I have noticed an interesting trend in church attendance. More and more people are dissatisfied with church, as we know it. In many ways, this is nothing new. There have always been people who get disgruntled with church and leave. In my experience, it was usually because they did not like the requirements that the church placed on them. Requirements of what they could and could not wear, where they could and could not go, or simply because they wanted to go and have fun living their life. The trend I have noticed does not fit any of these reasons.
I have had the opportunity to visit with people from several different religious backgrounds (Apostolic, Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic and Presbyterian). They have all felt a need to leave their church; however, their reasons may surprise you. They are leaving because they see a form of godliness that does not have power. These are regular people, with families, and they do not have a problem with all of the “rules”. They have a problem with a noted lack of power to effect change in their world. I am not talking about having church where people worship, pray, feel excited and encourage one another. They do not have a problem with that, they actually confess to missing those experiences. These people are no longer satisfied with going to church several times a week and experiencing God through worship, bible study and interaction with other believers (all really great things), while their community has little or no evidence of God’s representation.
They have read the bible and see that Jesus told his followers they would do greater things than he did. Additionally, they see that the followers of Jesus had a marked impact on their community. Then they did what their pastors have instructed them to do for many years. They honestly compared their life to the life of believers, represented in the Bible, and realized that they were lacking. The more they looked, the more alarmed they became. They began to approach their church leaders with questions about why they are not experiencing power to make a difference and were met with excuses and weak, outdated examples (20 years ago God did…) of an impact.
At the same time their eyes were opened to see more and more pain in their communities (poverty, abuse, no hope, rampant drug use). As a result of what they were seeing, they experienced a deep desire to help. Once again they approached their church leaders; however, the church did not have a budget for the type of community outreach that was needed. Some people that I spoke to came from churches with multiple million dollar church buildings and budgets; however, everything that came in was used to sustain the church. There was little left for outreach and the needs they saw in the community required multiple million dollar solutions (safe places for kids, live in rehab centers, etc). As a result, they decided to venture out on their own in order to make an impact. They started with soup kitchens and homeless shelters. They were busy helping those in need and that produced such a joy and peace that they felt more fulfilled than ever.
I am aware of 7 families, in the middle Tennessee area, that fit this description. They are all from different faith backgrounds and recognize the dangers of being a “Lone Ranger” Christian, so they are having “church” in their homes or coffee shops. They worship together, study the Bible and encourage one another; however, they also share a common goal of having an active, powerful impact in their community. They believe that, even though they are few, if God directs them they can see the powerful change that is so desperately needed in their community.
While we did not leave our church for these reasons (ours was much more crazy…), I can identify with a marked lack of power in my Christian life and have blogged about that previously. Pastor Eric, at Cornerstone Church in Hudson, WI, once asked the following question to the church: “if our church were suddenly gone tomorrow, who would miss us?”. This question represents the type of thinking that is needed to transform churches from places that “take care of their own”, to places that take care of everyone.
I have always tended to lump everyone who leaves church into the “backslider” category; however, it is possible that the “backslider” category is found in the church building and the victorious Christ follower is found volunteering for after school programs, soup kitchens and homeless shelters in order to be Jesus to those in need. The next time you see someone step away from church, don’t assume it is for selfish reasons. It may be for the most selfless reason possible; the lost and hurting.