Julia Duin, a religious reporter for the Washington Times, has written a book entitled Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do About It. I haven’t read it. But a friend of mine recently sent me a review by the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Eastland.
According to Eastland, church-quitting in the United States is characterized by Duin in her book as “epidemic.” The problem though, in her view, is not in the souls of the church quitters but in the character of the churches they choose to leave. Relying on her own reporting and surveys, Duin lists several things that are wrong with a lot of America’s Christian Churches.
~a lack of a feeling of community among church members, inducing loneliness and boredom
~church teaching that fails to go beyond the basics of the faith
~church teaching that fails to reach members who are grappling with suffering or unanswered prayer
~pastors who are out of touch with their parishioners or themselves unhappy
~pastors who fail to shepherd their flocks or try to control the members in high-handed ways
Duin’s conclusion seems obvious, that our churches need to become places where people feel eager to be. This goes straight to the “community” aspect of what we do and why we do it. In this regard, she calls for better teaching, better preaching, and better pastors who are in touch with the lives of their worshippers. I agree. For two-thousand years we’ve called the Church a Christian community. We need to be much more intentional about cultivating that community. And while a large part of that falls to our elders and preachers and teachers, let’s not forget we are called by our God to be a Kingdom of priests. We serve each other. We sacrifice for each other. We put the needs of others ahead of our own. It’s on all of us to treat each other in ways that form and sustain community.
Two, Duin says churches hurt themselves when they view their organization or allow their own members to view the organization as primarily functioning to meet the members’ needs. (So, there is at least a little theology in the book. That’s good.) The Lord adds us to his Body of Believers in order to serve, not to be served. I had lunch last week with a couple who are considering placing their membership here with us at Legacy. And they asked me three or four times, “Allan, what can we do to serve here? Where’s a place, what’s a function, what’s a service we could really perform here that would help this church and the people?” Wow! How wonderfully refreshing!
It’s not, “What can this church do for me?” It’s always, “How can I serve in this church?”
According to Duin, churches dedicated to this kind of discipleship mindset, this sort of serving and sacrificing in the manner of Christ, will “do well in this era of dumbed-down, purpose-driven, seeker-friendly Christianity.” That means teaching and preaching beyond the five (or six. or seven. how many are there now?) steps of salvation and first principles and deeper than the Christianity-Lite we find in a lot of places.
She says churches will prosper if they concentrate on making disciples. And that’s where Eastland makes his point. Churches like this aren’t always going to prosper—if we judge prosperity by church membership alone. He says, “A church might conscientiously carry out its biblical tasks and yet, by measures of popularity, do poorly in this world. Such a church would not be doing right if it adjusted its mission for the sake of higher attendance records.”
Trunk or Treat last night here at Legacy and there’s absolutely no way in the world to know how many people came through our parking lot and building. All four of the front sections of the worship center were full as we rehearsed together the story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17 as a wild west shootout movie. Wade P saved the day when he provided the whistle soundtrack from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from his cellphone. Larry T blew it—or didn’t blow it—when I needed him most. And John W ad-libbed several lines during his evil Goliath laugh. Everybody, it seemed, had a great time with Sheriff Saul and “Ohhhh, David!” But hopefully we all left with a greater appreciation for the God of Israel, our God, who always delivers. He always wins. And those who belong to him always win. And we don’t win by sword or spear. We win by putting our faith and trust in the One who made us and promises to sustain us. David never doubted God’s deliverance. Because God always delivers. We should all feel so deeply and act so boldly.
After that, it was off to the parking lot where hundreds and hundreds of folks were already milling around the decorated cars, bounce houses, face-painters, balloon-sculptors, and food and drink booths. What a night! Cake walks and games and costume contests. Tons of people. I know we served over 1,100 hot dogs. And not everybody got one. I’ll bet 20% of the people here were not members of Legacy. It was fantastic. Truly a community event. Probably, including Give Away Day which brings in people from Fort Worth and points even further south and west, Trunk or Treat is our biggest annual event that draws the most people from our corner of Tarrant County. It’s probably time to do what we’ve done with Give Away Day the past couple of years and start concentrating on some outreach and follow up and evangelism with Trunk or Treat. Thanks to Kipi and Todd and all the dozens and dozens of volunteers!
