in the deepest sense of the word and brought me more joy than I can describe. I loved the people and actively dreamed of growing old surrounded by a community of faith. I read the scriptures, prayed. Looked for ways to apply my faith to my day to day life even if it had significant counter-cultural cost. Loved Jesus. My faith was woven so deep into my soul that for years I woke up in the morning with the realization I was praying over my new day. Praying was like breathing. The words to our music are still the first to pop into my head when I’m having a hard day. And scriptures I carefully memorized still replay in my head. But over time, things have shifted in far more personal ways than I can describe here.

    One of the hardest parts of this journey is the sensation that I’m stuck in some glass box, with the church looking on sagely with downcast faces and the narrative running through their heads about how they never guessed this would be me and how sad it all is while I beat against the walls and scream “but I am still me!”. “I may not use ‘god words’ anymore to describe who I am and what I believe, but everything you knew of me, all of the compassion, and character and treasuring of community, and awe of this beautiful life that the church instilled in me, its all still there!” But most cannot hear or see. I am on the outside.

    But I just don’t fit anymore. I thought the “unfittingness” was fleeting but it has only become more profound as years have passed. And when I look out at the world at all the lives, the church no longer makes sense. I feel as if I was in a cocoon for decades with the church stories of how life worked that tied everything up in a neat little bow — but then life happened. Real gritty life. And all those neat little bows don’t work anymore. And the church I see doesn’t have anything to say to real life except that those neat little bows should work, should have worked.

    They have nothing to say when those neat little bows don’t work or can’t work. And perhaps even more troubling they can’t seem to hear those of us saying that there is a vast disconnect between the church and life and that many of our (the church’s) narratives for a faithful life are damaging.

    So anyway, thank you. It’s been a hard process coming to grips with my story. Its been like grieving a death of the person closest to you while experiencing a newfound joy and freedom all at the same time. You catch yourself talking to that person only to realize that they are gone. Hard when the people you most want to understand your joy and your journey will simply shake their heads in sadness at another loss from the “faithful”.

    Thank you. Your words are the closest I’ve read to what I feel.

  153. Thank you, Frances, for your words and for your courage. I still attend church, because I love the community. Yet, many have said to me, “I don’t know how long I can keep this up”, meaning, going to church. It occurs to me that I’d love to find a group committed to rediscovering Jesus and being embodied Divine Ones in our communities now. Unfortunately, the church doesn’t seem to want that; it seems it chooses to focus on whatever it is that happens after we die. May your community be blessed as you walk together in grace.

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