Why People are Writing “Why People are Leaving the Church” Posts


August 21, 2014 by Devin


In the past year or so, I’ve begun to see a large amount of blog posts show up on my newsfeed about “Why young people are leaving the church,” and being a young person who left the church, most of these have disappointed me. They frequently say things like how the church is not being loving enough or speaking their language (“religious buzzword” has ironically become a buzzword in these articles). While I appreciate the sentiment, I feel like most of these posts are terribly misguided.

I have seen posts where the exodus is explained by the church being resistant to change, the church “speaking a foreign language,” or even the church not being online.

These authors are quick to criticize the production on Sunday mornings, the lack of effective language, and the adherence to tradition, but these are scapegoat reasons. Nobody stops being a Christian because the church they want to go to does not have a website. Very few of the posts I have seen on this subject are actually willing to talk about theology,[1] which is often the real reason why people leave the church.

The assumption is that people are perfectly fine with the message at the core of what the church does but are frustrated with how it is being presented to them. The meal is fine, but the plate is all wrong.  It is like looking at the church’s teachings on homosexuality, and instead of going, “People don’t like that we teach it as a sin,” they go, “People don’t like that we’re not nice enough about teaching it as a sin,” missing a real opportunity for self-reflection.

You can be as nice as you want about it, but if your beliefs cause people to hate themselves (as anti-LGBT beliefs often do), they are not going to keep going to your church.

Honestly, and this a little bit speculation on my part, I believe that these blog posts are written because people do not want to look at the uncomfortable parts of their own beliefs. Believing that young people are leaving the church because they are not finding Jesus is a lot more comfortable truth than young people leaving the church because they found Jesus and did not much care for him.

I do not want to imply that all Christians really know that Christianity is wrong and are just trying to delude themselves. What I mean that is that many Christians are uncomfortable seeing the bad parts of their beliefs. In this article, a guy talks about feeling uncomfortable saying, “Love the sin, hate the sinner” when it comes to his homosexual friends. I think his reaction is indicative of trends right now. He never actually says his beliefs are changed. He never says that he now believes homosexuality is okay. The post is not one where he examines and critiques his beliefs; it is one where he seeks to become nicer about them.[2]

This leaves a blind spot in religious discussion where everything but theology is a reason why people are mad at the church, creating a narrative where young people only care about newer buzzwords that are not like the older buzzwords and being approachable. But if we look at actual people who have left the church, we find a different story.

Take a look at this article circling around the web right now. In it, the author describes how she grew up in purity culture and how that ultimately damaged her, causing her to leave the church.[3] Her reasons for leaving the church do not concern how the church was presented to her. Using better language or being nicer about it would not have made the situation better. She left the church because she was damaged by the actual beliefs the church was espousing.

Or consider how nearly a third of millennials who leave the church cite the treatment of LGBT as a major factor.

Or consider how many young people are taught all their lives that Creation is the only true account and that science is wrong, but when they get older and actually look into Evolution and find that the huge amount of evidence for it, they realize that they were lied to.

While I don’t feel qualified enough to say that these are all the reasons why millennials are leaving the church, I feel I know enough to say that these reasons are certainly more legitimate than “They’re not finding community.” Churches, I’m going to tell you what so many other blog posts won’t. If you want to attract millennials, you can have as many traditions or as few websites as you want, but just don’t preach that being gay is bad, that evolution is wrong, and that a woman’s hymen is linked to how clean of a person she is.[4]

And to people who are curious to why young millennials are leaving the church: don’t look to blog posts by youth pastors and 20-something pseudo-intellectuals. At this day and age, you can find many resources online about why people stop going to church from people who stopped going to church. Many do so because they don’t like the church, yes, but many do so because they have real troubles with the theology and beliefs presented within the church. Books like Generation Atheist are all about people who grew to give up on religion, and the reasons rarely have to do with how approachable the people in religion were being.

1. Rachel Held Evans is the exception I’ve seen, but even there, as much as I love her writing, she talks around the problem more than directly engaging it.
2. To be fair, making claims like that instantly get people mad at you, but honestly I think that Christians who are okay with homosexuality should be willing to say that regardless of the reaction they get.
3. This response, in my mind, is exactly the kind of response that would get someone to leave the church.
4. I’m not saying you can’t believe those things, but don’t expect to win any popularity contests if you do.

3 thoughts on “Why People are Writing “Why People are Leaving the Church” Posts

  1. jordanpwhite says:

    As a Christian, this really hits home for me. It’s a strange sort of dance where some young people try to assert power and “incite change” in about the most passive aggressive way I can think of. From what I’ve seen, the sentiments usually follow the logic of, “I’m leaving you because you’re not doing enough for me.”

    Which is something few would say to a person, but for some reason is ok to say to a group of religious people. It’s even more ironic to say it about a religion which, above all, promotes selflessness.

    It’s easy to leave the church and be independently spiritual because the opportunities for conflict are exponentially diminished. It’s also easier to leave the church than (as you mentioned) to confront your beliefs.

    The truth is that being in church can be very difficult. While I think many would say they enjoy the comfort of being surrounded by a community of people who believe what they do, it also consistently reminds us that we’re called to a lifestyle which we don’t always live up to. There’s also the relationship component which means that we are 100% guaranteed to be hurt by someone in the church during our life.

    As a Christian who’s spent the majority of his adult life not attending church, I have lived in that lack of conflict for a long time. Very few people ask me about my beliefs and as a result, I seldom share them. But now that Brittany and I have found a church and decided to partner with them, some of that lazy comfort is being challenged. It reminds me of the C.S. Lewis quote (I realize citing C.S. Lewis is about the most stereotypical Christian thing to do):

    (It’s been a while since I’ve read this book so I think this is accurate) “Christianity, if true, is of the upmost importance. If untrue, it is of no importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

    Since I believe it to be true and therefore of the upmost importance, I don’t feel like I can stay away from the church any longer and put my spirituality into its neat little box on my shelf and only bring it down during the holidays. Believing in Jesus requires me to embrace the friction of believing.

    Part of that friction was spending some time on your blog today. You are very smart and I often find it very difficult to read what you’ve written, but I’m starting to wonder if that makes it all the more necessary.

    Sorry for the epic of a comment.


    • Devin says:

      “friction of believing”… I like that phrase.

      And yeah, I think the idea that we hold and keep our beliefs or lack thereof secret and strictly personal can get a little ridiculous sometimes. I am all for being generally nice people and not discriminating against each other as much as possible, but these conversations are important, and not having them leads to these weird situations where our religious beliefs (or lack thereof) are compartmentalized in our lives, leading us to surface level thoughts that don’t really amount to much (this is just as true for atheists as it is for Christians).

      Which is again why I like the You Made It Weird podcast. Pete Holmes isn’t afraid to delve into that conversation, which is usually really interesting.

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Paul Johnson's comedy blog: I didn't get into comedy to be rich or famous. All I've ever wanted was to be loved...by somebody rich and famous.

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