Older Christians are Leaving Churches

by Wayne J. Edwards

The headline from the Webpage of my own denomination said, "Engage younger Christiansor else!" Since I was in the middle of writing this book [see end credit], the headline worked—it caused me to take the time to read the entire article. When I finished, I paused to thank the Lord for answered prayer, because I could not have asked for a better way to illustrate the burden of my heart for what is happening in the church today.

The article began with what the writer perceived as the crucial issue—"a potential financial crisis looms for the Southern Baptist Convention as church members decrease denominational support." Now, if the writer had stopped for a moment, perhaps called a few pastors of those churches where the denominational support had decreased, and had been willing to honestly face the consequences of what he would have heard, he may have been able to find the answer(s) as to why there has been a 30-year decline in giving by SBC church members.

But instead he shifted to another report that said, "millions of American twentysomethings'" are checking out on organized Christianity. And the rest of the article explained how today's young adults are less likely than any other age group to attend church, read the Bible or donate to religious causes, especially if they do not feel a personal connection to the ministry, and how the church had better change the way it relates to younger members and find some way to connect with them, because "they won't buy into the same old, same old." 

Now here is my dilemma. Two groups of people are "checking out" on organized Christianity: those who are or have been involved in the church with their time, talents, and tithes for years, and those who are not sure they want to get involved with traditional institutions, and even if they do get involved, they are less likely to support it with their time or talents, much less their tithe. And yet, at least to this pastor, it seems our whole concern today is for the second group rather than the first. In fact, those in the first group are being told in no uncertain terms to move over and make way for a new generation. And to offer any criticism at all to this activity is to question the will of God.

Unchurching the Churched

I believe many pastors have become so concerned about reaching the unchurched that they are "unchurching" the churched! In their zeal to do whatever it takes to attract a new generation of unbelievers to their church, they are, at the same time, diverting the present and past generations of believers away from the church – those who helped buy the property, build the buildings, establish the organization, and who have faithfully supported the church for years. And sadly, statistics are showing they are leaving the church by the droves; giving up, giving out, giving in—but they aren't giving dollars any more.

In her book, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, Marva J. Dawn cited a report given by David Barrett to Oxford Press, that "in a twelve-month period, 2,765,100 worship attenders in Europe and North America cease to be practicing Christians—an average loss of 7,600 every day. This means that every week more than 53,000 people leave churches and never come back." Dawn concludes, "Something is seriously wrong if so many people do not find it worthwhile to continue participating in the church!" (Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: a Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time, William B. Eerdmans, 1995). I could not agree more, but it seems we are afraid to ask them why they are leaving!

I have talked to some of these "de-churched" folks. These people have not given up on God or ceased to believe in Jesus Christ. These seasoned saints are being told that the tools God used to bring them to faith in Jesus Christ; methods that enhanced their love for God and encouraged them to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord; ministries that inspired them and motivated them to give, to go, to serve and to send; concepts that God has used to build His church for 2000 years are not relevant any more.  Those who are writing the contemporary church growth manuals are saying the old disciplines of inductive Bible study, dynamic expository preaching, and the great hymns of our faith, are actually barriers to unbelievers—hindrances that must be removed if we are to reach a new generation of lost people.

"Experts": "Lighten Up on Sin"

Pastors are being told by the church growth experts that if they want to attract unbelievers to their church, they must soften their preaching on sin, relax their convictions about the blood of Jesus Christ and change their music so that it sounds like the music of the world. They are being advised to use only paraphrased versions of the Bible, and to keep their "messages" short, because today's generation will not endure a lengthy lecture.

They are being encouraged to insert current movie clips, interpretive dance, personal illustrations and other unique things, just to grasp their attention, and to spend the majority of their sermon time on personal application as opposed to biblical proclamation. One of the most ludicrous examples of this was a pastor who said he actually made his own recipe of salsa as a part of his "sermon" on how God wants every married couple to enjoy "hot sex!" 

So, the church in America is being lulled to sleep with affluence, entertainment, and a form of godliness, but without the true power of God. We have many great churches, if you look at the size of their buildings, their budgets and the baptisms they report. But the majority of churches today are nothing more than religious organizations, trying to attract the world with amateur theater, synthesized music, and engaging media.

And the faithful remnant, those who sacrificed their time, talents, and tithes to see the church begin, grow, and develop, are now being relegated to the rear of the sanctuary, or they are being told to leave; systematically removed as those who no longer matter.

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