Why Australian Christians Are Leaving The Church

This morning I listened to US author and pastor – and fellow Burnside Writers Collective contributing writer –  Christian Piatt interviewed by Leigh Hatcher on Open House Community Radio about Why Christians Leave The Church. 

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published April 1 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

Here’s the podcast.

Christian brings up several excellent points – which I summarise below. These are taken from his blog post Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church.

We’ve been hurt. Emotionally, socially, spiritually, and even perhaps physically and sexually.

We’ve learned to think critically. Which is the opposite of what church teaches us. Sit down, be quiet, and recieve this information I’m about to give you, without question. Yet, when we become a member of a club, or go to university, or join a committee at our place of employment, we learn that change and growth happens when the exact opposite occurs – democracy, discussion, questioning and criticism.

We’re not interested in trying to break into cliques. Exactly who needs that? Then again, don’t answer that.

We’re busy. We have mortgages. We have jobs. We have families and problems and things we need to take care of. Far from being a place of answers, sometimes church is just another set of problems we don’t have the energy for.

We’ve become more skeptical. Years of navigating advertising, marketing, social media and spamming has made us much more cynical about the messages we recieve. And this is to our credit. We get ripped off less often. But we have come to believe the world is a dangerous place, and frankly, the church hasn’t given us many reasons to believe it’s any different.

We’re exhausted. Not many people have the resources many churches demand they give to programs and ministries, because we have enough on our plate already.

We don’t get it. Church over the past twenty years has become progressively less relevant. As it’s grown, it’s become more self-referential. Often, the problems it seeks to solve are the problems only people who go to church have. Church has developed it’s own set of priorities, an exclusive language and a way of doing and being that many people outside of it fail to understand, and have no wish to become a part of.

Authors and commentators like Christian and fellow writer Rachel Held Evans are kicking this topic onto the field and working hard to keep the ball in play, and a lot of Christians and pastors don’t like it. There has in the past been this general attitude that those who leave church and talk about it are committing a gross offence not just by leaving, but by refusing to lay the blame solely with themselves. Many churches defend their steady rates of attrition by saying they are only human and churches are not perfect, as if the ones who left did so because the church didn’t turn out to be full of flawless people who pandered to their every need. The fact is that people are leaving churches – or never joining in the first place – and if those churches wish to continue to exist, they will need to examine the reasons for this attrition and make changes accordingly.

Have you left a church? What were your reasons? What would need to happen – in the church, or in you – for you to return? Please leave your comments below.

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If you’ve been hurt by church, please check out Kathy Escobar’s online course Walking Wounded: Hope For Those Hurt By Church.

Kathy Escobar co-pastors the Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith (www.therefugeonline.org). She journeys with people in hard places as a spiritual director, teacher, and group facilitator. A Pepperdine University graduate, she also has a Masters degree in Management/Organizational Development and a Certificate in Evangelical Spiritual Guidance from Denver Seminary. Kathy is the author of Down We Go: Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus (Civitas Press, 2011).

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4 Replies

  • For me there are a few reasons that resonated and a couple of my own…

    I got busy, exhausted with both work and church. Keeping up with mid week and weekend church commitments had become a chore.

    I became increasingly more skeptical. It just made less and less sense for example that the world was made in 7 days and the bible was the infallible word of God. I watched preachers ‘spin’ their view of events from the pulpit-more political than honest, people didn’t get healed of cancer, etc. Over time the Church, its dogma, messages and church leaders lost credibility.

    I no longer got it. Church and a single faith view of the world became progressively less relevant – I just couldn’t reconcile all those other believers going to hell. Church appeared full of dogma, ritual, blind faith, Chrisianeese, clubs, etc.

    I caught myself becoming more form than substance. Adopting the outward appearance of a good Christian, but knowing that I was far from that in reality and that increasingly my views were diverging from the doctrine – I could not reconcile that lack of integrity and grew tired of the pretence.

    I felt less and less like the people at Church were ‘my tribe’, I didn’t get them and I felt like they didn’t get me, so I went searching to find other seekers, artists and creators, explorers – out here in the big wide world.

    Finally, I wanted to think for myself!!! Yep, there it is!!! I wanted to be true to my heart, true to myself, able formulate and express my own view point on life’s most important subjects based upon direct experience and a broad base of enquiry. I wanted to investigate, with an open mind, other viewpoints, faiths and perspectives. I must say arriving at that place was like drinking pure water, breathing fresh air or emerging from the fog!!!

  • My experience has been just the opposite. I grew up in a farming community. I was 6 when my dad died but the church community were the ones who rallied round with meals for the next few weeks so mum didn’t have to cook while she got back on an even keel. People took care of the sheep and cropping and were always there in practical ways for us.

    I have been greatly blessed by the friendships formed, the people I have met, the ideas that have been opened up to me of a Creator, Father and King who loves me even though he knows absolutely everything about me – the good, bad and ugly. The things that I learnt from church, have seen lived out in godly people and the life principles that I learnt from the Bible have provided the sound, unchanging guidelines that have kept me from wrecking my life and I am so grateful.

    I wouldn’t trade the peace and purpose that comes from knowing God for anything.

    I read this article because I want to hear and be open to all that others experience. My questions and prayers have been answered so many times as I have proved God. My consistent experience from choosing God’s way is that life works best like this. As fallible human beings we fall short of the ideal, but I come back to God who doesn’t let me down.

    We Christians definitely aren’t a perfect bunch (I’m not sure where that concept came from, but only God is always good and right) and there is plenty of things we get wrong. The only one that can be fully relied on is God. It’s definitely worth spending your life getting to know Him better! Like a coal moved away from the fire, the passion for knowing God better dies without spending time with those who love Him and encourage you in your life journey.

    I have been so blessed by the church family, but most of all I don’t especially seek anything from them except to bless them if I can. No human being can be all that we want them to be. We are too heavy in our needs which only God can meet.

    My whole desire is to know God better, to live each day with Him and know the peace that fully relying on God brings to my present and my future.

  • I think it is mainly about the focus of activity. If it all about dragging people to a central building in order to deliver sermons about why they should be spending more time helping their neighbors… Facebook has become a “challenge” because cloud applications allow us to meaningfully network with mentors who have lived thru life’s tough spots, not perfectly but “hopefully”. Taking the Memorial Meal (Eucharist, Communion, Lord Supper) is important because it keeps us from devolving in a desperation spiral, but the emphasis on the build is about 97% traditional and mostly related to guilt related to the amount of money spent on real estate that we know in our hearts probably should have gone to feeding the poor. Small churches, houses churches, not a panacea but because it puts Christians closer to the hurting people around them seem to work often. It also is the setting where folks do the best collaborative theologizing–both group directed personal study and Q and A about the most wise applications of the lessons learned. If you just take the money out of the equation (as much is humanly possible) a lot of these “challenges” are pretty easy to answer (as much as humanly possible).

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