Monday, April 09, 2012


I read an article that presented ten myths about people who have left the church that I found interesting. Let me give you a sample of the myths found in the article.
One myth pointed out in the article was that the people who leave the church are NOT young adults or people on the fringe. While some leavers were in that category, the predominate group found to be leaving was middle-aged people. 70% were between 35 and 45 years of age.

A second myth pointed out was that it is typically believed that if Mom and Dad were church goers their children would grow up to be also. The research found to the contrary that the influence of church going parents grew very weak eventually and that the effects church-going parents had on their children apparently disappeared under later influences such as marriage and peer groups which became more important to them as the years past by. I'm reporting what I read remember.  

A third myth shown in the research is that the leavers are NOT people who lacked commitment to the group left. Ninety-four percent [94%] of those interviewed had been involved in significant leadership positions within their churches and 40% of them had a year or more of a position on church staff, with a para-church group, overseas missions assignment or had studied in a Theological Seminary somewhere.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of the research or even the conclusions drawn from it. Someone reading this post may be able to find other researchers with differing opinions. But what no one can doubt is that people are leaving the Church in bunches according to many reports today. George Barna says the same thing and he's the god of statistics with regards to church-life. Right!!

My problem with all this is not that people differ on numbers or categories. I don't even have a problem admitting that people are leaving. I read tons of blogs that have been established to help and assist those who are leaving to better cope with their disappointment with the group left behind. I appreciate those blog sites and concur with trying to assist in helping remove as much of the pain involved with situations that cause people to leave. I've got issues with some of our local church-life as well.

My problem is with what is it that people really think and say they are leaving?

Would it not be more correctly stated to say that they are leaving an INSTITUTION rather than the Church when leaving behind a particular denomination? Presbyterians, Anglicans, Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and a host of others may have people leaving those bodies to be sure, but to equate that with leaving the "Church" is a theological mis-step from my perspective. 

I think it wise to see and understand this fact as one is leaving any denomination. It could even be a major step in true healing of the wounds and pain caused by such groups were we to challenge our thinking along these lines. 

Would it not be more correctly stated to say that they are leaving an ORGANIZATION rather than the Church when leaving behind a particular local body. A local Baptist church, a local Sovereign Grace Fellowship, a local Bible, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Fundamentalist fellowship or any other designated group can be left behind to be sure, but to equate that with leaving the "Church" is ALSO a theological mis-step from my perspective. I'm not denigrating small bodies of believers in saying either IMHO. 

Far better for healing and health to admit that 'institutions" and "organizations" doth not the Church make. And the Church is certainly not the brick and wood that make up the building that is typically called "The Church." 

So, regarding the "True Ekklesia," [Church] we must always remember that by virtue of being a Christian we ARE THE CHURCH and that identity will never and can never be left, changed or abrogated in any fashion whatsoever. We are His Church whoever we are as believers and wherever we are on any day of the week. You can't leave your identity as the Church any more than you could change your own fallen nature. Christian...YOU ARE THE CHURCH!

But as the Church, we need each other, because the Ekklesia is, as Frank Viola says in his book, "Re-imagining the Church," corporate by her very nature. A Christian is not thinking biblically when he or she thinks like a "Lone Ranger" as a believer. Viola points out in his book in a biblically correct fashion that "Christ and His body are distinct but not separate and the Ekklesia is the native habitat of every believer." 

This means I am to recognize that while an organization may be left or even an institution, the Church HAS NOT BEEN LEFT by any Christian. I'm also to recognize that my connection with other individual believers will need to continue through other and various means, online or otherwise, as it is important to connect with the true body at all times. Connectedness is not a biblical option though the methods involved in that connectedness can be creative for the true Ekklesia. 

[Small groups meeting in homes for personal connectedness say on a Thursday or Friday night for a wine and bible night as one group I know of in Tulsa Oklahoma is doing it, is an example. The Wartburg E-Church online is another creative method.] 

All believers are commissioned and anointed to go and as they're going to minister, making disciples and baptize. [Matt 28]

Do I believe in local churches? By all means. I've pastored them for forty years. I just don't think they always look the way we think they do in our American culture. Then there is the Church as the whole of the Body of Christ as well.  

Can we find another local organization with which to connect? Perhaps! I hope so. I think it is even good to do that. Eventually. Maybe. Are people leaving institutions and organizations that have the word "church" attached to them? Yes, by the droves if research is correct. 

But my point is simply that if you do that you haven't left the "Church." That's who you are.

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...

There are a couple of points which kind of scream at me. The first is we really don't know what sort of "soil" they were when the gospel was planted, so we don't know how high anyone's "crop" will grow, or how it will stand up to the weather, etc.

Second, very few people I've met really grasp the concept that we're part of the body, and the body is held together by that which every joint (ligament, etc) SUPPLIES.

