Churchgoers in a new survey say they’re concerned for the eternal destiny of Christian leaders who walk away from the faith but also for the many people they may influence by their stance.
The LifeWay Research survey asked 1,002 American Protestant churchgoers how they would feel if a “person who is well-known for their work in Christian ministry announced they no longer believed in Christianity.”
It’s not hypothetical. The lead singer of the well-known Christian band Hawk Nelson said this year he no longer believes in God. Last year, pastor and courtship author Joshua Harris said he no longer was a Christian.
The survey found that 69 percent of churchgoers say they would hope the person will “someday come back to Christian faith” and 63 percent say they would be “sad they have abandoned their faith.”
A full 44 percent of churchgoers would have “concern for their eternal destiny,” and 40 percent would have “concern that they may lead others astray.”
Evangelicals are more likely than other churchgoers to say they hope the person comes back to Christianity (75 percent), that they would be concerned for their eternal destiny (59 percent) and that they’re concerned they’d lead others from the faith (51 percent).
“The predominant reaction among churchgoers when they see a leader walk away from their faith is to maintain hope for them while grieving the decision they are making,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “The big question is, will this leader cause others to also walk away?”
McConnell noted that 8 percent of Protestant churchgoers in the survey say they would “identify with” the doubts of the leader who walked away.
“Also, the 2 in 5 who fear others could follow the leader away from Christianity may simply be speculating or they may know some of those who have these doubts,” he said.
Among other answers:
- 17 percent would believe the person who walked away “never really had Christian faith.”
- 9 percent would be “happy” for the person “finding a belief system that works better for them.”
- 9 percent would have anger at “whoever/whatever pushed them away.”
“Churches want to reach and minister to those who are not yet followers of Christ and those who have honest struggles with the truths Jesus taught,” McConnell said. “A leader abandoning the faith may be a distressing situation, but it should also serve as a reminder for Christians to only put their trust in Jesus.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.