Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Quitting Church, by Julia Duin

Duin's book is one of a parade of books coming out during the past few years on how people in the tens of millions are storming out of the evangelical church. Unlike some other authors, Duin is a professing believer, but like many others, not attending a church during recent years.

Her book exemplifies the paradox Christian leaders face today. The complaints raised in interviews with ex-church people present a contradiction: On one hand, people claim they don't have time to make the commitment to attend. They're too busy. She cites research predicting that people are just going to get their spiritual food from the internet and form what Barna calls "a church of one." The world-committed consumer Christian is exemplified perfectly by this guy:

“I want to go back. But it takes such a lot of effort to go there after working all week and doing errands all Saturday. And if you do go, you want something back. You need your batteries charged. …Church is not like that anymore. You get no return for what you put into it.” Page 33
This quote shows two of the biggest problems we face today. First is the fact people are so committed to the world system that it takes all their energy, so there isn't much left for God. Next is the fact that this is consumer Christianity--the bottom line is always "what's in it for me?"

But God sends us into the church for what we can give, not for what we can get. Accommodation to the world and to consumer Christianity is a bottomless hole that will never satisfy anyone, and betrays God's instructions.

At the same time, they complain that church is impersonal, doesn't connect with their lives, and superficial. These quotes are typical:
One of the top reasons people give for their leaving church is loneliness: the feeling—especially in large congregations that no one knows or cares whether they are there. Page 50
Duin comments:
Many churches have become like supermarkets or gas stations: totally depersonalized arenas where most people no longer feel a responsibility to be hospitable to the person standing next to them. … As for those who drop out, no one notices. Page 52
So, the superficiality I wrote about earlier combines with accommodation to produce a situation that makes everyone sick. At the same time, she points out that "The people I talk with who have found true community and then must leave it, due to family or job reasons, pine for it for the rest of their lives." Page 50

So, again, we see two problems. One is that people just "must leave it" (which is to say in most cases the world system demands they leave so they can make more money). The other issue is that true community is so awesome it should be worth giving up other values to keep it.

When will we stop trying to out-soft each other to compete for worldly-minded members, and call people to the New Testament standard for real body life? Wouldn't it be better to have a smaller church that had real serving community than a bigger one that's so bland, superficial, and disengaged that people wonder why they're there?


Chris White said...


You stated that God sends us into the church to give rather than get. But I think it is both. We need each other to develop into the person God wants. Giving is a big part of it, as you correctly noted; and without it the "church" experience will be shallow. Yet, and I think you would agree, we need the love and encouragement and admonition (the non-soft stuff) that other believers can supply when we are in authentic community with God's people. Other than that, excellent article and wish you would blog more.

Chris White

Dennis said...

Yes, we do receive, but we shouldn't go in seeking to receive. That just happens, and we take a position of faith that if we focus on giving out, God will cause our needs to be met, often through other believers. So the question is where my focus should be--giving or getting.

Chris White said...

I heartily agree.

Tim Holman said...


I saw that you left a comment on my blog about a year ago in referance to reading 'Organic Disciplemaking". I did not see it til today. Sorry I didn't get back with you. I did read it and I'm reading it again. It has pretty much been my go-to manual for discipling. Thanks for writing it and may God bless you!

Dennis said...

Awesome Tim! If you get a minute, I sure would appreciate any positive comments you could make on Amazon at

Anonymous said...

Dennis, this is not an attack against you or your church, your writings, or philosophy. Your post was about a book, by someone, who talked about why people are leaving the church. So it is a book about people like me and my family. Christ is the center of life and should be, in fact without Him there is no life. Our society leaves people feeling empty, hollow, and busy. They are looking for answers in church only to find that it is very often modeled after the world... even if it is an organic model.

People want to feel full. But they feel they have nothing to give, because they have been taught their entire life, (even in church) that it is not their "gifting" and that other people have been trained and can do it better. They take the "spiritual gifts quiz" and stop thinking on their own and rely on people who have "that gifting". I can honestly admit that the things I am "gifted" at I HATE to do, and I find the things that give me life are often the very things that force me to rely on God because I'm horrible at them.

In general people do not feel enabled to contribute, or they feel that their contribution would be minor compared to what others can do. It is built into our culture. Everyone looks to the experts for answers instead of looking at what they can do, even in church. People in church have the tendency to look to the leadership instead of Christ. And this is a mistake for both leader and follower. Because that leader is still man... and flawed, even with good intentions you still end up in a bad situation. (Saul)

In my opinion large churches, (more than about 30 people) will probably fail completely in this nation. Don't get me wrong, they will probably always exist, but I feel that they will fail to develop mature believers. The role of the large groups really needs to be re-thought and I have used my feet to speak (leaving), and now using my fingers to back that up.

If you'd like to know why people are leaving, I can say why I left the church. I'll preface this by saying, I am a professing Christian. I still believe, and still care for my brothers and sisters in Christ (misdirected though I feel they are). I still believe that fellowship is important. Fortunately it is not a requirement for salvation, just growth and life.

