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

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Many large churches have a door problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello. Can you hear me?



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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