Why People Leave the Church and How We Fix it
A terrible phenomenon is happening in our churches today - people are leaving in droves, some never to return. We as believers know (or should know) that church and gathering with believers is important. It reminds us of our need for one another and our desperate need for Christ. If this aspect of the faith is important, why do so many people leave and curse Christ's body? While there could be many reasons, both unique and cliched, here are five of the most common, with a solution to fix the issue.
1. Cultural Illiteracy
When I typed these words, "Cultural Illiteracy," I am not sure I entirely understood my meaning, so let me dispel the convoluted and clarify. It is no secret churches can be Conservative. Okay, allow me to rephrase. It is no secret churches can be outspokenly Conservative and blind to other points of view. That makes immensely more sense. Many churches from my hometown in Oklahoma incredibly loudly and confidently show others what they politically believe. Do not mistake this for an ineptitude! Standing for beliefs and enacting on them has remained a pillar of American society, as upon it, our nation was built. Great things come from standing up for one's beliefs; however, in the Church, this can cast out some of the very people Jesus would want us to reach out to.
I currently attend a University in the Oklahoma City area, Edmond to be specific. Many of my peers maintain far more Liberal political beliefs than I, which is great, because this conflict solidifies my own political beliefs and allows me to see the other perspective of an issue. I understand what college students go through, I know the hurt, loneliness, anxiety, and depression that can arise in the college years, as these things have come and gone in my almost four years in college. I also understand that how I have overcome everything I have gone through is because of my Savior, and being reminded of His work in my life through church. I know they could use this, they could use a Comforter, Redeemer, Friend, Father, and Savior like Him. Yet, because of many churches' inability to effectively engage with culture, many of my peers will unlikely step in a church. This hurts my heart, as many who simply believe differently leave the church, or stay away, simply because they do not feel welcome in the "house of God" because of their drastically different political beliefs. Churches are often unable to ably read and engage culture, and the world suffers.
2. Other, "Better" Options
In this digital age, there are one-hundred different social media sites. If one thinks a certain site is boring, one can pick out of a hat any number that have arisen since last year that would love to meet one's needs. This is the entire world we live in. If we dislike something, we can move on until we find an option that works for us or our families or, if nothing exists, we may devise our own! That is the beauty and curse of this entrepreneurial time we live in. Sadly, the same is happening in churches. In Oklahoma, much to the chagrin and disdain of many pastors of "conventional" churches, Lifechurch.tv has met some of this void. I admit, I do not think listening to a pastor deliver a message through a screen is the most fulfilling or stimulating, it works for many people, and God has worked through this medium, welcoming many who may not step in a traditional Methodist, Baptist, or Assemblies of God church building.
Life Church and similar megachurches have provided a viable option to a traditional church, which allows many to hear about Jesus who normally might not have the opportunity. However, another issue has arisen, the complete distaste for church altogether, where solid believers are discounting the need for fellowship and favoring the "Bedside Baptist" or "First Church of the Football." While skipping church is by no means a sin, I see a considerable difference in growth in believers who attend and participate in a loving church body, and those who forgo church. Life is busy - this is an aspect I fully understand. However, our devotion to others in a church who depend on us, and our own spiritual growth hinges on contributing to a God-honoring church. I have met many people who can grow without a church, but many may tell you how hard it is to go it alone. Churches grant people with a group of supporters. Treating Sunday as another weekend day, opting to sleep in, catch up on homework, work, or watch the football game neglects time we should spend with others in worshiping God, honoring Him and learning how to better honor Him. To a devout Christ follower, attending church regularly to learn about God with other believers and to worship Him remains vital to a healthy Christian's growth. But many are tempted, and allow this temptation to overcome them, to leave the church for the "Better Option" of empty and hollow recreation.
Perhaps the first reason is a very simple, yet overarching, one - hypocrites. If I sat down to count all of the people who I have talked with about leaving the church, their faith, or believing in Jesus altogether and claimed the reason was hypocritical Christians, I would be counting for years. So many people leave the church because of this base problem of inconsistency, but what is it? To me, and many others, hypocrisy involves saying one things and doing another. I am a youth director at a small church, so I get the pleasure of helping middle and high-school students through their lives by pointing them to Jesus. One thing I stress is making sure their talk and walk match. Integrity is important to people. Saying what we believe and acting on those same beliefs is vital to walking with Jesus and honoring God in the process. If integrity is so important in Christianity, why is hypocrisy such an issue?
People are imperfect. They make mistakes, some of those being calculated and deliberate "mistakes." Point is, people are selfish and imperfect and, following that logic, one could conclude that church people are imperfect as well. I can agree, people that say one thing is important, yet do another, aggravate and dumbfound me. Although, I, and you, are those type of people, and that is why Jesus had to die. God knew, and still knows, His Creation, for He created us in His likeness, yet He still loves us enough to allow us to mess up, attempt to cover it up, lie, deceive, then ultimately save our bacon and forgive us when we ask for redemption and repent of what we have done to Him and others. He is not blind to the church. Church people are hypocrites because we are all hypocrites in some way.
What is to be Done?
These three problems are big problems. They are Goliath-sized issues plaguing the Church and many churches across the country. They are discouraging congregations and tempting many to give up, giving up all efforts to reach the communities in which they reside. However, there remains one solution, and no small one - Jesus.
1. We must continually pray that Jesus would use us in unconventional ways, that we would be the hands and feet of a mighty God, taking His message of hope and redemption to the masses, even to those we disagree with or those that hate us "hypocrites."
2. We must make central our devotion to Jesus individually and collectively. A healthy church will do well to make all lessons, sermons, songs, conversations, dinners, and relationships about Jesus and for Jesus. When people see radical, God-honoring community that strives to follow Him in all its actions, people will notice and the seed will be planted.
3. We must leave our doors to take the Gospel and our open arms outside our walls. Jesus resided not in a temple made of human hands, but conducted His ministry for and with the least of these. This is our mission - to welcome those the world has discounted or accepted. The Liberals, Conservatives, homosexuals, straight monogamists, sinners, young, old, rich, poor, divorced, we should all welcome to the Kingdom of God, because we were once in their position until us Jesus redeemed from death and destruction.
When we make our lives as a church and the body of Christ about others more than ourselves, Jesus will bless and work through that. People will stop leaving the church when God's children will be His people of love and grace and allow God to work through us, fixing the problems within our congregations. We as church goers are incredibly imperfect, yet, when we put Jesus first over ourselves, we will see a revival and increase unlike anything the world has yet seen.