1. I felt that the church community was too superficial, lacking real depth. That there was so much emphasis on church and church activities that there was no time to develop real relationships with people. And to compensate for this even more "smaller" activities were created to drum up "deeper" relationships, with guided curriculum.

2. I also felt that everyone in the groups were on the same level. It was peers teaching peers. I have no problem with peers teaching each other... but there were no "elders" (not the biblical term used for a deacon or leader, simply a brother/sister in Christ who was older and more experienced) in these groups. While peers teaching peers may be more relevant it did not help teach how to deal with the situations life generated, it gave no insight to problems other than the same perspective of someone in the same situation. I feel that age segregation is detrimental to the church as a whole. Children should see their parents, parents should see their parents, otherwise all that learning and experience is wasted and dies with them. (Parents should see their children and learn from them too. I know since I had children God has taught me so much about His will for me that I would never had understood without.)

3. I felt that there was no place for me to contribute that fit into the cookie cutter called church. Sure give everyone a "spiritual gift" test and plug them in where it looks like they fit... but I don't consider that very organic, I tend to think of that as more formulaic. I've recently been reading an author name Jacques Ellul and I feel he makes a great point that God does not care about efficiency, and all too often the Church models itself after corporate structures in the name of efficiency (stewardship), while doing so it misses the heart of what God is looking for. God cares about LIFE, and life is messy, inefficient, and illogical (as a general rule)... And that rarely fits well into services, lectures, or efficient application of talent in a focused direction. God does care how we use our gifts (parable of the talents), however I do not think His primary concern is "efficiency".

4. I felt that there was no room for in-depth discussion or real conversation about God or His word. There were plenty of books passed around, and lots of "guided questions" that lead to "expected answers". I can remember one cell group meeting in which the cell group leader admonished a fellow believer (several times) for asking questions that regarding the application of a scripture verse because it was not in the list of questions that were in the book, and therefore "off topic". I found that the "books" or topics talked about were "strictly" held to, and while discussion was encouraged, it was only encouraged to a point. Once that point was reached the reigns were tightly pulled in and everyone put into check.

I feel that, just like much of our culture, church is fixated on this ideal of a perfect person and people believe that it is possible to "create" a perfect person. They ignore the flaws or non-ideal aspects of human nature. There is little room to be human in society, and in general even less in church. Which should be the opposite. This does not give license to sin, simply to be human, and accept the sacrifice Christ made without having to be perfect.

So the three major idealistic flaws that need to be fixed before I would regularly attend another church are these:

1. I want real relationships with real people, I don't need separate "groups" (IE cell groups) to form these, in-fact the separate groups take even more of my time from being able to spend time with already busy people. Quality time does not count as 30 people crammed into a room playing a board game (reading a book or any other group activity for that matter), or the one or two permitted questions at the end of a teaching. It is time to get to know and understand other people to know their history, their present and work together towards a future. I'm sorry but no "meeting" can ever perform that.

2. I want the church to stop looking like a corporate entity, I don't care if it is a board of directors (elders...), CEOs (pastors...), or entrepreneurs (apostles...), God is not building a corporation. He is not looking for financial profit... He already owns the earth and everything in it. He is not looking for a social club dedicated to Him, to discuss Him, and try to paint accurate pictures of Him for the public to see. He is not looking for a physical empire, I'm very tired of the evangelic pursuit of larger more self-sufficient, hydroponicly grown, genetically engineered, intellectually, and idealistically "perfect" people. There is nothing wrong with evangelism... it is just that is not our primary goal... And I will argue vehemently with anyone who uses the great commission to claim this is our primary purpose. It is a commission (a great one)... it is a task we have been handed... it does not define us, it does not sum up the whole of our purpose. Did the sculpture of David define Michelangelo? No it was a great work, however he did other things, it might have been a defining work, however it did not make the whole of Michelangelo.

3. Church needs to be able to deal with the non-idealistic parts of man in a better way. This one I do not have a clear answer to give in resolution. I am starting to realize the profound way this is affecting society as a whole and the church just as a micro-chasm of that. I know that unless we can deal with the non-idealistic parts of us without forcing "conformity" or trying to create "perfect" people, we will fail. Because people do not accept conformity for very long (although they are drawn to it), and people do not accept "programming" of behavior for long as well. Only God can change people, and we cannot measure their change because we can only see the outside.

Hopefully this is food for thought in your conundrum.

A brother in Christ

Dennis said...

Matthew, your comments generally mirror what we're hearing from people all across the country. Key points I identify with

1. The spiritual gifts tests are nothing like what we see in the Bible. The Bible never even says we should discover our gifts. It assumes we will know them while we serve in relationships.

2. The lack of real relationships, but I think it partly has to do with the fact that Americans are so "busy" pursuing worldly goals (their kid's sports, going to the gym, extra work, and entertainment) that they can't be bothered to get together for relationship building. That makes a mockery of everything taught about the church in the NT. That's why I wrote Organic Disciplemaking. You might like that book--it's a lot about what you're saying.

3. Nearly complete lack of equipping for home group leaders, and instead substituting a script for them to follow. It isn't biblical, and it makes the whole experience seem phony.

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