Hebrews 10:24-25 say we go to contribute. And we're supposed to think of ourselves (and hence our contribution to the body) with "sound judgment". We're supposed to be as realistic in appraising ourselves as we are with others.

Everyone brings something to the table. I've seen countless widened eyes when I've told people that, presumably because some never dreamed they could, and some never expected or wanted to.

Paul Burleson said...


On target as always...and quick at that. LOL

I have one little bitty caveat I would offer. This is so small I hesitate to mention it but you and I have a great understanding of each other and our hearts.

"Hebrews 10:24-25[are verses that] say we go to contribute." I'm not sure that "we go to church" to contribute is the best descriptive use of words when talking about the Church. I'm wondering if the phrase "We gather as the Church" and contribute is not a better way of keeping the emphasis on the people BEING the Church instead of a place or building identified as such. Maybe even more biblically correct.

What do you think? [I said it was a small thing. ;)]

Aussie John said...


There you go again. A subject dear to my heart. I recently read some statistics that quoted a figure of 23.00 people per week leaving the institution. Many giving their reason for doing so, To protect my faith in the finished work of Christ."

I like your response to Bob. That Hebrews passage is so important in the context of your article!

I'm trying to write about your question at this point in time,"Do I believe in local churches?"

My thinking at the moment is to ask the question of myself,"Is it possible that "the local church' thinking,is creating a parochialism which erases the fact that there is only ONE Church?"

Aussie John said...


That quoted figure should be 23000

Bob Cleveland said...

I don't think that Hebrews 10:24-25 is limited to what folks refer to as "going to church", but the point is we're to "consider" .. to give some thought .. to put a little effort into discerning how to .. how to prompt one another to love and good works. If we gather with a group of like minded folks, then we'll be both prompters and promptees.

In the process of doing that, we're not to give up meeting together. He even points out that some are, indeed, giving it up, so his warning is particularly apropos.

Keep in mind these are teachings I espouse to folks that are already in the church, as an invitation to get them involved. With somebody who's dropped out, I'd be talking about relationships with Jesus.

The church has done a pretty good job convincing folks to come to church for their own benefit. It's that part with which I disagree.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

My answer to this question..."Is it possible that "the local church" thinking, is creating a parochialism which erases the fact that there is only ONE Church?" ABSOLUTELY!!

That is part of my calling late in life, as I know it's yours too, [And Bobs] to put forward a better biblical picture of the true Ekklesia and that picture is far beyond any single or group of local bodies or ANY denomination.


I say to this..."If we gather with a group of like minded folks, then we'll be both prompters and promptees."...BINGO! And it will be because of giftedness and anointing without emphasis on office. It's called "Body Life."

Good stuff Bob.


I'm going to be away from my computer tonight, a grandson baseball game, and meetings all day tomorrow. Please keep talking as much as you wish and I hope others join with you. I'll comment about my meetings a little when I finish. They're going to be interesting.

If we gather with a group of like minded folks, then we'll be both prompters and promptees.

Bob Cleveland said...

Paul, this is what disturbs me so about too much of the SBC and too many of the churches. Perhaps 1 in 3 of the membership is there any Sunday morning; perhaps 1 in 5 of them is actively participating in the building up of the ekklesia, but we know that 1 out of 1 is gifted for just that purpose!

I suspect (if my observations are correct) that a big factor is most folks don't know what's expected of them, or what God has gifted them to do.

I heard some years ago that Friendship West Baptist Church in Ft. Worth had a membership class designed to educate prospective members as to what Baptists believe, what FWBC believed, what they were active in, and to help the new members discover their gifting and find a place of service in the church.

I believe it was 1 out of 4 who came forward, who actually joined the church....

Rex Ray said...

The April 6 newspaper said for every person that become a Catholic, four left.

On the same page it said the worship leaders of mosques are on the increase of being U.S - born Muslims which will change the ‘Muslim identity’ to a ‘Muslim American identity’. Mosques have increased 74% since 2000.

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me’…” (Matthew 7:22-23)

I’ve often wonder why Jesus did not know these people that did so much good. It must be that Jesus saw their heart and the motivation of why they had done their good deeds.

Once a man traveled over 200 miles to comfort and have prayer with a group that was grieving the death of a loved one. Hearing the events that followed brought laughter as the grieving group was intoxicated to the point of passing out with some holding liquor bottles. The climax ended with the group in a prayer circle and the leader stepping on a dog’s tail but avoided being bitten because the dog was toothless.

Another story was after a five year battle a local woman died with cancer, but her doorway was not darkened by the story teller. You see, one was a job that paid money while the other was: “…Your care for others is the measure of your greatness.” (Luke 9:48 Living)

Yes, there are lots of reasons why Christians leave churches.

Rex Ray said...


I believe the parable of the four soils has a two fold teaching…one for salvation, and one for ANYTIME we hear the Word of God.

