About once a week or so, someone sends me an article about folks who are dropping out of church. I usually read them because this is a topic of real interest to me.
I have a number of close friends who have, for the most part, walked away from church.
Done with it.
These friends are scattered across the U.S., know each other only as my friends, but the common traits are pretty remarkable.
They have all become empty-nesters in the last few years; they are all successful; they all lead very busy lives.
Any one of them would tell you they have not given up on God and have no less commitment to Kingdom causes. They would also tell you that spiritual life has never been stronger—and that they are very engaged in some type of ministry.
They are just not going to church.
Really good Christian men; just no longer churchmen.
Sociologist Josh Packard says that this is a growing phenomena. He suggests that this new done-with-church group has among it the (once)most dedicated and active people in their local congregations. In contrast to what we usually perceive about drop-outs—that they were marginal and never particularly engaged with the church anyway—now the church is losing its best.
This is dangerous.
The very people a church relies on for leadership, modeling, mentoring, and financial support are “done.” And no one is showing up to replace them.
I have spent a considerable amount of time talking to these friends about why they are no longer in church. The answer, though it may be expressed in different ways, seems pretty consistent: they find that the church (as an institution, not as the Body of Christ) is largely irrelevant to what Christ is doing in their lives and in the world.
They are finding their own spiritual growth elsewhere; in personal Bible study, in mentoring relationships, in accountability groups, in intense Bible study or discipleship programs.
And what they get at church simply does not compare.
These friends are deeply involved in front-line Christian service. They are orphan advocates; they intervene in the lives of high-risk youth; they do the really dirty, hands-on work of the faithful. They just do not do it through a church.
One said to me very bluntly, “Given the choice between dropping money in the plate on Sunday to support more staff, build another building, and then see a few cents go to missions OR giving directly to organizations that are making a difference is an easy call for me.”
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