Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Quitting Church- Review

Quitting Church is an alarming subject to congregational leaders, evangelical or not. This is the work of Julia Duin, Religion Editor of the Washington Times. And it’s the story, partly auto-biographical, of the people exodus and "spiritual brain drain" that the evangelical, charismatic, and Pentecostal communities have experienced for more then a decade. While the mainline churches are not the focus of this survey, the topic of church drop-outs warrants concern, regardless of Christian affiliation.
The first part of the book is a "big picture" look at the problem. Duin substantiates her case using ample research from the likes of George Barna, Lifeway, the Willow Creek Church, and Charisma magazine, as well as numerous interviews from pastors. Her personal insights and observations are telling too. Some of them seem to be a wistful retelling of what was meaningful in her own faith journey now that she is somewhat disaffected from church. She is not that concerned with the under 35 generation, but rather, with her own generation of 35+. She longs for the kind of excitement that was generated in the Jesus Movement of the 1970's, a time when Duin first became a Christian through Young Life. At the same time, she laments how churches have lost their relevance to singles over 35, and women, especially the career- focused.
Whereas most of the energy of contemporary evangelicalism is geared to the under 35 group, according the Duin, the book is an indictment of our wasting both spiritual and people resources in "an era of dumbed-down, purpose-driven, seeker- friendly Christianity." The author is partial to the house-church experience, or covenant Christian community movement. As a college student in Portland, Oregon, her "ideal" church is such a gathering and very reminiscent of the Acts 2 description of primitive Christianity. The problem with that is that the house-movement is not strong where Duin lives in the East Coast.
The biggest learning from Quitting Church was the fact that so many are disenchanted and dissatisfied with the most popular brand of Christianity still practiced by many evangelicals; we could probably add mainline Christians as well. The disenchanted are those who have been hurt by the hypocrisy of church people and their leaders, while the dissatisfied, according to Duin, are those who are just spinning their wheels spiritually. Their church is holding them back from engaging in meaningful ministry. The later chapters get down to concrete recommendations of addressing this spiritual malaise, such as 1) Leadership that is freeing and less controlling,
2) Emphasize receiving the spiritual gifts that God, the Holy Spirit, chooses, rather than on spiritual gift inventories 3) Actually practicing all the spiritual gifts (such as tongues and interpretation) instead of denying them for the benefit of seekers. She noted that fewer and fewer charismatic churches are using tongues in corporate worship. 4) Teaching and learning new insights so that people don't have to go somewhere else to grow. 
As far as inviting the formerly churched back, it's most effectively done through a friend or family member. Once those folks return, it's all about the friendliness, acceptance, and hospitality of the congregation. The formerly churched need some hope, or a sign, according to Duin, that the status quo has changed.
I wonder if the U.M. Methodist heritage's strong emphasis on continued growth in grace and the vows to grow in prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, seem to offer a sort of inoculation against quitting? Moreover, can churches like the UMC learn how to do evangelism from the Willow Creeks of the world, and can others learn how to do discipleship like the UMC’s? Can we learn from each other? It seems that by their existence, the more evangelical churches flout structure and aspire to continuous revival and renewal; whereas, mainlines emphasis more organization, and are less prepared for renewal that is not measured by the hard data bureaucracies love. But in the “burned-over” district of movie-house, market-based evangelism that Duin describes, her personal search for authentic community with other Christians reflects the spiritual journey of millions, Christian or not. And that’s the book’s significance.


  1. In my experience...
    People are NOT quitting “The Church of God” aka = “The Body of Christ.”
    People are quitting the 501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax deductible, Religious Corporation.

    Should we call a Corporation - “The Church of God?” AAARRRGGGHH!!! :-(

    Doesn’t the Bible warn us about;
    *The commandments of men?
    *The doctrines of men?
    *The philosophies of men?
    *The traditions of men,
    that make the Word of God of “non effect?”

    Mark 7:13 KJV - Making the word of God of “none effect” through your tradition...
    Mark 7:13 ASV - Making “void” the word of God by your tradition...
    Mark 7:13 NIV - Thus you “nullify” the word of God by your tradition...

    A simple word like “church.”
    What do most people **Today** think that means.
    Ask someone, believer or non-believer, to describe, explain or point to “church.”

    1 - Building with a steeple? --- Is that in the Bible?

    2 - Pastor - in a Pulpit - Preaching - to People - in Pews? --- Is that in the Bible?

    That’s what the world thinks, the believer and the unbeliever, isn’t it?

    Isn’t that what our so called “Church planting” has accomplished
    with four buildings on four corners in a lot of local towns?
    And passing the plate at every meeting?

    Haven't we deceived the people we’re supposed to be reaching out to?

    How many will know and understand that they can
    become “the ekklesia of God.” The called out one’s of God.

    How many will know that “The Church of God”
    “The ekklesia, the called out one’s of God” are;

    Kings and preist’s unto God.
    The Bride of Christ.
    Servants of Christ.
    Sons of God.
    Disciples of Christ.
    Ambassadors of Christ.

    Haven’t we deceived them by telling them the building is the church?
    And we have to give money to God so He can keep His building in good order?

    When all the time “you are” the ekklesia of God.
    The habitation of God. The house of God.
    God doesn’t dwell in temples built with the hands of men.

    Haven’t they missed the awesomeness of God,
    The beauty of “His Church,” “His Body.” How we all become “ONE” in Him?

    Neither bond nor free, neither male nor female,
    Neither Emergent nor Traditional nor Pentecostal nor Baptist.
    Neither Complementarinism nor Egalitarianism.
    Neither Denominationalism nor Non- denominationalism.
    All obeying Jesus. All following and learning from Jesus, as “ONE” new man.

    Jesus... My Lord and my God...

  2. Wonderful insights about the +35's folks, but it's mostly the younger group that doesn't go to church...and they will be the ones who devastate it 20 years from now.

    Gallop says only 20% go to church now... So church is dying. The old guard don't understand why younger people don't go. Here's the reason...

    Gotquestions.org says “few young adults believe in Satan or that Christianity is the only true religion.” Young adults now live in a diverse culture with diverse friends. They don't want to offend them saying their religions are an abomination, so they quit church.

    Christianity can still survive and thrive again, but not without changes. This is why Bishop John Spong is telling the world, “Christianity must change or die.”

    The historical truth is that Christ never threatened judgment or condemned other religions...neither did early Christians for 300 years. Judgmental dogma was added by the Romans in the fourth century when they commandeered the religion and changed it to the “Roman Christianity” of the modern church. We can fix this if we try.

    For Christianity to be saved, we need to start dealing with the issues now...

    Brad O'Donnell odonbrad@gmail.com
    Author: “Where to Now Saint Paul?” www.wheretonowstpaul.com

    1. I really appreciate your comments, Brad.

      I think the author's story recounts what she has learned that is inauthentic and incomplete in the church's witness, even among the most "successful" of mega-churches. We need voices like hers because we are supposed to learn something helpful from our common experience in order to reach others now and in the future. We so often forget, or fail to learn- the lessons of the past.


Gospel Reflection for Easter 3

Gospel for Easter 3, Year B  ( Luke 24: 36-48 CEB) : W hile Jesus' disciples were talking about what had happened, Jesus appeared and gr...