6000 More Today

Todd Hunter is an Anglican bishop in Newport, Southern California and a former national Director for the Vineyard Church. Recently he noted that 6000 North Americans leave the church every day; 1000 of them are evangelicals. Do the math. That’s over 2 million people leaving the church each year, just in the United States. And those numbers may be conservative. The back door is swinging off its hinges.

Back Door Open

It’s very sobering.

To put it in some kind of context: If your church manages to eventually reach 250 new people, it has simply plugged a hole created every hour of every day—24/7/365—in the United States.

It’s not that all of those folk have necessarily abandoned their faith or forsaken Jesus. For the most part, they seem to have just lost confidence in the church. They have grown disillusioned with the institution, disheartened by politics, legalism, pettiness, shallowness, irrelevance, or spiritual emptiness. In some instances (perhaps just a few), they’ve simply burned out from over-involvement.

You probably know some such wayfarers.

These numbers should disturb us. While billions of people around the world remain beyond earshot of the gospel, millions of others have grown disconnected and disengaged.

I don’t have a simple solution—no silver bullet. But do we need a broad and serious conversation about the 6,000 American souls who will walk away from the Church today? Can we partially close the backdoor, or will we simply concede defeat? How has spiritual vitality ebbed to such a low point? What might it take to get the bilge-pumps running?

Most importantly, what positive difference can we make in the life of a fellow-believer today?

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14 Responses to 6000 More Today

  1. Mike Parejo says:

    This is particularly troubling – it’s no wonder why so many churches are closing their doors with so many people walking away. While many of us look to church leadership to “solve” this issues, it should be a challenge to all of us on a personal level to live out Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.” Thanks for the word today David!

    • David Timms says:

      Yes, Mike. I wonder if we’d be content for this to happen if we saw them all as family members? This is not about sustaining institutions but supporting people. Thanks for your appropriate Scripture.

  2. Fred Bittner says:

    David, I see the loss as well. Not that it is all together new, because it is a conversation that preachers have had for a long time. As I have observed the approach of the church in the last generation, I believe that the way the church operates has shifted. We have moved from a concept of the church serving the believer, to the believer serving the church. The focus is on the institution, the size and scope of the program, and perceived desires of the seeker. While this sounds critical of the church, it is merely an observation of what has taken place.

    The fact is, there is a tremendous amount of meat for the believer, and there are ways to take hold of their personal growth. It was this belief that led me to write The Art of Worship, A Believers Guide to the Fulfilled Life (2t2 Ministries). This book shows the believer how to navigate the church services, programs, and the weekly activities. Growth and blessings are still as available as ever.

    The answer is not in the creation of more programs at the church level. Leaving the conversation at the administrative level will not close the back door. The real answer is that we need a new conversation in the pews, among the believers. What is worship? How do we make the most of what happens at church? How do we grow in Christ? Does reaching out to others make a difference in our spiritual lives? When believers understand these things, the back door will close itself. I don’t want to steal your blog, but believers need to read The Art of Worship, and discover what Christ has for you in the church.

  3. Phil Towne says:

    I have to be honest and say that I am not surprised by these numbers, nor am I disheartened. Instead, I have to wonder what God is continuing to do. For these 6000 people today, many will not walk away from faith, but from the church. Many of them have good reasons to walk away from the churches they were a part of (as you mentioned David). And perhaps we need to re-imagine what church can or should look like rather than mourning the loss of these people. The loss may be from churches, but I don’t believe God is counting these as losses. Rather, I have to hope and look to the future as God re-configures our notions of church instead into a lived out religion where we are not worried about losing people from our church walls but are instead more interested in living out faith in the real world, which may be a world where church looks quite different than it does now.

    • David Timms says:

      I agree with you, Phil, that the models of church are undergoing great change…and perhaps for the good. But part of me still feels concerned for the many believers (probably the majority) who are leaving the institutional church and not connecting with any new model. Do we really have the capacity to live a life of faith alone? Is the Body of Christ most functional when the parts are all disconnected?

