Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why People Leave Church

"If I don't worry about the one that strays and gets lost, even the one that is strong will think it is rather fun to stray and get lost. I do indeed desire outward gains, but I am more afraid of inner losses." - Augustine
Between 1998-2007 two British academics research why people leave church. The surveyed 800 former church goers in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and intensely interviewed around 20 people. The 200 question survey examined the reasons why people leave church. Here's a selection of the results:

Matters of Belief and Unbelief Percentage
I doubted or questioned my faith 43
I lost my faith 32
Church had lost its meaning for me 49
I felt God had let me down 10
I could not reconcile my own suffering with my belief in God 14
I could not reconcile others' suffering with my belief in God 29
I became aware of alternative ways of thinking or living 53
So many people fight each other in the name of religion 66
I felt nobody in the church would understand my doubts 16
The church did not allow people to discuss or disagree with its views 25
A questioning faith did not seem acceptable to the church 29
I changed - it wasn't the church's fault that I dropped off 64
I got out of the habit of going to church 69
I believed that you did not need to go church to be a Christian 75
I was disillusioned by church-goers' attitudes to women 24
I was disillusioned by church-goers' attitudes to homosexuals 24
I was disillusioned by church-goers' abuse of power 28
The church failed to connect with the rest of my life 46

Although you need to read this within the British and Irish context, the results are still quite interesting. The two academics, Leslie Francis and Philip Richter, published the results in the book Gone for Good? The book includes detailed analysis of the different reasons people had for leaving church. They also offered pastoral advice on how to care for former church goers, and outlined the circumstance under which people would return to church. For many of the people surveyed who indicated that they might return to church would do so if somebody listened to their concerns.

In response to their research, Francis and Richter offer a new church model as the solution. I'm not sure that I understand their multiplex model yet. However, this is still a very helpful book in understand why people leave church and how to practically care for them once they do.

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