Who Are the De-Churched? (Part 2)
Now that we've identified those leaving the church, what are we to do about them?

I ended Part 1 of this post with a question—what is the church to do about the growing ranks of the de-churched? I believe the answer depends on which de-churched group one is talking about. In Part 1 I identified two sides of the de-churched population—those who have left the church because they had received a false gospel, and those who have left because they've encountered the true gospel.

Let's start with the false gospel side. As Matt Chandler explained, these de-churched are fed, knowingly or unknowingly, a false gospel of morality. They believe that if they just follow God's rules he will bless their lives. When things fail to work out as promised, they bail on the church. Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion, has called this belief MTD—moralistic therapeutic deism. I prefer a more sinister and downright damnable name: Moralistic Divination—the belief that one can control and manipulate God's actions through moral behaviors.

While there are many churches that promote this sort of false thinking, including those within the prosperity gospel crowd, I believe most do not. So why do so many Christians, particularly the young, carry these beliefs? In most cases the problem isn't what the church is preaching, but in what it is assuming.

For example, the popular summarization of the gospel known as "The Four Spiritual Laws" begins with the statement, "God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life." This idea, drawn from scripture and rooted in orthodoxy, may be faithfully preached in your church. But how is it received? How does a person formed and hardened for decades in the furnaces of consumerism hear this statement?

The biblical understanding of a "wonderful life" looks dramatically different than the consumer culture's definition of a "wonderful life." If this assumption is never identified, named, and deconstructed, a person may hear "God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life" very differently than we intend. This is the problem we must begin to address if we hope to slow the exodus of people from the church. It's not that we are failing to preach the gospel, but that we are failing to deconstruct the consumer filter through which people twist and receive it. The result is a hybrid consumer gospel in which God exists to serve me and accomplish my desires in exchange for my obedience—voila, Moralistic Divination.

When this consumer gospel fails to deliver on its assumed promises, as it inevitably does, frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment quickly follow. And the pool of the de-churched gains another swimmer.

April 08, 2010

Displaying 1–10 of 20 comments


July 23, 2011  11:26am

De-institutionalized that me! Why? If I find a church that is outwardly focused- It's so outwardly focused that while the worship is great, the "club members" are so busy "doing ministry" that they ignore or eat their own. I even started attend a church at it's genesis. The pastor doesn't have time to sit down with me and help me understand what he's thinking. I have tried to get involved but keep screwing up. For example, we bought Ice treats and went to the park one night after worship. I thought the point was to share the treats with people at the park. But I guess the point was for our group to eat in front of the other people at the park. "We don't want to become know as the church of the hand outs." Really! We plopped our treats down beside a basketball court where 25 people were playing or waiting to play and then we didn't share! I'm tired of trying to break into the churched. The church did "trunk or treat" as one of it's first activities. The sign said 5:30-8PM. Apparently in secret inside members only code there had been a sign to come at 5pm for set up. So we were kind of shuffled off to the side around the corner. The meeting with the pastor to go over becoming a covenant member took 5 months to schedule. The pastor said " This is usually takes four hours. but I think we can get done in one" and then he jumped up after an hour and said " I gotta go". I can hear you now- Go find another church. We looked for two years we shopped. We value what our denomination values - the Bible as inerrant, communion, baptism and sanctity of life. Between my husband and I we have almost 100 years of being "good church members' But we are finding that having a vibrant spiritual life has nothing to with attending the church and is less painful.

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April 16, 2010  2:22pm

I could write a whole response, or I could just agree with everything Tim said in his 2nd post. I'm not de-churched. I'm de-institutionalized. I think what the still institutionalized should "do" about me is join me.

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April 16, 2010  2:07pm

One thing you fail to mention is that for vines to be tended properly there has to be pruning to keep the vine healthy. One of the greatest failings of the church, regardless of denomination, is the failure to remove those within it who are refusing to live according to the basic tenets of the faith. While God will meat use where we are he does not leaves us where he found us. Everyone is crying for us to be like the early church in deeds and I think it is noble. However it is pretty clear they had no problem removing people from the church that did not produce fruit and continued to openly sin. Unfortunately for the pastors they no longer answer to God but to the board of directors which has supplanted God.

