Why So Many People Are Leaving the Church and What We Can Do to Stem the Tide

Why So Many People Are Leaving the Church and What We Can Do to Stem the Tide

For the past fifteen years, I’ve made calculated decisions to move towards my greatest desire of working in vocational ministry. I’ve turned down advancements in what looked like a promising career because I knew it would move me away from my dream of working in ministry. I’ve spent much of my adult life taking baby step after baby step to gain knowledge, experience, and a passion for ministry.

My ultimate dream, which seemed silly and impossible to many, was to become a public speaker of sorts, who would seize every opportunity to share about my faith. I won’t bore you with the many naïve ways I tried to make this happen.

Regardless, in the end, my greatest desire was to share about the One who flipped my world upside down. My childhood was hard, both relationally and financially. Most of my weekends were spent visiting my dad in prison or wandering local parks to catch him dealing drugs before the cops did. It was complicated and messy.

But in the midst of the hardest day of my life—the day I lost my mother—Jesus was made more real to me than ever before. My life was marked by instability, ever hoping for change but always met by disappointment, eating cereal for dinner night after night, praying the lights wouldn’t be turned off, and eventually identifying as an orphan.

These are the ashes I was pulled out of, thanks to the many believers God placed in my life. It was remarkable to see people who loved me, because of their love for Jesus. This is the message I wanted to share and the community I wanted to invite other hurting and broken people into.

Now, most of my daily life is set in the world of Christian ministry, and yet I find myself in a place of exhaustion and discouragement. I understand everyone’s faith goes through seasons, but there is also a great divide happening among the faith in our culture. I truly believe the timeline of church history is at a hinge point, as we speak. It most certainly is within the American Church.

I know I’m not alone in my desire to not only see unity, but to also see the sin, abuse, and destruction that has seeped into our churches expelled. To see the focus of the church be more about showing the life-giving hope of Jesus, rather than prioritizing viewpoints at the expense of people.

People Are Leaving the Church

There are a great number of reasons why people are leaving the church, and it’s evident this is happening on a large scale. For the first time in eight decades, US church attendance has dropped below 50%, and researchers anticipate for that number to become even smaller.

Whether we like it or not, people are leaving the church. And that’s a problem we need to deal with. Jesus told his followers that we are to make disciples of the nations. If people are leaving the church en masse, then it’s worth taking a step back to see if, somewhere along the way, we’ve taken a detour from the mission.

Church attendance is not an automatic indicator that disciples are being made, but a lack of church attendance would suggest disciples aren’t being made. If our mission is people and people aren’t showing up, there’s a problem we need to look into.

It’s really easy to recognize the problematic issues outside of the church and identify how such matters are negatively impacting us internally. We’ve become passionate about stating our view on political elections, policies related to COVID-19, and a wide variety of other topics.

Our eyes are focused on matters outside of the church and less on reflecting on why multitudes are leaving the church.

It might be time for us to realign our hearts, minds, and churches with the mission of Jesus. Not that I would for a moment think any believer has intentionally stepped away from the mission. But with the passage of time, the pressures of our culture, and subtle decisions focused in the wrong direction, we can easily find ourselves off course.

With a deep reliance on the Holy Spirit and a set focus on Jesus, the church can and should be changing in a way that invites hurting and broken people to see their lives transformed.

With the passage of time, the pressures of our culture and subtle decisions focused in the wrong direction, we can easily find ourselves off course. Click To Tweet

The Quest for Pure Christianity

The history of the Christian church is filled with followers trying to orient their lives around Jesus. This is a good thing, but we don’t always get it right.

Sometimes, our quest for pure Christianity excludes others in a way Jesus never intended and actually showcases our hypocrisy. One example of believers sorting through this tension is found in Galatians.

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:11-13)

The great debate for Christians during this time was whether or not new believers needed to be circumcised in order to be pure Christians. This was a Jewish tradition and a requirement under the old covenant between God and his people. Under the new covenant, it was no longer necessary.

But Jewish believers had a difficult time with Gentiles not being circumcised. The requirements for “pure” Christianity ended up excluding anyone who was not of Jewish tradition. This is a tension that we still wrestle with today as Christians, but it has taken on different forms.

Now, we celebrate our division among other believers and justify it on the grounds of our quest for pure Christianity. Our quest was never meant to be about us sorting out what true Christianity looks like in the lives of others. We are to focus on what it looks like to fulfill the two great commands, to love God and love others. This is a tall enough task that we will spend our entire lives thinking about and living out.

What we need to do is spend less time thinking about how to identify a true Christian based on their political vote, view on immigration, or any number of hot topic issues.

When we focus on what it means to be a pure Christian, we become self focused. When we spend our lives trying to love God and others more, we inevitably find what it means to be a true Christian.

When we focus on what it means to be a pure Christian, we become self focused. When we spend our lives trying to love God and others more, we inevitably find what it means to be a true Christian. Click To Tweet

A Life Giving Community

The answer to the divide we are living in is not to give up on the church. In spite of all of its flaws, dysfunctions, and blunders, the Church is the body of Christ. It’s not man who chooses to use the Church, this is what God has chosen. Just like with all things involving man, it needs to be redeemed and sanctified. This is an ongoing process and one we must choose to be part of.

We must recognize the way our communities proclaiming to love Jesus are falling short. As believers, we can’t grow discouraged. We must desperately come before our Father and ask him to use us to bring life. We have good news that has the power to transform in ways we can’t even imagine. We should want to invite people into these communities and not find ways to show them all the ways they aren’t welcome.

I must remind myself to not lose heart in the ways Jesus has chosen to reveal himself, but to find hope once again in the One who has transformed my own life.