The Exodus has begun and it’s not going to stop.
People are leaving you and they’re probably not coming back.
I’ve been where you are and I know what’s happening within you right now.
I know you’re panicking, scrambling to understand it all, trying to somehow stop the bleeding, to reverse the swift and steady tide out the doors.
I know that you hire consultants and hold emergency meetings and plan bold strategies and brainstorm solutions—all designed to engineer a way to bring all the prodigals home, to “reach the young people,” to grow numerically again.
I know you imagine that if you just tweak the songs or shorten the services or get a new sign or rebrand your logo or set up shop in a strip mall; that if you just find the right aesthetic balance of vintage reverence and hipster chic—that this will all magically change your fortunes.
This attrition is likely irreversible and here’s why:
The departure isn’t about the style of music in your worship services.
It isn’t about the coolness of the coffeeshop facade in the lobby.
It isn’t about the amenities you have or don’t have.
It isn’t about the tricked out tech you’re getting in the sanctuary.
It isn’t about the youthfulness and charisma of your lead pastor.
It isn’t about how many pop culture references you make in your sermons.
It isn’t about the bells and whistles of your new website.
It isn’t about your facilities or your staff or your social media fluency.
It’s isn’t about the sprawling menu of ministries and bible studies you offer.
The people who are gone—aren’t gone because your band wasn’t good enough or because the messages weren’t clever enough or because your production wasn’t tight enough.
They don’t give a damn about such things.
Church, people are leaving you because you are silent right now in ways that matter to them.
You aren’t saying what they need you to say and what you should be saying—and it makes them sick.
They spend their days with a front row seat to human right atrocities, to growing movements of cruelty, to unprecedented religious hypocrisy, and to political leaders who are antithetical to heart of Jesus.
They live with the relational collateral damage of seeing people they love abandon compassion and decency; people who are growing more and more callous to the already vulnerable.
They see in their daily lives and on the news and across their timelines and in their communities, exactly the kind of malevolence and toxicity they expect you to speak into with boldness and clarity as moral leaders—and instead they find you adjusting the stage lights and renovating the lobby and launching websites.
In the middle of the songs and the sermons and the video clips, they can see your feet of clay and your moral laryngitis. That’s why they’re leaving.
I know you’re worried about saying too much, about being branded too political, about offending people or somehow making it worse by speaking.
Trust me, you are making it worse by saying nothing.
Yes, you may be avoiding conflict or keeping a tenuous peace in the pews.
You may be causing less obvious turbulence inside your walls.
You may be appeasing a few fearful folks there who don’t want you to trouble the waters.
But you’re doing something else: you’re confirming for millions of people, why they have no use for you any longer.
You’re confirming the suspicions of those who believe the church has no relevance for them.
You’re giving people who’ve offered you one more chance to earn their presence—reason to walk away.
Your silence right now is the last straw for them.
They’ve been waiting for you to oppose the separation of families,
to declare the value of black lives,
to loudly defend LGBTQ people,
to stand alongside your Muslims brothers and sisters
to denounce the degradation of the planet—
to say with absolute clarity what you stand for and what you will not abide.
And you have kept them waiting too long.
Church, people can get most of what you offer them somewhere else. They can find meaningful community and entertainment for their families and acts of service to participate in. They can get music and inspiration and affinity and relationships without you.
The singular thing you can offer them is a clear and unflinching voice that emulates the voice of Jesus.
If you really want to be relevant again: say everything.
Stand on your platforms and in your pulpits and specifically name the bigotry, precisely call out the politics, unequivocally condemn the people and the policies and the movements that sicken you. Jesus did.
Stop couching your words and softening your delivery and start speaking with clarity about what matters to you. That’s what those who are leaving want most.
It may be too late to stop the mass exodus at this point—but saying everything will at least help you keep your soul as you fade away.
At least you’ll know you stood for something.