It’s a question that many people within the church are asking. Why are people leaving the church?
There are many theories about the flight of people from church. Some people are more blunt in their assessment, like the author of this article. The author is very open with his opinion on why people are leaving, similar to a way a person would write to a long-time friend whose friendship is close to ending.
Others take different approaches to this challenge. My point here though is not to go through the different theories people posit about why people are leaving the church.
It’s easy to come up with theories about why something happens. I have my own theories about this as well, as I’m sure you do. I happen to believe that a good portion of the reason people leave church is because church is no longer relevant to the person.
Of course some people leave because they have been treated poorly or even abused. Some leave for smaller reasons – at least that’s what they say. It’s likely that the small reasons are actually just the tip of the iceberg – the part that shows itself.
Why people leaving the church is an interesting question. I imagine we continue to explore it because we think that if we find the answer, the magic bullet, then we will be able to stop people from walking out the door, or maybe even reverse the trend.
That’s all well and good, but we may want to consider a different question – Why do we focus our attention on why people are leaving the church? Membership and attendance are organizational metrics. They serve a purpose and are sometimes a valuable piece of information. But they are not the end-all-be-all. People come and go. They join and they leave.
What if we turned our attention to something else? I don’t mean that we should be asking the opposite question – what can we do to get people in the door? That’s still focusing on the same thing as people leaving.
Instead, what if we focused our attention on answering these questions – Why does the church exist? What is the purpose of the church? What’s the mission of the church? I wonder what answers we would come up with to these questions.
It has been said that what we measure, we value. If we value the numbers of people in our churches, is that the right thing to value? Or should we place value on something else?
There are many answers to why people leave church. I would guess that some of the answer lies in seeing people in church as a piece of data instead of a person.
This is not to say that all churches are guilty of this. I wonder what would happen if we looked at those churches and learned who they were, not necessarily what they were doing. What do they value – or rather, who do they value? And how?
Measuring numbers is easy – they are concrete. Measuring intangibles is much more difficult. Is there a way to measure the intangibles? If you get creative there is. But it depends on the context. What you measure, what a church measures, tells everyone else what is important to them. It also tells others about the direction of the church, and if you dig in a bit, why the church exists.