Between blogs and facebook I have read several lists lately about why people are leaving the church (here is one and another by Christian Piatt and another by Barna Group.) Most often these are targeted particularly at why young people are leaving the church. I thought I would weigh in with my own spin on this topic. I don’t qualify as a young person anymore but I certainly find myself empathizing with the young people and others who are leaving church. And after reading the slightly self-congratulatory comments from a few mainline folks regarding Rachel Held-Evan’s reasons for leaving the church, I wanted to write about the reasons I (a Lutheran) sometimes entertain the notion of leaving church. A little disclaimer here: this is not an indictment of my local congregation. My local congregation, much like other congregations I have experienced, is full of wonderful people. The pastors I have encountered have often been wonderful people, including my current pastor. My dissatisfaction comes from organized Christianity in general.
- I long for deep conversation about the reality that we might be wrong. It is possible that there is no god at all, that faith is wishful thinking, or that we entirely missed Jesus’ point. Admittedly in mainline traditions it is often okay to admit that we have doubts or that we don’t understand a passage or maybe (though not always) that we don’t believe in miracles or don't believe certain scriptures are factual. But we are still often uncomfortable looking more closely at the doubts and have few venues for really exploring them in any depth beyond a sympathetic pat on the back for those experiencing doubts while going through some traumatic event. Isn’t church the very place where such questions should be considered?
- The focus of the church seems to be almost entirely upon worship and wringing our hands over why we can’t get more people to come to worship (we label the latter as evangelism.) I keep reading the Gospels trying to see what I am missing but I cannot see that this is what Jesus calls us to do. What I read is Jesus being about healing, reaching out to the poor and the outcast. I don’t think Jesus meant reaching out and handing them an invitation to your church. A few token service projects or even several, though helpful, still don’t really get to the heart of what I read Jesus calling us to do.
- I find myself agreeing more often with my atheist friends and non-Christian friends than my Christian friends.
- I feel a sense of incomplete purpose in my life. Not purposeless since raising my children and caring for our farm are pretty important purposes. But I feel like I am being called to more than this. It is unsettling to me that the church does not seem to be well equipped to help me figure this out.
- I live in a "red" state. It seems to me that the conversations in church are influenced as much by this fact as by denomination or any other factor. I absolutely believe that faith should influence our politics. But if faith were the influencing factor would the results really be along party lines?
- Then there is the question of my children. I love the people in the church and want my children to be surrounded by a loving community. But is torturing them with worship (time for brutal honesty folks most of our worship experiences are terribly boring for children if not for adults too) really the best way to do that? Wouldn’t it be better to spend that time working side by side with these wonderful people and actually helping somebody?
- Another thing that makes me ponder leaving church is comments like some of those following any of the afore mentioned lists. It is so easy to dodge the criticism by telling someone he or she is being selfish or to stick it out with the church, or just drive a little further and search a little harder to find “a good fit”. This isn’t about one particular church or a few bad apples. This isn’t about not liking the music or the liturgy. This is about people having real struggles with important issues in the Christian church and needing to be heard. Simply telling people to try harder is not listening. People are leaving. There are many who think the church is dying. We need to listen. Or we can stand around the graveside feeling self-righteous satisfaction that we stuck it out until the bitter end but that won’t make the church any less dead.
These are some of the things I contemplate as I feel a general sense of dissatisfaction with the church. Though I echo things others have mentioned before, what I have written is personal to me and I am not attempting to generalize this list to anyone else. Yet, my understanding is that people are leaving all Christian churches: fundamentalist, liberal, mega and tiny. I have a deep suspicion that the trouble is with the very framework of what we have come to understand as church. My suspicion is we have strayed far away from what it means to follow Jesus. I am willing to admit I might be wrong about the underlying causes, the symptoms, the path we need to take but I find it harder to believe that I am wrong about a need for change. Yet from conservative to liberal to emerging church nothing I am aware of looks to me like more than just changing the wrapping paper on the same empty box. I know of some glimmers of hope and some shining individuals but mostly just different colored boxes.
So, here is my voice, joining with the others, calling for change.