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April 15, 2010  2:41pm

Good point on moralistic divination. However, you glossed over the Biblical doctrine of the local church. As a pastor, I am interested in why people leave the church. If they leave for good reasons, then I am OK. If not, then I need to know whether the problem is the church or the individual.

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April 12, 2010  5:05pm

This is a positively great analysis. I come into contact with the second type all the time and I am continually compelled to symphathize with the were starved for real community and relationship. As Brant Hansen once said (paraphrased) "What I'm concerned about is the people who are church members in good standing, and who left the church years ago." Nate

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April 12, 2010  1:34pm

Trellises have been used for centuries to tame climbing vines, protect fruits and vegetables as they grow. "...The bishop of the Church of Rome, successor to St. Peter, is ‘head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth. The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, 'supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls.' The Bishops... succeed the apostles...Helped by the priests, their co-workers, and by the deacons....the laity are...called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them." - Catechism of the Catholic Church Trellises provide privacy. "The corporate scandals in recent years offer a useful lesson to the Catholic Church...Is there any question that the church's culture of secrecy has enabled deception and corruption to occur? It is worth recalling the words of Father Tom Doyle, the winner of the Priest of Integrity Award at our convention. 'The primary symptom of [clericalism] is the delusion that the clergy are somehow above the laity, deserving of unquestioned privileged and stature, the keepers of our salvation and guarantors of our favor with the Lord. The deadliest symptom however is the unbridled addiction to power...'" - "Keep the Faith, Change the Church" by James E. Muller and Charles Kenney Climbing plants need support, which, in the garden, can range from a simple pole to the nearest tree. Conversely, Willow Creek's state-of-the-art 7,200-seating-capacity Worship Center, over twice as large as the Hollywood Kodak Theater, is the first church in the world to use two Mitsubishi Diamond Vision high-definition LED screens 14' x 24' in size. It also has innovative dual, stacked-deck balconies. Total cost: $73 million surpassing the $48 million City Harvest Church building cost; but fall a bit short of eclipsing the $75 million Lakewood Church renovation. - Googled A trellis can add visual interest to your garden as well as dress up a dull walkway or garden gate. "At California's twenty-two-thousand-person Saddleback, a children's play area has three crosses atop a Golgotha-like hill and a stream that can be parted like the Red Sea. Twenty-seven-thousand-member Prestonwood Baptist in Plano, Texas, has eight playing fields, six gyms, and sixteen thousand people on its athletic teams...The twenty-five-hundred-person Life Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, gives kids life-size animatronic characters to interact with, a garden, a jungle, an under-the-sea area, an ark, and a three-dimensional Toon Town." - "The Fall of the Evangelical Nation" by Christine Wicker Some plants may not flourish on a metal trellis, which can get very hot in direct sunlight. "When the pastor of a 700-member East Coast church called me, he sounded as if he was ready to crack. He asked if I had a few minutes to talk, but for the next hour he did most of the talking. He recited all the things he had to do, places he had to go, and people he had to serve. He reported a long list of criticisms from people in his church - criticisms that hurt him and made him feel unappreciated and betrayed by those he was pouring out his life to serve. He was working 80-90 hours each week..." - "Leadership That Works" by Leith Anderson Meantime, a swarm of weeds are starting to creep and scale the heights of the trellis, plodding to crowd out for sunlight, and lurking to gang up on the limited nutrients of the soil. But, that's another story.

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April 11, 2010  2:09pm

This was a wonderful and insightful post that helped me understand better where I am. Thank you. Between your paragraph about churches in which the organization comes before people and the quote from Dallas Willard, I think you described my situation better than I could have done myself. I'm not de-churched entirely yet, but am pretty close, and what you have outlined are indeed the major factors in that process. Ironically, my faith itself and my depth of inquiry into it have probably never been stronger. I have much to offer, but so far no one in evangelicalism seems to be asking me about that. Typically, they just want to plug us in to some program or event and call it consider their job done.

