Why Americans are leaving their churches

Why Americans are leaving their churches is a post with some considerations about what is wrong with our churches in this modern day.

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The researcher is probably not a Christian himself, but he presents the nonvert, or people opposite of a “convert” to Christianity, people who turn from Christianity after having known it (or at least, being involved somewhat in it). I think the key here is apostasy. An apostate is somebody who after having been “in” Christianity and knows it very well, turns from Christ back to the world.

The researcher, Steven Bullivant, says as many as 34% of Americans are claiming to not be religious. As a preacher myself, I find this not surprising. But the real problem here is not “social factors” that are causing people to refuse any religious affiliation, it is simply the problem of the religions of our day are not teaching and persuading their “flock” in the doctrines that they supposedly believe in, i.e. when the leaders are lukewarm about what they are doing, the people soon become lukewarm, and then they flee altogether.

As a Christian, I have to insist that this is the real problem. People in these churches are 1) not saved themselves, 2) they cannot explain what salvation is to others (the serious problem is that preachers cannot even do this successfully) and 3) they have no vision for the grand commission of Christ to go out into the world and announce the gospel.

After visiting a large number of churches as a missionary, I see this constantly over the years. There is no real energy in the missions programs of so many churches. If the church even has missionaries come, it is only because somewhere in the mind of the pastor, “we should do this”, but they have no real burden for the great commission.

An example from one church in my past.

I had a small country church supporting me at one time. The pastor left the pastorate so he could take over a Christian radio station. A new man came in, and they summarily dropped my monthly support as a missionary. I made it a priority to go by and visit the new pastor. I had sent him emails and tried to call him but to no avail. He worked a secular job.

So I arrived one Sunday “unannounced”. They were having their big missionary project and evangelistic project that weekend. They invited people from the town to a meal. Out of a town of several thousand people, they had about 50 people. They had invited a country singing group, and they were singing songs that were ridiculous, “she’ll be coming around the mountain,” etc. The pastor mentioned that these “singers” (a mother and son that were not very good at singing) were relatives of his. So that is the sum total of their missions budget (the money they gave the pastor’s aunt and her son) for the year.

Now churches can do anything they want with their money, but the 10 or so of us missionaries they dropped our support for that. It was an unbelievable Sunday. As I drove away from that town, I turned on the radio and caught the previous pastor’s Sunday message. Again I was wowed from some things he said that showed little understanding of salvation. The church had about 15 regular Sunday attendees. So it appeared that the previous preacher left the church to gain a wider audience.

Lack of professionalism is a widespread problem

As I go from church to church, I notice this “lack of professionalism.” If you are going to bowl for a living, my Bible teaches me to do it heartily, with a full and joyous heart. Pastors today seem to be “just getting by”. They do the minimum required, have something on Sundays, and that is more than many can do. I understand a pastor having to work a secular job and doing the best he can, but when it is really doubtful that all of these pastors are doing the best that they can, then what?

How to Fix this

In my first years of being a pastor on the mission field, I was bombarded by many people with problems. “Christians” came to our church, hung around trying to take over everything and order everybody around (including me), and then left in a huff because things didn’t materialize into a huge church with a lot of money and these geniuses at the center of everything giving orders. Really, I resented their part. I came to the area and started a small mission, and put my entire life and energy into it for somebody else to come along and push me aside (or at least they tried to). We did have some faithful people, but I was instructed not to pay any attention to them, just to these “geniuses” that were trying to overtake the church.

I noted that the geniuses didn’t have the personal testimony to be a leader. I couldn’t even pressure to make them a deacon because their personal lives were messed up. The more I knew of their personal lives, the more I realized how messed up they were.

So the Bible is always the answer, and preaching the Bible how you solve things…

God has first of all set forth a calling for people in the ministry. You cannot just jump into the ministry of God’s church just so. You have to be called to this. This calling is always personal, individual, and private for that minister. But there is a confirmation of that person’s calling. Some other ministers already called, examined, and ministering review the candidate and then confirms his calling. I see here also people wanting to do stupid things and when somebody else tries to point out the illogical “calling” that they have, they just go find somebody who will accept them.

Another anecdote here from my past. At one time I was an assistant pastor of a large church in the states. The pastor made me missions director of that church. We had to review all the missionaries who wanted to come present their ministries. One few about 20 years old came with a ministry to people in the harbor, that had yachts. He wanted to organize a church service in the harbor every Sunday for these people. He wanted churches to give him sufficient money to buy a yacht.

Sounds good at first. I asked would these people, most being in their 30s and above, successful or rich people to have money to afford a yacht, would they listen to a young guy like that? Moreover, if they were in the docks working or relaxing on the boats, are they the kind of people that would be interested in attending a church service? Moreover, the first thing they need to do is to get saved. So why cannot this fellow attend a good local church on Sundays, and spend his time after church and on Saturdays talking to these people and witnessing to them? The whole ministry made no sense to me. But this young fellow insisted on needing $50,000 for a yacht way back in the 1980s.

The Calling is very Important

What having a calling does, and the verification of other good recognized ministers does, is that it established that OTHER MINISTERS see what you are doing as valid. I could go long on single girls becoming missionaries, but that is best suited for a whole different post. But so many of these single missionary girls get people saved and never have the open door to be their pastors because the Bible prohibits it. It is short sighted to not think this through. So many of them “work with an established church that has a male pastor”. As if that solves everything, it doesn’t. These adjuncts to an established church usually means that they do their own thing and use the pastor and his church to baptize their converts.

Preparation is necessary

Here I would say that anybody wanting to minister needs to prepare himself. Very simply, he needs to go somewhere where an experienced and serious minister can teach him. Today most of our youth are just not in a mindset to listen to anybody except their own foolish heart. Humility is absolutely necessary in order to learn. Since this isn’t happening, our future churches and church leaders are hopeless lost in self absorption. Not only does this kind of personality not work on a spiritual level, these people get discouraged and quit, causing more problems for God’s church.

Staying with your calling until the end

Here I am amazed at how many missionaries I have seen come to Mexico to work in God’s work to only leave shortly after arriving. Is my ministry not filled with disappointments and discouragements? Do my people not betray me and leave? Yes all the time. But I am not called to be popular, to be wealthy, or to make a big splash in the religious scene here. I am called to pastor a local church here in another country. Good or bad, easy or hard, I am doing that for over 45 years in the same spot. I would love to leave and start over somewhere else. But I don’t feel God wants that, at least not now, and not from where I am laboring. That attitude is what pastors in the states need. They need to work through all their problems and “come out the other side.” Are we beat up afterwards? Yes, it sure does feel that way. But nonetheless, called people stay with the work.

Novelties instead of meaty things

Today’s youth is assaulted with a barrage of new electronic “things.” Everything from cell phones, to the internet, to other “interesting” things. But the “bread and butter” of God’s work is 1) evangelism (I would include missions in that concept) and 2) discipleship. Discipleship cannot be done outside of a local church context. The goal of a person who disciples others should be to train these people and incorporate them into a good local all in a single work.

To the Question at Hand

But the reason why so many Americans are leaving their churches, really they are leaving religion altogether, is because they do not have commitment to Christ. At the bottom of this is the point that they have not understood the plan of salvation, much less have they actually received Christ into their hearts as their Savior. Your cannot deal with this problem without understanding that this is the real problem.

The second “real problem” is that the leaders of our churches are in no better shape as to really being saved as these people who leave. The leaders 1) do not have a firm grasp of salvation themselves, and it is seen in how they “do church”. Spiritual salvation is not the central focus. Morality change is not there either really. We have gotten so fascinated with knowledge that every sermon fills our heads with more knowledge (which we forget before we get through the door) and it all does nothing morally for us. It does not affirm our salvation nor guide our lives, and these two things should be the absolute “to do” if a place is a ministry, a church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Why Americans are leaving their churches

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