I am fascinated by the myriad of ways that people express their faith within the parameters of a particular religion. In my journey of the last several years, I have connected with so many people who have gown weary of how they have been practicing their religion.
Hence, the conversation about the “sins of the church” has exploded on the Internet, and in real life over the last decade or so. I have written plenty of rants on the topic myself. So, I won’t revisit all of that today.
I think it will be more interesting to look at some of the reactions and responses to a religious expression that grew old, tired, and generally inadequate for people.
Most people who leave the institutional church do not return to any formal expression of their faith. The motto for those who continue to take their faith seriously is to be the church, rather than go to church.
The figures that appear in news articles certainly support this view.
- 38 million adults have stopped attending church in the last 10 years in the U.S
- 3,500 people leave the church daily.
- 200,000 out of 250,000 churches are stagnate or declining.
- 4,000 churches close every year.
The beauty of this perspective is the integration of faith and life and returning to more informal ways of Jesus for faith expression. The appeal is to people who are tired of performances and pretense that hunger to live an authentic life.
Beyond that, I don’t think we know much about all of those people who drop out of church.
Some fall into a very nominal faith expression as other things get sucked into the vacuum created by discontinuing their church involvement. Faith expression gets crowded out by life’s demands.
Still others, unable to find hard and fast answers for all of their questions, find the faith unacceptable and embrace atheism.
Since my connections have largely been with evangelicals or former evangelicals, I have noticed many people grow weary of the straight shooting, contemporary ways of their church and opt for an expression that is more anchored in history. Even though many of the rituals are ancient, they find them fascinating, since they are new to them.
A few of the church leavers return to their church, or one like it. Either they don’t trust themselves to live out their faith apart from being a part of a church, or they return for the sake of their children or their marriage partner. The hunger for community and the desire for their children to establish their own faith are legitimate motivations.
My conclusion is there are some valid, even noble, motivations for all of these various means of faith expression.
- To live an authentic life as we live out our faith in the normal course of life
- To ask honest questions and be true to what is our heart
- To celebrate a faith that is anchored in history
- To nurture faith in the hearts of our children
- To gather with others who share our faith
- Even those who live life with a nominal sort of faith, probably didn’t seek to do so. They just got weighed down with the kinds of responsibilities we all have.
The common thread is a search for something that is real, something that works in life, something that makes sense, something rooted in history, and something to pass on to our children. Pretty good motivations!
The Jesus tent, unlike many of us were taught, is a very large tent with room for lots of people who honestly aspire to follow Jesus in very different ways. The crowd under the tent is not shrinking, but it is becoming more diverse.
We need to scoot over, bunch up, and make room for more people, welcoming them, rather than criticizing them. The kind of tolerance that calls for is a not watering down of our faith, but living out of our faith.