  4. Dave says:

    I woke early here in Oz (Australia), read your email and vacillated between responding or not. I like a number of friends walked away from “the church” over 10 years ago for reasons you mentioned and more… “disillusioned with the institution, disheartened by politics, legalism, pettiness, shallowness, irrelevance, or spiritual emptiness…simply burned out from over-involvement.”

    That pretty much hits it on the head.

    I grew up in a 4th generation Salvation Army family. None of us attend now, not even my parents. Yet over the past years my relationship with God and journals (which I had never considered worth it before) has grown in ways I could only imagine.

    My answer to your question… Like near everything in life, it starts form the top. If my mind is not pure then my actions, motivation, works will (if not now, eventually) show those fruits. Same with church or any group, organisation or organism. I was involved in church at every level including a missionary. Clean the inside of the cup. Remove the beam from my own eye. It starts with me. It starts with the top, the leaders. It starts with hate the sin but love the sinner which doesn’t mean we’ll ignore this and as long as everything looks right. It starts with looking at what seems to be a template that has developed to call something a church”

  5. Deborah says:

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your strong and poignant message. I am also deeply touched by the heartfelt and articulate comments on this particular blog post.

    Just having this conversation feels to be an important step in the right direction for all ministry – whether it is contained within a 4-walled church or is engaged with in some other way.

    As a female minister, I am not welcome in all churches and count myself as one of millions not fully welcomed into many churches for one reason or another. Churches cannot support, inspire or serve as a bridge to a deep relationship with God those whom they may not accept. Many of us do not attend or belong to a particular church, not because we don’t have a profound passion for the heart of ministry, but because we have had to find alternate ways to live and share our faith with others in an atmosphere of acceptance. The Divine continues to find its own avenues for expression, even when we as humans try to legislate or contain how it may be expressed and who has the Divine right to serve as its representative.

    The church must ask itself how it might be alienating the very people who could be its supporters.
    If spiritual vitality has ebbed to a low-point, no doubt a lack of true acceptance has become at least a part of the malignancy that has drained the institution of the church. I hear this time and again from many disillusioned church-goers; all of whom still have a passion for spiritual life and a hunger to share it with others. They long for the community of an accepting church. Why has it become so difficult for them to find one?

    I agree that we need one another in community for many reasons when it comes to sharing and supporting our faith. The churches need their believers and supporters as much as the believers and supporters need the community of the church.

    I pray your blog adds to the public commentary at the moment questioning why the church is losing its engagement with the public. This discourse serves a great aim; benefitting both church and seeker. Thank you for naming this phenomenon and opening the floor for additional exploration, commentary, pondering and insight. I know it will strike a chord with many.

    • David Timms says:

      Deborah, thanks for adding your own thoughtfulness to the conversation. I appreciate your reluctance to be simply critical and your concern to be pastoral. May you continue to be a conduit of grace and peace to those around you. Blessings.

  6. Jeff Fuller says:

    Hi David ‘Good message.’  I believe that another reason that many people are leaving the church has a lot to do with self interest…  We have so many distractions that keep our minds in the world i.e. smart phones, Internet, etc.  Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a significant catastrophe such as 911 to wake us up as we seek meaning…  A comfortable life can lull us into complacency.  I can also understand how human failures related to managing a church can turn some people away… Thanks again for your clear and helpful messages! Jeff Fuller

    ________________________________

    • David Timms says:

      Nicely state counter-balance, Jeff. Yes, sometimes (perhaps oftentimes) the issue is within us not within the church. Should we take more responsibility for our own discontent?

  7. Greg Newman says:

    Thanks David and those who have commented. Sometimes I wonder if the exodus of former church members resembles the common relationships we have today: 1. marriage: “we don’t communicate anymore, my feelings are no longer there, time to leave!” 2. family: “he is an absolute jerk, I have never understood him, we will never darken his door again!”
    My wife and I have attented (I say this humbly) the same church for over 35 years. We haven’t remained there because it is such an incredebly awesome church (though it seems like that now), leadership has been disappointing at times over the years, people have on occation been rude, hateful, and dishonest. There have been times that leaving was alluring.
    And yet by remaining we have, I believe, personally grown in Christlikeness. We have discovered that (impossible as it would seem), on occation others have perceived us as rude, hateful,….
    One lesson for us seems to be that good things are in store for those who persever.

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