DE-CHURCHED: Why People are Leaving Church But Not Faith

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They left church behind. Now they outnumber those who’ve stayed.

They left church behind. Now they outnumber those who’ve stayed.

Why have they turned their backs on a community of believers?

What is it about today’s church that keeps them away?

Over the last year, while working on a major documentary film that examines America’s state of faith and the condition of the church, I’ve talked with hundreds of people. Many of these are de-churched. They’re done with the organized church.

In some cases, they’re wounded. In other cases, they’re simply disinterested.

Last week, I interviewed Tony, a father of four young children, who left his church a year ago. He no longer attends any church. Or small group. Or Bible study.

He hasn’t abandoned his faith in Jesus. He’s just done with what Jesus’ church has become.

In some ways, he knows too much. He spent 10 years in professional ministry, some of it in a couple of America’s well known large churches. “I’m over the concerts and speeches and the contrived effort to call a gathering of 3,000 people a family,” he said.

“What I value now is proximity,” he wrote in his blog. “The only leaders I care to hear are those willing to know me and be known. Not in some official capacity over Starbucks with their church credit card in hand. But with a friend, a person living honestly in their own right with no agenda or ‘line’ to keep — but possessing the strength of character to have their own voice, doubts and convictions.”

Tony worries about the hidden curriculum of pastoral leaders who intentionally keep a professional distance from their church members, who avoid forming real relationships. Tony fears the unintended take away: Maybe that’s how God operates too. Unwilling to know and be known.

Tony is like a lot of de-churched people. He simply doesn’t find value in participating in church as we know it. “I’m detoxing and looking for what remains that is real, that is love, and that is true.”

My interview with Tony was sobering. And disturbing. But also encouraging.

Because what Tony yearns for … is something the church of Jesus can be. If we choose to. He’s not looking for perfection or polish or pious professionalism. He’s looking for real people who are willing to admit they don’t have it all together, but realize we’re all in this together. Humbly, fumbly, looking to follow the One who is perfect.

We need Tony — and the millions like him.  

Thom Schultz Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

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  • JC

    Seriously? Sounds like Tony needs to grow up and realize that church is not about him being the center of some pastor’s attention and expecting the church to meet his needs. He wants to be loved but doesn’t understand what it means to give love. Being part of a church is about serving others, giving sacrificially, and supporting a God given corporate vision that is bigger than one’s self. Sad. If people are leaving churches because of this, the only indictment against the church is its failure to make disciples and teach so called Christ followers to take up a cross.

    • Chad M.

      I think you are missing the point. I think he is desiring a true missional community that is open and honest. I pray he can find people like I have, who are my “community” and encourage my faith.

      • JC

        I think you may be oversimplifying the issue. Don’t assume that Tony (and people like him) are right and all the churches and pastors are wrong. There are two sides to every story and I’m guessing that if those church leaders who are being labeled as deficient had the chance to speak, they may suggest that there was a lot more that Tony could do to overcome his offense and be more proactive in trying to influence his community of faith rather than being passively critical and abandoning it.

    • Michael Bell

      Being part of a Church: let me guess, that means a human structure rather than being part of the Body of Christ, which is not a human structure? Serving others: that means serving the way the Church (human structure) hierarchy determines. Giving sacrificially and supporting the corporate vision: oh yes, that means tithing to the hierarchy so that they can add a marble facade to the front of the human structure and purchase a new car for the assistant pastor and give a donation to some unknown mission in Ulan Batur, that the giver has no specific knowledge nor burden for. This is exactly where the Church has failed. The constant perpetuation of corporations and franchises and Old Testament Levite system that has been stereotyped throughout Church History and embarrassed the real Church – true believers caught up in the man made structures. And you say it is sad that people leave because of that. I suggest that they may be set free from the entrapment of your concept of what a relationship with Christ means, though I am sure you desire people to follow Jesus sincerely. But taking up the cross has nothing to do with corporate visions, human committees and some local pastor’s desire to control the sheep or grow a church of 3000, even though they may do great works and win people to The Lord.

      • JC

        You mad bro?


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