Are we surprised when people leave the church?

"Alarming Rate" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
“Alarming Rate” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

[Like this cartoon? Get a print of it HERE!]
When people say that they are alarmed by people leaving the church, one has to conclude they’re out of touch with reality. It’s really not that alarming. It’s not that complicated. It actually makes perfect sense.

To scold people who leave the church by saying that they just should go to church or that they are lost without it or that they’ve made a mistake and that it’s their fault for leaving… it betrays a lack of self-reflection.

People are leaving the church for all kinds of reasons. They are…

  1. … bored.
  2. … fed up with being manipulated, coerced, and controlled.
  3. … experiencing abuse and have had enough.
  4. … not being challenged intellectually.
  5. … being asked to believe unbelievable things against their consciences.
  6. … looking for true community and are disappointed.
  7. … desiring a freedom the church does not allow.
  8. … giving up on the church’s broken promise to make the world a better place.
  9. … tired of being constantly violated spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, financially, etc.
  10. … rejected, shunned, shamed, kicked out.

I’m sure there are lots more reasons. Why did you leave? Or why are you thinking of leaving?

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13 Replies to “Are we surprised when people leave the church?”

  1. I left because I didn’t want to hurt anyone else while I was going through my own deconstruction. I’ve found others don’t fully understand that, as though they feel that they can “fix” what’s wrong with me. I didn’t want to be anyone’s pet project, or their charity case to help “heal my faith”. I wanted to go it alone and see if God worked outside the four walls…

  2. Caleb, and did you find that God did/did not work outside the four walls? Your thinking in that way is both simple and profound at the same time. Would be very interested in what you found.

  3. i just moved, still looking. When a pastor quotes Bill OReilly during a sermon, I suspect that Bill is his spiritual guide. When another pastor misquotes the Bible to imply thhat “outsiders” are dangerous, I feel unwelcome. (And what would they think if they knew I hang around with atheists, gays and Muslims?) I’m tired of the political undercurrent.

  4. Maybe because of the wish dream? “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves.” – Bonhoeffer

  5. Excellent point Brian. I have indeed thought about this a lot. In fact, I wrote a book on the dangers of visionary thinking in the church. I think there is a difference between tolerating uncomfortable things or even things that challenge us, and being oppressed, shamed, limited, coerced, manipulated, and abused. Try to stay in the first case but get out of there in the second.

  6. I am thinking of leaving because the way the Catholic Church treats LGBTI people is in direct contradiction to Jesus’s greatest commandments. The church abuses LGBTI people horribly, causing numerous harms to all aspects of health.
    The church spends millions of dollars–money that could help so many homeless, hungry people–on keeping LGBTI people from having the exact same rights as everyone else already enjoys. The church excludes LGBTI members from full participation in the church–unless those members agree to live a life of lies or a life devoid of love and joy. That is not the message of Christ. Some priests have called for violence against LGBTI people.
    All of this sends a message to LGBTI people that they are inherently flawed because they were born LGBTI. That is an evil message to send, and the few priests who try to speak up against the severe damage down to people are usually silenced fairly quickly.

  7. I left because when I went through my divorce, the people who were supposed to be my friends stopped being friends. I didn’t return to another church because saw no reason to continue to believe in it.

  8. It is very hard to come back to academia unless you keep an active publication record going. I think those people who are surprised when people leave the Ivory Tower, are that way because they don’t understand.

  9. I left when I went away to college, and never came back. I still have faith, mind you, quite a great deal, just probably not quite the same faith as every other congregants’.

    I love the idea of joining a completely new church, though, one I’ve never attended, maybe much smaller, maybe much larger.

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