quitting church: reason #2

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.


7 thoughts on “quitting church: reason #2

  1. “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.’”

    i think one of the greatest problems we face in christianity is a distrust in the Holy Spirit to equip us for the tasks at hand.

    now, hear me, i’m a missionary in a foreign context, so i know it’s not the same. but our greatest mistakes in modern missions (in my mind) follow:

    1) we make church and evangelism and teaching and being a christian too complicated. we try to hand over to new converts this huge organization with all this doctrine, explaining how to properly “do” church. it’s a very heavy box we’re placing in the arms of spiritual infants (and i’d argue very little of what’s in that box is important).

    2) we don’t trust the Holy Spirit to bring about maturity in believers. or to lead us to understand Jesus’ words properly. or to draw seekers to God in the first place.

    #2 is the reason for #1. we don’t trust the Spirit, so we make everything extremely complicated — especially leadership training, etc.

    i can’t help but think we’re making the same mistakes in the states. those house churches are trying to do the simplifying bit (#1). and the answer to duin’s doubts is in them trusting the HS (#2).

  2. TOTALLY agree with Julian but I believe the problem goes much deeper and the responsibility doesn’t lie all on the church.
    Our families are suffering from the “rugged individualism”, consumerism and self reliance. I have never been married but I have worked closely with families in my experience and vocation. Couples are loosing the needed intamacy because of the hurried pace of the American culture. If couples suffer, children suffer, and families suffer. If families suffer, the church will suffer. That’s my naive belief anyway.
    I believe the church is partly at fault but not entirely. We have certainly done our part to create the loneliness Julian speaks about. But what an opportunity for God to invade our culture. What a great platform!! So,I believe the church, as James put it, can rely on the Holy Spirit and respond to the prevelant culture in love. Such hope!! Leaders who “get” true bibilical community have to start demonstrating it within their own fellowship. True biblical community is more caught than taught. Many leaders separate themselves from those they lead for fear of being transparent and accountable with followers. I think we have Constantine to thank for this separation but it kills true biblical community because it simply cannot be taught from the pulpit expecting the followers to suddenly go out and do it. Leaders should begin with a few chosen people within the church and begin to walk through life with these people, sharing more than Sunday morning and Wednesday evening and establish a base of what biblical community looks like.

    • okay, brett, so shall i infer that you’re a “house church person”?

      there’s always a danger of sharing snippets of other people’s work as i probably have not painted an adequate picture of duin’s argument, with which i agreed (for the most part).

      she did leave me with the impression that “being fed” is important to her. she says that while she enjoys the studies and fellowship in the house churches she’s visited/been a part of, most lack the depth of teaching one might (and i stress “might”) get from an ephesians 4:11 pastor/teacher.

      that being said, i agree with your contention that we overly burden new christians, and discredit the interest in and ability of the holy spirit in developing new believers.

      and franny…

      i will just say “amen.” in his comment, brett pointed to the fact that we overemphasize the importance of knowledge in our churches. i would agree with you that we neglect the importance of interpersonal connection in our churches. there is no telling what might happen if we had the courage to be real with each other.

      and, rest assured, the world would notice.

      • i don’t know that i’m necessarily a house church person. how big a church/congregation decides to be when it grows up is of little consequence to me. it’s those initial stages in which i would myself push smaller groups.

        and i have nothing against being fed. i just feel most christians have a whole lot to work on and start living before it will be the intelligence of the their teachers that’s holding them back spiritually. it doesn’t take a phd pastor to explain to his congregation that we should do everything without grumbling or complaining, or that we shouldn’t love money, or that we should care for and serve others in our community. doing these things requires humble hearts and willing spirits. and those can be found in small groups or large ones.

  3. The church being the church and how it is done is not the issue in my mind (least not at this point). Least not the one I want to address right now. My concern is in the “house church” and its lack of discernment, accountability, etc that Duin mentions. In my mind this fosters all sorts of bad memories and teachings that lend themselves to bad theology and therefore skewed views of Scripture and ultimately of salvation and life. I may be missing the point here so please correct me if I am wrong Randy.

    • i would tend to agree with you, bill, although my perspective may be skewed because i receive my income from the church.

      so how would you respond to brett’s point?

      “we make church and evangelism and teaching and being a christian too complicated…we don’t trust the Holy Spirit to bring about maturity in believers. or to lead us to understand Jesus’ words properly.”

  4. Jamesbrett

    You write…
    “i think one of the greatest problems we face in christianity is
    a distrust in the Holy Spirit to equip us for the tasks at hand.”

    Much agreement – Most don’t really trust God to speak to His kids.

    Seems to be a big difference – the church of man or “the Church of God.”
    Seems to me – In “The Church of God,” God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, wants to be the teacher.
    Will we trust God? Hmmm?

    To His Disciples Jesus said…
    But be not ye called Rabbi: (Doesn’t that mean – NOT be called teacher?)
    for “ONE” is your Master, even Christ;
    and all ye are brethren.
    Mat 23:8

    It is written in the prophets, And they shall be “ALL” taught of God.
    John 6:45

    But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost,
    whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things…
    John 14:26

    Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come,
    he will guide you into all truth…
    John 16:13

    These [things] have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
    But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you,
    and **ye need NOT that any “man” teach you:**
    1 John 2:26-27

    Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice,
    that he might instruct thee:
    Deuteronomy 4:36

    I will *instruct thee and *teach thee
    in the way which thou shalt go: I will *guide thee with mine eye.
    Psalms 32:8

    Jesus loves me…

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