Part 1 explains my belief that Luke 15 more appropriately refers to people who were once close to God and have now moved away vs people who have never known God at all.
But you know what? It doesn't matter if you agree with that point or not.
Independent of the interpretation of Luke 15, the fact remains that MANY people are leaving the church. Not just leaving "a" church and going to another one, but leaving all church, leaving organized Christianity all together.
This is such a prolific problem, that this demographic has been given a trendy name, the "once churched" or by some "de-churched." There are no longer just the "churched" and the "un-churched" but now this third group as well.
A recent study of "once churched" people yielded a good amount of data for why people have left the church. The top two reasons were:
- Changes in life situation. Specifics include: Became too busy to attend church, family responsibilities prevented church attendance, moved too far from church, work situation, became divorced.
- Disenchantment with pastor/church. Specifics include: Church members seems hypocritical, the church/pastor was too judgmental, the church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement.
I know there are many many more reasons than those, and I know that sometimes reasons are given as a smokescreen to mask the truth of why a person is no longer involved in a church. But there are reasons given by the data, and there are things that we can do to confront every single one of them.
Yes, I know that someone leaving the church does not mean that they have abandoned their faith. In fact, this same study has some information about the beliefs of the "once churched" that were polled.
42% Christian but not devout
24% Spiritual but not religious
19% Devout Christian
10% Believe in God but not Christianity
5% Uncertain about God
1% Don't believe in God
I see two things in those numbers: People who have lost faith in God (the bottom 2), and people who have lost faith in the church (the top 4). So we really have:
6% People who are uncertain of, or have lost faith in, God
94% People are uncertain of, or have lost faith in, the religious structure of the church, the doctrines that compose Christianity, or the regulations that must be adhered to consider yourself devout.
This saddens me.
I do not believe that you have to be involved in church to be a Christian. However, I do believe that if you are not involved in a community of believers who are able to mutually build up each other's faith, encourage each other, challenge each other, live their lives together, etc, and you attempt to go it alone; you will have a very difficult time. And really, isn't that a church anyway?
In my mind, the data from the above chart would look quite different in time. If the same people were polled 10 years later, I can't imagine that only 6% would have the problem with God. I imagine that number would have drastically climbed. That eventually, those who left because of a problem with the church would have that problem fester and grow until they no longer had a problem only with the church, but with God as well.
There was a sermon illustration I heard a few years ago (or read, I can't remember) about comparing Christians to coals/embers in a fire. When you get them together, it burns hot and the coals feed off each other. When you remove one from the fire, it stays lit for a little while, but then burns out long before the main fire does. It may even be some kind of Biblical illustration or proverb, but I'm not interested in trying to look it up just so I can appear that I know what I'm talking about.
It burns me.
I get angry and sad that we as a church drive so many away. That we seem ignorant of it, and in many cases just plain ambivalent towards it. It's not that we don't know, it's that we also don't care. And we tell ourselves it was out of our control.
***WARNING: SARCASM AHEAD, WARNING***
Oh, those people left because they abandoned God. They were destined to fall away. Or better still, they never truly believed in God anyway, or they would not have left. They couldn't commit to growing their own faith. They were unable to give up their sinful passions. They didn't take responsibility for their faith. They'll go someplace else that's more comfortable for them. They don't fit in with us here. They don't understand. They didn't listen. They did this wrong, they did that wrong, we are not the problem, they are! ***/Sarcasm***
They are not the problem.
99% of the time, we are the problem.
So we need to be the solution.