Six Ways to Support and Challenge Those Who Leave Church
February 1, 2018
How churchgoers can journey with their “done” brothers and sisters.
I met recently with an old friend of mine. We’d gone to church together two decades ago and formed a relationship in the trenches of nursery duty and Vacation Bible School. After running through the menu of family and mutual friend updates, I asked her where she was attending church these days. She paused for a moment, as if to steel herself for the response. “Nowhere,” she said.
She needn’t have feared my reaction. After being burned by a string of fiery, painful church experiences, I understand the common struggle. “You’re not alone,” I said. “Please tell me your story.”
Statisticians tell us that most streams within the church in the US are in numerical decline. Most of us committed to a local church are seeing this happen in real time right before our eyes. Even if you happen to attend a congregation that is growing numerically, no doubt you’ve noticed others who are slipping out the exit door.
For many believers, toxic politics, institutionalized racism, and cover-ups of sexual and spiritual abuse have, like an eclipse, blotted out a clear view of Jesus. I suspect that for every person who leaves a church, there are three more “almost dones” hovering near the exit door. (One of them might even be you.) Some have hit a period of doubt or deconstruction in their faith, others may have outgrown their congregation, particularly if they attend a church focused on seekers and/or young families. Many others carry wounds from abusive or dysfunctional leaders and are triggered or re-injured by staying in the same setting, which was the case for my friend.
When someone departs a congregation, the “left behind” response from leaders and congregants …