On ‘salvation’, I don’t believe God gives ‘junk’; so anyone not from “good soil” were never Christians.

The other teaching is since the “seed” is the Word of God, anytime we hear his Word, we could be at that time the different soils.

I mean what kind of soil are we if gone to sleep or our mind is a hundred miles away?

Anonymous said...

If you had told me 25 years ago when my wife and one year old son began attending our church that today I would not have been to a church service in almost 10 months I would have laughed and thought you were crazy.

But after almost 2 years of and longer trend of sermons that were a waste of our time we had to do something different.

We ended up having one of our churches adult bible fellowship on sunday morning as our weekly "church". The lessons and fellowship work for us.

As for what goes on in the regular morning service apparently it reaches people in a different place than we are at. So be it.

We have found a way for now to make it work and
I bet a lot of people "leaving" the church could too. Or maybe some have we just do not know about it.

Paul Burleson said...


You know the old statement.."I know where you're coming from"? That's my response to your comment. Thanks for coming by.

Rex Ray said...


I thought it interesting that you said, “…sermons that were a waste of our time…”, and I wondered if you would care to tell what type of sermons those were. I mean were you learning more about Jesus, more of interesting facts/events, or more about the preacher?

Sometimes I think we forget why we go to church and what George Santayana said applies:

“Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”

Rodney Sprayberry said...

It was Reggie McNeal, I believe, who said that his research suggests that many people are leaving the institutional church not because they have lost their faith but to preserve it.

He points out, as others do, that a the modern institiutional church carries more attributes of a club(complete with secret code lanquage, initiation rites,voting privileges, leadership structure, service opportunities, and membership dues and responsibilities)rather than Christ.

He also suggests that the modern manifestion of the North American Church Culture is more imformed by the tenets of modernism rather than a manifestation of God's redemptive work in the world.

At one time it was quite effective at battling against the lies of modernity in earlier centuries. But now, according to him, it has thoroughly absorbed the modern, newtonian, rationalistic fought so hard to defeat.

Dont know...just sayin'...He may have apoint

Anonymous said...


The answer is that most of the sermons are given in such a way that need of salvation, sin, the blood of Christ, Christ making you a new creation etc... are rarely spoken of. Those giving the sermons believe in these things but for some reason thay are afraid they might offend or not be able to reach their target lost group if they do speak about these things.

It got to the point that I would have been satisfied with even one, two or three sentences in a 30 minute sermon that mentioned the above or something like them. Many times a bible passage is used but they will stop short at a point where some of the above is about to be included.

Even though I have been saved 44 years I still need to here the above things in a sermon at least from time to time.

These preachers seem to believe that the best way is to interest the unsaved by sermons that are untypical and by occasoional odd gimmicks. They then hope to get them into a Bible fellowship class where they will hear the word of God much more completely.

Well it is these preachers day and they will in some way be responsible for the outcome of thier actions. I hope it works out but I have concerns.

In the mean time I go to and ABF class as often as I can and find sermons on the internet that speak too and encourage me to give this life in Christ an honest effort.

Tejas said...

The way I see it is this: the church is essentially a huge family. The ones who leave feel as though they don't belong in the family and thus is the reason for their leaving. I would attribute to a lack of serving and getting involved and just being rooted in general, you know? I don't know, maybe that's just the way I see it.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,
I just would like to reply to Teja. you mentioned that you think Christians are leaving church don't feel they belong anymore and I think you are right, most people I've met now say this is why they left. my family have been part of three churches in the last thirteen years. it turned out to be the same every time we left - none of our so called close friendships lasted once we had moved to another church. when we left the last time we couldn't even find a church that seemed genuinly caring to start with. we really tried, scouting out the neighbourhood in all sorts of denominations but they were only friendly to your face, wanting your phone number so that they could contact you during the week. we felt like another 'statistic'. I kept meeting with a small group of Christian friends for two years in our homes every month, but now we decided that this doesn't even work. what I believe have happened is - we Christians have turned 'fellowship' into mean real relationships. if we are meeting our Christian friends on a set schedule we very seldom tries to build on this relationship outside these set times. we think we can do it all during that 'set time' have some meaningful discussion, pray AND all the friendship we need. In reality it is all very shallow and what I told the group I was part of is that if we really do have a real friendship and love for each other we will continue to meet outside these meetings. Guess what? it's now been two weeks since our last get together and in the first week I tried to contact everyone, there are still friends that haven't repsonded or contacted me since. Am I surprised? No, not really. After all - it was never a real deep friendship to start with even though we meet frequently. we have lost the genuine meaning of what 'loving one another' is all about. just ask any Christian of their experience when they have left a church or even a home group of how many friends they have kept. it's rather frightening and very sad. My biggest concern is, have we managed to fake 'love' that well that we can't even care for people inside the church family???