A conversation that I have had with increasing frequency over the past year with ministerial colleagues has been about declining church attendance. It is a subject addressed from many quarters and is given many reasons why it is happens.
Because of my personal experiences in previous churches as an associate, one reason always comes to my mind, ‘they don’t like the pastor.’ Such a belief, I have come to learn, is not necessarily the reason.
So why are people “quitting” church? Why are long time members “quitting” church?
So, as I stood in the Family Christian Bookstore in Anderson, Indiana last week during the North American Convention of the Church of God, I prayed about which two books to buy as part of my travels and participation at that event for I treat it as not just church ‘business’ but as a continuing education event as well.
I had several in mind but one I decided on after reading a few pages was Julia Duin’s Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do about it.
It rattled my cage…
Duin, who is the Religion Editor at the Washington Times, told stories about people who for a wide variety of reasons, have ‘quit’ church; not the faith; but the church.
Her stories and her story gave me pause for serious reflection as I thought through the ministry views and values that I have held over the years and that perhaps they need some ‘adjustment.’
Two chapters have given me the most to think about. The first was chapter 5, “The Loneliest Number: Why Singles over Thirty-Five Are Saying Good-bye.” As I read it, I felt conviction about how I have approached those over 18 and single the past several years in a manner that has been harsh and uncaring. Duin honestly and caringly reminds us that those who are single are not the ‘sex crazed’ adults we often have been made to believe they are.
Instead, they honestly and deeply struggle with sexual purity and the desire to be married is one that has been framed by some quoted in her book, as not God’s will. Though I do not tell people that it may not be God’s will that they marry, names and faces came to my mind as well as a desire to make some things right with some that are a part of my congregation today.
The second chapter was chapter 6. “Not So Solid Teaching: Why Christians Cannot Exit the Obstetrics Ward.” In this chapter, Duin shares the honest desire for solid teaching that seems to be non-existent in the minds of some. As I read, I was reminded that I have been in “The Ministry” for so long that I have forgotten the struggles of those who live and work in very different environments and often have to make difficult decisions regarding values and priorities that I have all too easily dismissed as bad decisions. I need to “hear” more often from those in the pews about what is going on in their life.
I wish that I would have heard from some more diverse voices such as those in rural and small town America as most of her subjects reside in the D.C. and other urban areas and were, for the most part, well educated. But the book is valuable in that there are some very human reasons people have left and are leaving the church.
Slowing down and listening I think is a place to start.
(Note: I bought this book for personal and professional reasons and wrote my review simply to share my thoughts about it.)