Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing

I was asked by a mother at one of our training events what to do about her 19-year-old teenage son who had turned away from God. I asked her to explain and describe what she meant by that. The first thing I remember her saying is that he will not attend church. I immediately said to her, “l would not necessarily equate not attending church with turning his back on God.” That statement was a new concept for her to think about. This book by Julia Duin, religious editor for the Washington Times, offers some insights to my response to the mother. Duin is well known for her religious journalism. the winner of many awards, knowledgeable of the contemporary church scene, and a seminary graduate with a master’s degree in religion.

I told some friends and seminary faculty recently that this book should be required reading, with time provided to work through with the students what the book is all about. Drawing from her own experience, Duin listens to others and realizes something is going on today in Christianity that should concern us especially leaders in the church about why so many people who profess to love the Lord and have a hunger for His Word are actually leaving church, at least the traditional church as we have known it.

Duin is no stranger to the Reformed faith and the PCA. She has visited L’Abri and speaks positively about Francis Schaeffer’s ministry. Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth (which we have recommended and used in teaching for the past three years), said of this book: “We have come to expect solid journalism from veteran religion reporter Julia Duin, and Quitting Church does not disappoint. Churches need to address the seasoned churchgoer who wants more, not less, out of worship.”

Would you believe with all that is going on in the church today regarding pop culture, diversified worship, and story telling in place of expository preaching, that among the reasons Duin has found for people leaving church is that they are looking for more not less in worship, teaching, and fellowship?In the larger churches people often are not known and their needs not met. Both single men and women are leaving church because the teaching does not offer them a substantive challenge nor does the worship give them a participant’s role. She tells of one church she visited where the music was so loud she observed that people were not singing because of the volume.

She also deals with the problems singles are having in finding a church where they are accepted, helped in developing meaningful relationships, and assisted in finding a spouse. Teaching that doesn’t connect with people in their daily lives and not having a place to use their gifts and feel they are making a contribution are among issues referenced in this book.

I was amazed at some well known Christian people who have left church. What are they doing? Some have quit altogether and said “I can get more on my own–while others have started their own family worship–and many have become involved in the growing house church movements. Others are claiming to get their spiritual nourishment off the internet.

Obviously. Duin is quite aware of the PCA and what is or is not happening in our denomination. Some of her remarks are encouraging and others are challenging to those of us in leadership positions. However, one of the important points you will glean as you read this book is that you do not keep people by dumbing down worship or teaching; but how to retain people must be looked at very carefully, lest in trying to minister to the culture one becomes that very culture.

She addresses a number of reasons why she has found this trend to be taking place. I’lI mention a few that might get your attention. One is that the church is not giving people a reason for being there. Pastors, especially in larger churches are so professional that they cannot pastor the people. Some single women who need pastoral care are not able to find it because some will not meet with single women and others are too busy for such activities. People are not being spiritually fed, cared for, or given an opportunity to serve. What’s the solution? Coffee house type churches? House churches? Internet community worship? Or nothing at all?

Duin writes, “Although the ’emergent church’ movement is a huge mixed bag of theologies that usually attracts the young…conservative and liberal alike are adopting the term emergent to describe themselves, so it’s safe to say these congregations are a nee generation of churches that are works in progress.” People are either trying to reinvent the church or abandon it altogether.

Pastors, read this book and get your leaders to read it and discuss it. The church is in crisis today in America, and you will be reminded of this as you read and discuss Quitting Church.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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