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The faithful who stop coming to church

The faithful who stop coming to church

When the conversation turns to “the decline of the church,” especially among young adults, we tend to focus on program, technique and demography. But we seldom talk about the need for, and the difficulty of, church being a place of authentic relationship in community. While we tinker, we do not face the truth that many people–not just young adults– are just “one Sunday brunch away from never returning.”

Alaina Kleinbeck, writing in Call and Response blog, shares why she is on the thin edge of never going back to church.

I love the people in my church. They are dear friends who are changing their community, themselves and me, but I’m not much into “church” as it happens on a Sunday morning. It’s too loud, too long, too stimulating, too much. Opportunity abounds for someone to unknowingly use an expression that reminds me of harmful words spoken by spiritual leaders in my past. I’m exhausted over finding a place to sit that doesn’t make me look like a lonely loser, but won’t also require me to small talk with a near-stranger.

There are significant cultural reasons why my peers and friends are disenfranchised from their church, but the isolation and exhaustion is felt on the personal level. Unless our concern for the future of the church takes a personal turn towards the real experience of people in our pews, there’s little hope for change.

If the goal is to prompt young adults to return to the traditional church, I worry the effort is futile.

Sure, some young people haven’t left and won’t. Some may return in response to crisis, and others at the birth of their children. But many will continue to stay away or will leave again, protecting their child or themselves from the negative experiences of mean Sunday School teachers, side-eye stares in the sanctuary for vague indiscretions, or being shamed from the pulpit week after week for being fallible and finite or for a mere difference of opinion.

For many of my peers, it’s easier stay off the grid away from the brutal expectations of the traditional church. For many, this is not being “spiritual but not religious” nor is it an avoidance of discipleship. In my observation, it is more about building a life of sustainable faith that is not dependent upon the institutions that seem so prone to inflicting harm.

The most sustainable faith community I’ve belonged to is a group of women committed to gathering once a week and be real over food and drink. Sometimes, the Spirit shows up in prayer and comforting the hurt. Sometimes, the body of Christ feeds hungry bodies and spirits. Sometimes, we ask hard questions and push for deeper understanding of God, others and ourselves. Sometimes, the reign of God is made known through conversations and participating in local social action.


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Wayne Sherrer

Reading Marshall Scott’s comment, I remembered an excellent resource for caring, non-judgmental ministry with departing and inactive members titled Reopening the Back Door by Kenneth Haugk. It is a text for one of the programs he has developed to equip laity for pastoral ministry. You can read about it at:

Chris H.

Keith, which services for the church? To feed the hungry I don’t go to the church, I go to the food bank or school pantry. To help the homeless I go to the streets or the shelter. Some forms of service require relationships, visiting the sick, helping the suffering, etc. and many are spiritually and emotionally draining. Worship and a good sermon don’t always do enough to recharge the heart’s batteries. If you don’t make connections, friendships, etc. then it’s much harder to serve in those ways. You’re right that it’s not “all about me”, but I, me, needs help and encouragement sometimes and if the church won’t help?

Chris Harwood

A Facebook User

How about we stop worrying about what the church does for us and start worrying about what we can do for the Church? The Church is not product for entertainment but a gathering of the faithful for worship and service. This blog is a perfect example of the consumerist culture we should be fighting against.

Keith Voets+

Gary Gilbert

On the other hand, some people like to be left alone. At one Manhattan church a man told me he had attended Mass for three months before anyone spoke to him. He loved it. He complained about another parish where they had tried to put him on a bunch of committees.

I like music and the daily office. But I can’t say how many people do. I am not a morning person and Sunday services appeal to me less than weekday evening services.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Chris H.

Lisa, in your last sentence you could take out “young” and put in “single” and your description would also be true. I’m Gen X and attended the same church for years and the priest and almost all of the parish couldn’t remember my name at the end. I was 39 the last time I went to a church party and was told that since I wasn’t married and without kids, I should go join the high school/college group. I know well the feeling that church is the loneliest hour of the week.

Is there a Lutheran, Methodist or other church associated with TEC in the area that you could participate in outreach/ministries with? Some of our TEC parishes actually have fill-in Lutheran or Methodist priests more often than TEC priests because of the distances involved.

Semi-rural Montana is probably similar to OK and the shelters, pantries, etc. here are usually staffed by religious people but they’re from several denominations as the individual churches are too small to do the work by themselves. Perhaps you could find a ministry you’re interested in and when you’re there helping you may just find someone from your church you didn’t know was interested, or after you’ve been helping for a while you may be able to get more people from your church involved.

Chris Harwood

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