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April 11, 2010  7:04am

I would even argue that the branches (God's people) need the vine (Christ) - but the trellis may be an unnecessary obstacle. Try using a trellis with watermelon or canteloupe or honeydew or pumpkins and see what you end up with. This fruit will fall to the ground before it comes close to maturity - the branch simply can't hold it up. Conclusion - many, many gifts are meant to be used ON THE GROUND. When the gift of administration is elevated above all the other gifts - you get a trellis. When you honor all members equally - then you very well may not end up with a trellis. When the gift of administration is put in context with other giftings, and honored equally with the other giftings - you get some very wonderful things.

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John, Charleston SC

April 09, 2010  3:54pm

In the words of an infamous President... "It's the ________ stupid." It's the gospel that is missing. Relationship with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit starts with hating the sinful man we are, true repentence from our known sin, and faith that Jesus Christ died for the remission of known and unknown sin. We must teach honestly that without Christ eternal life will be spent in Hell. We live our lives not for this world but for the life that comes after death. All we can offer God in this present life is service to him by honoring him and being obedient to His Word. No program or christian book can do this for us. We can't take a pill or get a quick fix. We must study the bible, pray, worship and let God transform our lives through the renewing of our minds. Pray, pray pray and worship in a church that teaches its sheep expositorily from the Word of God. Worship Him with clean hands striving everyday to cast off the sin that has accumulated through a lifetime of bad habits. Associate with Christian brothers and sisters who are walking with Christ and be an imitator of Christ in everything you do. The answer lies in picking one's cross up daily (Jesus helps when it gets heavy) and serving our King. Jesus has done it all for us on the cross to reconcile us with the Father and now it is our turn to be Christlike in our communities and the workplace drawing others to the foot of the cross alongside us. This is our commission and the only way to God is through the narrow gate of Jesus Christ!

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Eric F.

April 08, 2010  11:40pm

I was recently working on a Sunday School lesson for Pentecost, and found this wonderful passage about God's purpose in creating the church. Not for sure what it adds to the conversation, but I saw a question and had an answer. Ephesians 3:3,6-7,10-12 (New Living Translation) As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me...And this is God's plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God's children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God's grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading the Good News...God's purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence. And Wiersbe's notes (from the Transformational Study Bible) for verses 6-7 and 10 - 11: God made Paul a steward of "the mysterious plan" (v.3) with the responsibility of sharing it with the Gentiles. It was not enough simply to win them to Christ and form them into local assemblies. He was also to teach them their wonderful position in Christ as members of the body, sharing God's grace equally with the Jews...Certainly the angels know about the power of God as seen in his creation. But the wisdom of God as seen in his new creation, the church, is something new to "all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." Unsaved men, including wise philosophers, look at God's plan of salvation and consider it "foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). But the angels watch the outworking of God's salvation, and they praise his wisdom. Paul called it "wisdom in all its rich variet," and this suggests the beauty and variety of God's wisdom in his great plan of salvation. What I gather from all this: The church is first and foremost there for the glory of God. Second, the church shouldn't be viewed as the building or the congregation in that building down on the corner, but as the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the universal group that are God's children. And that it is in this body that we "enjoy the promise of blessings" (v.6). Traditionally, this has been in the "institutional" setting, although there are now some newer "church" models that might fit some people better than others (as long as there is Biblical teaching, where the word of God is proclaimed). The third is linked back to the first. I ask this question: Why do we go to church? Are we going to worship our Father, the Creator and Sustainer of all things? Or are we going because it's the place to be, or because the family has always gone to church? Are we going to get our ears tickled(2 Tim. 4:3)? Or are we going because it's what God wants us to do ("And let us not neglect our meeting togeher, as some people do... Hebrews 10:25). Now, there is a diversity of worship styles, church models, organizational structures, and what have you. And that's ok. No, more than ok; it's excellent. As long as God is glorified, it's all good. In my own story, I left the church that I grew up in and worshipped and even taught Sunday School in. I was fed up with the denominational structure (I'm not naming names), plus moving from one place to another was a good excuse. I tried a non-denominational church for a bit. I just didn't fit in there (not slamming, just stating a fact). I got invited to my current church, and have been there since (joining after a year). The leadership is passionate for Christ and for reaching others, and for this I thank our Lord. So my advice to those not currently worshipping anywhere: It's about God, not you, but keep searching to where you can fit it, don't give up and "neglect our meeting together." Sorry for bein

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