I dressed up as Tony Romo for the Trunk or Treat, complete with the over-sized pinkie splint fashioned out of a toilet paper roll and lots of athletic tape. Instead of simply donning Valerie’s blond Hannah Montana wig, Carrie-Anne spent two-hours straightening her own hair to play Jessica Simpson. We were quite the pair.
I read the summary as well as her blog. You missed one of her points on why people are leaving – women needing to be taken more seriously. Could that be something like teaching a class that had men and women in it? Or leading a prayer before the entire congregation?
On her point about better teaching, perhaps the move towards more discussion rather than lecture might apply.
Maybe the right size for a church is 12? It’s a great number on so many levels.
I feel blessed to be able to say that I am currently witnessing God doing amazing things in my life. I am seeing Him use people to speak truth into others’ lives and take a string of what the world deems “coincidences” and using them for His glory. I am reminded of and amazed by God’s glory and power right now… and I am also not overly surprised by the trend of church-quitting of which this author speaks.
The world around us is experiencing pain and devastation, joy and elation, mourning and sorrow, awe and amazement, anger, fear, frustration, poverty, loneliness, depression, self-consciousness, guilt, endless suffering, and so many other emotions… and our churches are pointing fingers and discussing non-issues like orders of worship, church attire, and clapping – is there any wonder we’re experiencing an exodus? Until we realize the awesomeness of the mighty God we serve and the purpose to which He calls His church, our churches will drive away those that need the mercy and grace of our Father the most.
We’ve spent so long modeling ourselves after the early church that we’ve stopped modeling ourselves after the Christ that died for her. He spent His days seeking, saving, healing, loving, and sacrificing… not discussing mere semantics. If our Master did not come to be served but to serve and to give up His life, so should we. If our Maker humbled Himself and considered others better than Himself, so should we. If the Almighty spent time with the hurting and the lost, so should we.
It’s not just about a general attitude – it’s about a very specific attitude: Jesus’ attitude. If we’re not acting like Him, we’re way off. Way off.
As to Duin’s point that women need to “be taken more seriously” to stem the tide of people leaving our churches, that could be a fair statement. Again, I haven’t read the book. I would add, however, that our God gives us each specific roles within his Church. And then he goes out of his way through Paul to tell us that not one of those roles is any more important than any other. A female teacher is no more important than the male custodian. A male song leader is no more important, or worthy of respect, than a female attendance-card-counter. I would caution against equating roles to levels of respect.
But there IS a point to be made about women’s roles and clapping and worship practices as it relates to people leaving the Lord’s Church. Our people—God’s people!!—are not stupid. They see very clearly when religious leaders draw lines in the sand that Scriptures don’t draw. They know good and well when church leaders make rules that the Bible doesn’t. That drives off more people than anything. It communicates to members and outsiders alike that, while we claim to want to follow God’s Scriptures, we only practice it in ways that suit our own personal levels of comfort. Imposing rules and regulations where God does not only leads to mistrust and suspicion. And, rightfully so.
The best course of action is always to study and pray and then draw those lines if you have to. But do it openly and without pretense, explaining to people that, yes, we understand the Bible doesn’t lay down this law, but these are the reasons we feel we must. And then make clear that, because we understand we’re doing this on our own, that God does not command this, the topic or issue remains open to more study and more prayer and expected spiritual growth.
We can’t say it’s Bible when it’s not. We can admit to being human and faulty and to understanding our own prejudices and limitations. And we can commit to dedicating all of our energies and focus and time to the Kingdom our Christ preached: seeking and saving and healing and sacrificing and loving.
As for more discussion and less lecture, were you here last Sunday night?
And, yes, the ideal number in a church is 12-16. We’re trying to do that, too, on Sunday nights.
I’m not looking at the role rather at the qualifications of the person. Do we limit women in the roles they can play because of their gender?
I got you to flinch but couldn’t get you to cross the line (unlike #94 and his 3 penalties).I think there is more discussion going on. Sunday nights are a part of that. If the ideal size is 12 or even up to 16, is the next step just to go only to small group church?
The ideal scenario is that our Small Groups Churches will become so powerful in service and sacrifice and attitude and mindset and worldview that it rubs off on the Sunday morning assembly. The goal is that eventually it’ll lead to a thousand people acting with each other and with our God on Sunday mornings the same ways we do on Sunday nights.
Keeping my eye on the ball….