Updated: Oct 18, 2019
I invite you to maintain an open heart while reading, as there are parts that may stir up feelings of defensiveness or frustration. If this happens to you, I invite you to look inward and ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this?”
People leave the church for many reasons. Some have been deeply hurt or offended by other members of the church. Some feel deceived and betrayed by the church because of inaccuracies in church history. Some have been deeply wounded by the actions of leaders or official church policies that affect people they love. And many just plain don’t feel like they fit in.
Regardless of why people leave, it’s what they often experience upon leaving that makes them never want to come back.
If you’ve never left the church before, it’s hard to comprehend the experience. You must understand that it’s almost impossible to just “leave” the church. For most of us, the church is embedded in who we are. It’s part of our character, and our identity. It is enmeshed in our values, our morals, our family relationships, and our friendships.
Many of us have steeped in traditions and heritage, dating back generations, since birth. Which makes choosing to leave the church — regardless of the reason — difficult, complicated, and so incredibly painful.
People who leave experience feelings of extreme loneliness, betrayal, and a complete loss of identity. It’s as if the foundation they’ve built their life around is crumbling. They feel anger, devastating sadness, relief, and frustration. They feel a need to belong while at the same time feeling a need to be alone. They feel deceived, judged, looked-down-upon, and very confused.
It is a horrible experience that robs you of your ability to trust others — especially those who belong to the organisation that has caused you so much profound pain and suffering.
Because of this, those who leave the church often become cynical, skeptical, and jaded.
If anyone in our community needs succoring, compassion, support and empathy, it is the people undergoing a faith transition.
So what do you do?
The answer is simple: Stop trying to get them to come back to church!
Just love them.
Help them grapple with their own faith, and show them that it’s ok to be different… the kind who wrestles with tough questions. One who doesn’t have all the answers. One who doesn’t “know” the church is true.
I have to ask… do you have faith? Can you trust in God’s plan? Do you believe in a God who has a path for each of his children — even those who question their faith?
We need to change our focus from criticising and shaming people for their differences and struggles in a manner that pushes them away from the church.
We must never refer to our young women who dress in a way we perceive as immodest as “pornography.” This is a terrible, shaming behavior that creates deep emotional wounds that will drive these young women away… and they’ll never come back.
We must not shame young men for looking at pornography, masturbating, coming home early from a service, or choosing not to go at all. These struggles are incredibly heavy to bear in our community. Adding the weight of judgmental words only drives these young men into depression and isolation. They’ll leave… and never come back.
We must not cast judgment on mothers who choose to pursue a career outside the home. When we judge a woman’s capacity as a mother, it makes her feel small and insignificant and like a failure. These women will leave, and they’ll never come back.
Religion at its worst focuses on excluding, condemning, threatening, judging, and controlling others by shame and guilt.
The gospel of the Jesus Christ I believe in — the gospel I try to live by — encourages me to improve myself, to reflect on how I can be better while accepting and understanding the weaknesses of others.
The gospel of Christ does not encourage us to be complacent with our own growth and progress, while being judgmental and demeaning towards the sins and struggles of others.
Christ had a name for people like that. It was “hypocrite.”
I leave you with one last scripture. It’s perhaps the most profoundly important scripture we have, and I hold it dear.
John 15:12 — This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.