A friend sent me a link to a visual on facebook that listed the five reasons people leave the church.
According to the graphic, the five reasons why people leave the church are:
- The church was too judgmental.
- The church bureaucracy was too 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.
My friend asked me if this was pretty accurate and what I found in my research about the church in Finland.
My response was – yes, it’s accurate and I would add a few more.
- The church was dull.
- The church didn’t relate to daily life in any way.
- The words of the church didn’t match the action.
That’s a pretty comprehensive list and one that I think is pretty accurate based on my observations of the church in Finland and the US.
Of course there are other reasons too. The fact is people come and people go. Church can be all those things in the list above. But it doesn’t have to. I wonder what a church would be like if it decided to be something different from those things on the list. I doubt a church like that would be talking about or worrying about people leaving as if people were just numbers filling the pews.
When I read the list above, I see the definition of an organization and organizational concerns, not a community. Organizations are concerned with following the rules, expecting conformity of belief and action, communication being a one way street, and the numbers. Organizations are established and have a fear of loss.
Communities have a different concern – people. Communities recognize that people and their lives are messy and that the utopias that we invent are more destructive than helpful.
People come and people go. When they leave something, there is always a reason why they leave. And when they come, and keep coming, there is always a reason for that too. It is helpful if we would listen to those non-verbalized reasons. We might just learn something.
What I think about the items on the list are that they start off from good things that were just stretched a bit too far. I’ll take two of them as examples.
“The church bureaucracy is too stifling.” Having structure can be helpful actually. It provides order and organizes resources more effectively than chaos. Having structure can also mean that there is room for planning. But having bureaucracy that is stifling means there is too much order to the point that control becomes the overriding value and anything else threatens it. Not healthy.
The second example will be more controversial. “The church took a social or political stand they disagreed with.” It’s one thing to make a statement about an injustice that we observe and offer a way to overcome it. Let’s take hunger for example. Saying something like “feed the hungry.” It’s quite another to make a political statement in church that aligns a church with a specific political party. Something like “We need to feed the hungry by supporting this specific government program and the tax that goes to pay for it.” There’s a huge difference between these two statements. The issue I have, and apparently many others have based on the list above, with the second type of statement is this – There is no trust of people, only required conformity of belief that there can be only one enlightened answer to the injustice cited. Maybe a government program is the best way to fight hunger. Maybe not. Maybe it’s the best option in one community, but not every community. What happens when there is corruption and incompetency in government? Maybe tackling hunger in a different way is a better option for now. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a bit more complicated than having one simple answer.
The challenge is this – I don’t think there is often widespread disagreement on the ultimate goal, regardless of the issue at hand. The disagreement usually comes in the form of answering the question of how to accomplish the goal. Politics and political statements concern themselves with fighting about and being right on the “how” and having everyone conform to one way of “right” thinking.
I wonder what would happen if the church pointed out the injustice, offered a statement on that and then trusted the Holy Spirit to work through people to come up with a way to tackle the injustice. It may look a bit chaotic – different solutions rising up in different communities. I wonder if people with differing beliefs might just come together, focus on the goal, rather than the method to get there, and be God’s hands.
For that matter, the same thing could be said for the rest of the list. It starts with trust. Do we trust the people in our churches? Do we trust the Holy Spirit? Do we trust the promises of God? Then how about we show it and let go of the control and let go of the organizational mindset.