Friday, September 11, 2009

Unchurched or Dechurched?

“I have just given up on the church. There is no place for me there.” This was the comment made by a participant at a meeting I attended several months ago. The focus of the meeting was on reaching the “unchurched,” but the discussion moved quickly to testimonies by those who considered themselves “dechurched.”

What’s the difference? Unchurched people declare that they have never had a meaningful relationship with the church. Sure, they may have been to weddings and funerals and an occasional Christmas or Easter service, but they never really have identified with a particular congregation. Dechurched people, on the other hand, were once active in a congregation or denomination. They may have grown up in the church or made a profession of faith at some point in their pilgrimage, but they no longer consider themselves church people. In fact, some may no longer consider themselves Christians.

What causes a person to become dechurched? There are any number of reasons, and they are highly individual.

Some leave the church because their expectations were not met. They did not find the challenge or insight that they were seeking to deal with daily life or problem situations.

Others have left because of a power struggle in a particular congregation. A pastor may have exceeded his or her authority or been forced to leave the church. Maybe there was a disagreement over use of resources—personnel, facilities, or finances. During power struggles, individuals often show their worst side. Power struggles anywhere are not pretty, but they are especially ugly in the body of Christ because we expect more of the people involved. This leads to disappointment and alienation.

Abuse may the reason someone is no longer related to the church. The individual, someone in their family, or a friend were abused by another church member or clergy leader. To add insult to injury, perhaps the incident was handled improperly. This happens more than we would like to admit.

Perhaps the person was “burned out” by the church. They were gifted and wanted to help, but they couldn’t say “No” and found themselves overcommitted. On the other hand, the individual might have wanted to use his or her gifts in the congregation, but the opportunity was denied and they got tired of beating on that door.

I am sure that you can add other reasons that people become disenchanted with the church. The questions I would ask of a dechurched people are these. First, do you still long to be part of a Christian community? Second, do you have something to offer and the desire to do that grows stronger every day? Third, are you willing to acknowledge not only the fallibility of others but your own tendency to fall short of the goal? Fourth, can you practice grace even if you have no received it from others?

The church is made of up sinners, but that is all that God has to work with in this world. As someone told me years ago, if you find the perfect church, don’t join because it will no longer be perfect.


Antan said...

Good and sound thinking. Thanks. I am dechurched person and admit that the problem is allso on my side. I will admit that 100 % if we can put that logic 100% to be truth. To amdit that I have one problem, and it is: by using that logic of your text, it will be ok to participate in any organisation, even soc-nacism. Logic is: They are bad, but I will sow some mercy to them and come back and be part of them.

Ircel said...

Thanks for your comment. I was certainly thinking in terms of the Christian church. I believe that those who have left the church have not necessarily left the faith and can share insights that will help to reform the church.

Bryan said...

Ircel, you sound a really nice guy. And you are quite right about many people leaving church because they have been hurt. However, that is the major, or perhaps only reason, Pastors can give. It is generally a mirror of how Pastors think, because they are relational type people.
But it is not the only reason, and I think you really need to be dechurched to start to understand the mind cramping that the cultural memory of the Prostestant Evangelical church exerts unwittingly.
Finally, it is nice to say the dechurched can share insights that will help to reform the church. But you and I know there is no forum for that, that their voices are lost. And that Pastors have to show numerical growth figures to their boards to justify their existence, which is why some of them join the dechurched as well.

Ircel said...

I agree that our perspective limits our understanding not only of others' points of view, but our own as well. As someone has said, the fish really can't describe water or what it would be to live without it~

Although we have few specific forums for the dechurched to speak to the churched, pastors can begin this process by reading outside their usually narrow field and seeking out relationships in the community for new insights.

Anonymous said...

You asked, "Do you still want to be part of a community?"

I dechurched from my megachurch's main worship service. I haven't attended for years even though I'm considered a church leader and have the right education. I go to a Sunday school class that I count as my church. No one has noticed except my closest friend.

What's interesting is that my godly parents have dechurched too, and are doing the same thing.

We've attended this church for more than 40 years, but we want real fellowship and closeness. We're all too old to sit through lectures (aka sermons). We haven't done that since college.

I've started a small group weeknights at my church for dechurched people (ironic, eh?). And it is working out great. We attract people from other churches who no longer fit in. People love it. They consider it their lifeline. They don't want it to end, even though it was supposed to be only temporary.

Maybe we've created a new church model.