i’ve read all the books about the demise of the american church and they all say pretty much the same thing–people are staying away from church in droves. they all quote the same experts, they all cite the same statistics, and the writers all have one thing in common: they are “vested” (that is, they are employed by churches and/or church people).
julia duin is not “in the ministry.” a single mother and author of four books, duin is religion editor for the washington times. her perspective in the book i recently read, “quitting church,” is fresh and stark, and comes from a place largely inconceivable to most of us inside the church. duin tells us why people are leaving the church, and she tells us what the church/church leaders ought to do about it. this is not a book review, it’s more of a synopsis. over the next few days, i want to tell you about the times “quitting church” slapped me in the face (metaphorically) and the times i stood and cheered. i hope you also will be enlightened.
so why are people quitting church? reason #1: CHURCH IS IRRELEVANT
duin wrote about catholics who refused to deal with sexual abuse, evangelicals who wouldn’t address the excesses of the prosperity gospel, and the traditional church ignoring the exodus of young people from within her ranks. duin interviewed steven mansfield, author of several best-selling books and former pastor of the 2000-member belmont church in nashville:
If we’re going to talk about the church today, let’s be really blunt. People are voting with their feet. The next generation is not going to church. For the most part, they are going to First Church of Starbucks…In fifteen years, present trends continuing, the church will be half of what it is.
one of duin’s chief complaints is the church’s shoddy handling of people of influence and prestige.
These people, used to excellence and efficiency in the business world, are hardly going to put up with mediocrity for several hours straight on Sunday mornings. And, judging from the many remarks I’ve collected over the months, people are bored witless at church. Skipping a Sunday doesn’t detract from the quality of their week. It may even improve it. Why? Because, they say, they need some time alone with God. Plus, church has nothing to do with their actual lives. What’s preached and talked about is irrelevant to their lives in the twenty-first century.
the church, according to julia duin, has become so preoccupied with maintaining members they are hesitant to talk about anything that might be considered controversial–what she calls “an unreasonable delicacy.” duin writes:
So much of American religion today is therapeutic in approach, focused on things you want to fix in your life…But for the most part, the heavy-duty issues–racism, sexuality, even heresy–are not dealt with. Undeserved suffering, intractable situations, unanswered prayers, and the quiet desperation of millions of Christians–these elephants in the church living room are left to sit there. But if the church won’t bring them up, others will.
finally, duin writes about handicapped pastor, bob sorge, whose writings on the subject of suffering “are the best I have found today in contemporary Christian literature.”
In the dark agony of his soul, Sorge has poured out several books on why God allows suffering and practical ways of dealing with it, while awaiting deliverance. That is what’s relevant these days. These are books people want to read; these are sermons people will attend church to hear.