There are lots of surveys evaluating why people have left the church. I’d like to offer three suggestions:
1—Ministers encouraged it. Over the last decade-plus, as emergent church leaders’ hate-the-church message was parroted from the pulpit, we were told: the church isn’t doing anything (and probably never has), Christians are hateful, Christianity should be abolished, and “it’s not about attending on Sunday AM.” Who would want to be associated with that sort of enterprise?
One of my young friends provided this insightful piece about loving the church that relates to the “hate the church” aspect of my #1 point. To add a bit to that: All of us got caught up in swallowing books/articles that describe the church in terms of the worst single example of Christlikeness the writers ever heard of. What such writers (and then the speakers quoting them) tend to leave unreported are accounts of the bazillion times Christians handled similar situations well, which would offer positive how-to for readers/listeners—and encouragement that the church is alive and well. My opinion is that believers, after digesting a disproportionate number of negative stories, begin to feel guilty by association and/or recall times they themselves have felt treated badly, unheard, not helped . . . The natural next step is to become increasingly dissatisfied, subconsciously look for more things wrong, and want to leave the church. The enemy has any number of clever ways of messing with us. It’s good to step back from time to time and take a whiff to see whether the situation smells like smoke.
2—The church went kinda feminine. Seeker-friendliness involved peace and love (of a fluffy variety) and handing out bottles of water—and downplayed power, spiritual battles, standing strong, charging in against the darkness. Additionally, a number of worship songs took on a feminine, even sexual, aspect, singing to Jesus words like: “I want to hold you, I want to touch your face.” That’s problematic even for women, but for men . . . yikes.
3—False teaching infiltrated. We need to remember that denominational distinctions are no longer a clear way to determine whether a local church is liberal or conservative (if that was ever an accurate way). There are individual congregations within very liberal denominations, whose members buck their denomination’s dictates and try to remain true to the Scriptures. On the flip side, there are individual churches within very conservative groups, whose leaders/members are downplaying the Scripture and the deity of Jesus; bringing in mysticism/Eastern religion teaching and practice; studying (as legit spiritual instruction) books with occult underpinnings; and more. As I personally hear of people leaving Christianity in favor of Buddhism, I have to wonder whether their own churches steered them in that direction. Just saying, even we conservatives who intend to stick to the Scriptures need to be much more discerning about teachings/practices we’re adopting.
I realize the big picture is complicated, but church leaders might benefit from assessing their own churches according to these 3 points.