Monday, September 22, 2008

Americans leaving churches in droves - Washington Times

I found a fascinating article in the Washington Times chronicling how people are abandoning church attendance altogether. The author, Julia Duin, is herself a born-again Christian who dates her conversion back to the late 60s and the Jesus Movement. That, plus her experiences of living in vastly different parts of the US over the last thirty years, has given her a unique insight into the phenomena. The article is an excerpt from her recent book, "Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do About It" (Baker Books).

Here is a sampling...

You're not going to church?" I asked him.
It was his birthday, so we had met for dinner at the Olive Garden, one of our favorite Italian restaurants. He shook his head. "Matt," I will call him, was legally blind and unable to drive. That and a few other handicaps had not prevented him from having a decent-paying job with the U.S.
government, from amassing a world-class library in his home, and from being the go-to guy with answers to all my questions about Reformed theology. But here he was, disconsolate. A reporter by trade, I dragged his story out of him.

"I don't mind taking the metro to church, but you know me," he said. "I'm pretty Reformed, and the kind of church I like is always at least two miles from the nearest stop."

I named a church in Alexandria, a posh suburb with its own historic district. He'd been going there the last time we talked. "Oh, they promised they'd find me a family that could pick me up," he said. "And they did, for a while. Then they started forgetting I was there. It was like Russian roulette. I would get dressed and wait for them, but I never knew which Sunday they'd actually show up at my front door."

By the time he'd get this family on their cell phone, they'd already be in the church parking lot and in no mood to double back and get him. When he brought this up to the leaders at his church, they told him he was on his own. Finally, he just quit going for more than a year. No one from his church ever called to ask where he was. He contacted some other churches, but none would offer him any help in getting to their services.

I was stunned. If anyone was in love with God, it was Matt. He was single and male, rare in church these days. But no one wanted him. In fact, no one wanted a bunch of my friends.

There was Gwen in Salem, Ore., whose pastor would never say more than a few words to her. Struggling to bring up three kids alone, she could have used his moral support. "But pastors don't pal around with single moms," she told me. "Too many needs and we're not big enough givers." She finally dropped out of her Pentecostal congregation.

Then there were Paul and Ed, two journalist friends in Richmond and Casper, Wyo. Both brilliant evangelical men, they told me they loved the Lord but couldn't live with the paucity of spiritual maturity in every congregation they visited. Both were now church dropouts.

And there was Maeve, a married friend whose husband had talked back to the elders at their former congregation, a large Bible church also in northern Virginia. The elders kicked them both out. This couple found some refuge in a smaller, evangelical congregation, but, "I go only out of obedience," she told me over lunch one day.

I've seen it too with loved ones and friends. Not long ago I talked to someone who has dropped out of church altogether. For years he and his wife had been in a mega-church but then became disaffected. They tried smaller churches, then home churches, now they sleep in on Sunday morning.

I don't fully understand this phenomena but have a theory. In the wake of Charles Finney's ministry in upstate New York people left the church in droves too. They had become cynical of his revival methods and his theology became a breeding ground for many Christian sects that abandoned biblical orthodoxy. That area has become known as The Burned Over Area because, like a forest after a forest fire, it remains devastated and impervious to the Gospel. Perhaps the same thing is happening in our day but on a much larger scale due to the influences of Christian mass media and the megachurch.

Click on the link above to read the article. Click here to watch a short video of her introducing the topic.

FWIW - I bet that we'll hear from this author in the the not so distant future being interviewed on the White Horse Inn (

No comments: