Honestly, I don’t always like to examine the stats. They can be very hard to swallow when I see how many people in America have (or are) walking away from the church. Those aren’t just cold, lifeless percentages. Those are human beings who have rejected the institution Jesus started up.
If we’re to do anything, if we’re to make necessary changes, we have to take a long look at what’s happening, as a recent report from Group Publishing does. The study specifically examines a group called the “Dones,” people who used to go to church but no longer do.
Craig Cable at Charisma News lays out the numbers:
“New research reveals that 31 percent of the adult U.S. population, approximately 65 million people, were at one time involved in church but have since left. This is approximately equal to the number of people still regularly attending church.
“The study also found that more than 10 percent of adults still attending church are on their way out the door.”
Granted, not everyone who was “involved” with church in their lifetime did so willingly or with any consistency. The idea of what it means to be somehow engaged with a community of believers varies from one person to another. But, still, we must examine why these “Dones” decided to be—well—done.
So, what made them bolt? In interviews and surveys, that group listed five main reasons:
- The church was too judgmental.
- The church bureaucracy was stifling.
- They didn't like the lecture style of preaching.
- The church was not where they encountered God.
- The church took a social or political stance they disagreed with.
Now, our first response to this list could easily be to point to flawed thinking and unbiblical notions. But perhaps we should think more deeply and ask why these Dones came to believe such things. What happened to them in our churches that one of these top 5 reasons pushed them out the door?
If we are truly the church that began in Acts 2 and rolled through the Roman Empire and beyond, what changes (if any) can we make? We can’t change the truth of God’s Word, but we can change how we share the gospel. It will still offend some (as in reason 5), but should bureaucracy and preaching style be a stumbling block?
To keep people from leaving, Pastor Joe McKeever says that we need to make sure that churches are healthy. Doing so means knowing 10 warning signs that point to deeper issues:
“4. When church ends, everyone scatters.
“I said to a pastor where I had just preached, ‘Close your eyes and listen. That's the sound of fellowship.’ By then, the service had been over a full half-hour, but his people had hung around, visiting with one another.
“There are fewer greater compliments to give to a church than that: the members love each other and cannot wait to get together. ‘By this all men will know you are my disciples,’ our Lord said, ‘that you love one another’ (John 13:34–35).”
Now it’s your turn. What do you think about this list from those who have left the church? Have you had a similar experience? What (if anything) should we do to remedy this exodus?
John UpChurch is the senior editor of BibleStudyTools.com.