Why? What Can We Do?


walking outThis question – THE question – was on Facebook at 6:30 this morning.  A question I struggle with. A question I have some thoughts about.  A question I have tried to answer before. The question is:

“Why are people leaving churches and what can we do about it?”

From my reading, from conversations, from my observations, and as a member of one of the generations who are walking out and taking their children with them; I think there are at least four major reasons people leave (I shared these on this blog in 2009 and in 2014 I still think these are some reasons and some solutions)

  1. A Mis-Focus on Politics: When churches continue to promote candidates and try to push politics from the pulpits the some begin to walk out the door. They are not wanting to be worldly, they want to be godly, and do not feel they are learning as much about God as they are about Washington D.C. Churches do need to teach morals and the truth about immorality, but not with a political tone.
  2. Failure to Teach Doctrine: A couple of decades ago, mega-churches started appearing on the evangelical and fundamentalist landscape. These groups built large communities of adherents by reaching out to the “un-churched” with programs and ministries designed to fill their felt and desired needs. The thought was that if we reach the physical and emotional needs of the “un-churched” with love then we could reach their spiritual need for Christ. The problem is that many have not shifted from this emotional and physical outreach to teaching their converts about doctrine. In many cases the average church goer does not know the major doctrines of the congregation they attend. There is a time for a baby to have only milk, but a child must have solid food to grow to adulthood (1 Cor 3:2; Heb 5:12). Many are leaving churches because they need a change in diet to help them grow to maturity.
  3. Cultural Shift in the Churches: A result of not growing individuals to mature adulthood as a child of God is that they do not learn to avoid the pitfalls of the world. By not teaching doctrine, churches are failing to equip their members to be faithful to each other and to God. Churches have let the world get a foothold on their members. A friend and fellow preacher wrote recently about doing an experiment with his sons. He had his boys time how long he could hold a finger in water as it began to boil (I did not say he was bright did I?). When he finally pulled it out he noticed it was pink and on the verge of blistering. He stuck another finger in and realized the water was quite hot. His first finger did not notice the gradual change in the water temperature as abruptly as a finger left outside of the water. What is the point? When we allow worldly culture in our homes via mass media and we slowly incorporate that culture into our lives and churches we lose people to the world. When we use popular programming to “bring people in” we are not offering anything different from the world. Mankind is smart enough to see our inconsistency.
  4. We Cannot Out Entertain the World: Many churches are losing members to various genres of entertainment. We cannot beat the Devil at his game. If people want entertainment, they will find the best available and Satan has been entertaining people for a long, long time. I once heard Dan Chambers in a lectureship series say “Entertainment, not religion, is now the opiate of the people.” He is correct. {For more from Dan Chambers read “Showtime: Worship in the Age of Show Business” (Nashville:21st Century Christian), 1997.}

What can we do?

Return to the basics. When the church at Ephesus became mis-focused after a few years, Jesus encourages them through the Apostle to “return to your first love.” This concept needs proclaiming from the roof tops of churches around our great nation and the world as a whole. We need to be like Paul who said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). To the Philippians he declares that above all he desires to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil 3:10). We need to return to proclaiming the message of Good News – the Gospel of Christ that is God’s power to save men (Rom 1:16, 5:1). Once we reach people with this wonderful, awe inspiring, love compelling, disciple making message of hope, then we can move on to loftier and meatier matters. Churches cannot abandon the simple Gospel message for any watered down more “palatable” message. Any thing less would be (is) disastrous.

We need to study up on and instruct congregations in the Bible; not modern self-help psychology; but messages that create a firm foundation for faith and hope. We must hear again and follow the teachings of and the teachings concerning Jesus as Christ and not build on the sand (Matt 7:24-27). This teaching begins with a confirmation of the Bible as God’s authentic inspired word and therefore reliable as a guide toward obedience. We need to demonstrate the relevance of the messages within the Sacred Text to our lives in the 21st Century. Details of life may change, but our nature remains the same. Specifics within the context of a narrative may not always be relevant, but the underlying lessons are still for our learning and instruction (Rom 15:4). We need to return to the pattern of living by the precepts of God in Christ.

Remember who we are. We must also remember that Jesus told His immediate followers, and by extension all that belong to Him, that they and we are “in the world but not of the world” (John 17:14-16). We are to lead the world by our example and not follow the example of the world. Paul put it this way in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” When we will live a daily Christian life, the world will take notice and we will be the unique people we God calls us to be (1 Pet 2:9).

Finally, we need to refocus our worship. Too many churches and individual Christians look for a worship experience that moves them as individuals. Jesus told the woman of Samaria that God is Spirit and those that worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). God is the focus of our worship. When I worship God, I am the last concern, you are next in line, and God is the central figure and the only member of the audience as we each individually participate in cooperate worship. Your edification and admonition are secondary byproducts of my worship and my encouragement is secondary to your worship. The focus is God and His pleasure. We must learn again to worship the Creator and not the created. I find that when you and I focus on God and Christ that I do gain. Notice the Hebrew writer’s emphasis in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We accomplish this when we gather together to “offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name (Heb 13:15).
What will the results of a shift toward a restoration of Biblical preaching, Christian living, and godly worship? Some will still leave, they left Jesus in John 6, and He asked the Twelve, if they would leave as well. They stayed. Some today will stay the course. If we will do the above those who stay will be stronger for it.

Scott.

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