if you’re just joining us, i am synopsizing julia duin’s engaging book, quitting church. “another book about the demise of the church,” you retort, “how last year!” the reason julia duin’s perspective is so intriguing to me, is that she not “in the ministry.” duin is religion editor for the washington times and her story comes from a deep, personal place. she tells us why people are leaving the church, and she tells us what we (the church/church leaders) ought to do about it.
reason #2 people are quitting church: WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO COMMUNITY
One of the top reasons people give for leaving church is loneliness: the feeling–especially in large congregations–that no one knows or cares whether they are there. Midweek small groups are a help in creating connections, but fewer and fewer people are able to fight their way through traffic, wolf down dinner, then carve out several hours in a given evening to be part of a small group. The people I talk with who have found true community and then must leave it, due to family or job reasons, pine for it the rest of their lives.
duin argues that our quest for bigger and more has served to create a church that makes one “feel lonelier going out than you felt going in.” she quotes clint rainey, a columnist for the dallas morning news and megachurch member:
The depersonalization and size of churches have resulted in flippant attitudes from the faithful. As my church has grown, so has the frequency of cell phone interruptions and families sneaking out early under cover of the dark movie theater environment.
deep fellowship simply cannot be a priority in churches where rushing people in and out of multiple services and directing traffic must take precedence. “as for those who drop out, no one notices.” responding to a study by the american sociological review that said the number of close friends for the average american has fallen from three to two, ms. duin quotes columnist clarence page:
We Americans are a restless people who take pride in our autonomy and self-reliance. Rugged individualism, rampant consumerism and restless pursuit of upward mobility and self-reinvention are enduring themes of America’s cultural life…Leave it to Americans to come up with the mega-church, where we can stroll in and decide precisely how much we want to be involved in a new community–or stay anonymous in the crowd, just you and me and God.
duin interviewed several people (some influential, like george barna) who are vigorous proponents of “the new house church movement.” she reports that most are very satisfied with their experience, and that there is a much greater probability that house church members will enjoy biblical community. but duin argues that the house church movement will not be sustainable because many of the leaders “have no discernment, pastoring, or teaching gifts whatsoever.” duin concludes:
I understand that (the house church movement) has been born out of frustration with what the institutional church has become. People join informal small groups rather than do without any fellowship at all. But if in general the leadership is as poor as in many of the groups I’ve had contact with, I predict house churches will be a short trend. If they manage to create vibrant, life-changing, supernaturally endowed community, they will last.