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A Response To Christians Who Are Done With Church

You hear it all the time.

I’m done with church.

I don’t really need to go to church…my relationship with God is personal.

I’ve had it with organized religion.

The church is a man-made invention, not God’s idea.

I completely understand why a growing number of people are bailing on church. Even people who used to lead in the church often stop attending (here are 9 reasons why church leaders do that).

We’ve spent a lot of time working through the issue of declining church attendance (and growing disillusionment with the church) on this blog and in my leadership podcast. (For a summary of the issues, here’s a piece on the 10 reasons even committed church attenders are attending church less often).

I get it.

The church is far from perfect. Life is complex. There are growing options. And the post-modern mind distrusts most things organized or institutional.

But as trendy as the idea of writing off the church may be, it’s a mistake.

While writing off the church passes as sophisticated thinking, it’s actually the opposite; what if it’s a simplistic and even reductionistic line of thinking that leads nowhere constructive?

The church isn’t even biblical, is it?

People argue the idea of church isn’t even biblical.

So let’s start with the basics.

First if you’re a Christian, church is not something you go to. It’s something you are.

You can’t disassociate from church as a Christian anymore than you can disassociate from humanity as a person.

You don’t go to church. You are the church.

Second, the church was not a human invention. Half-reading the New Testament with one eye closed will still lead you to the inescapable conclusion that the church was God’s idea.

In fact, most of the New Testament is not about the teachings of Jesus. It’s about the work of the church that Jesus initiated and ordained. I won’t fill this post with scripture verses that prove my point, because, quite frankly, you’d have to get rid of the majority of the New Testament to argue that the church was a parenthetical, made-up organization.

If you want to get rid of the church, you also need to get rid of Jesus.

You can’t have one without the other.

Maybe what bothers you should actually amaze you

I understand that the idea of the church being imperfect makes some people despair.

But rather than making us despair, the fact that Jesus started the church with imperfect people should make us marvel at God’s incredible grace.

That God would use ordinary, broken human beings as vessels of his grace, and delight in it is awe-inspiring. He’s proud of how his grace is beating through your imperfect-but-redeemed life and through the church (have you ever read Ephesians 3: 10-11?).

The idea that God would use you and me is pretty amazing. He had other options.

He could have spoken to the world directly, but instead chose to use broken people to showcase his grace to a world in need of redemption.

For sure, community is messy.

People sin. Leaders are sinful.

Most of the New Testament is not a story of an idealized church where everything worked perfectly all the time (just read 1 Corinthians any time you’re frustrated with your church).

Most of the New Testament is a story of Jesus using his followers to spread his love in spite of themselves and as they overcome obstacle after obstacle.

The fact that Christ uses flawed people to accomplish his work on earth is actually a sign of his grace, not a sign of his absence.

The church’s story, as twisted as it gets at times, is a beautiful story of God’s grace, God’s power and God’s redemption.

So, by the way, is your life, which reflects the story of the church more than you would want to admit.

The church gives the world a front row seat to the grace of God.

The ultimate consumerism isn’t going to church…it’s walking away from it

People criticize the church today as being consumeristic. And to some extent, churches cater to consumerism—often to our detriment. I agree that consumerism is a problem for Christianity.

But ironically, much of the dialogue about why people are done with church pushes people deeper into Christian consumerism than it pushes them into deeper discipleship: Here I am, all alone, worshipping God on my schedule when it’s convenient for me.

Listening to a podcast of your favourite preacher while you’re at the gym or on the back deck and pushing three of your favourite worship songs through your ear buds does not make you a more passionate Christ follower.

It usually makes you a less effective one.

Disconnecting yourself from community is actually less faithful than connecting yourself to a flawed community.

If you think the church today isn’t enough (and arguably, we need to reform it), then do what the early Christians did.

If you want a more biblical church…don’t gather weekly, gather daily. Before dawn.

Get up before the sun rises to pray together with other Christians before you go to work. Pool your possessions. Don’t claim anything as your own.

Be willing to lose your job, your home, your family and even your life because you follow Jesus.

Then you’ll be more authentic.

And notice that the early church did indeed gather. 

Gathering always leads to some form of organizing.

To pretend the church doesn’t need to be organized is as logical arguing that society doesn’t need to be organized.

Because community is inevitable, organization is inevitable.

Our ability to organize and to accomplish more together than we can alone is one of the crowning achievements of humanity, and our ability to work together makes Christian effort far more effective. 

It’s also part of God’s design for how we should interact while we’re on this planet. Come to think of it, heaven is a community too.

The only one who wants us to believe that we are better off alone is our enemy.

If you really think about it, it’s actually a very clever tactic.

The church has helped even those who resent the church

Finally, if you’re reading this article and you have any modicum of faith in Jesus, may I suggest your faith is actually the result of the mission of the church.

Very few people come to know Jesus because he appears to them supernaturally when they are alone and calls them by name.

Does that ever happen? Sure. But not to 99.9% of us.

Almost all of us who follow Jesus have had our lives changed by a flawed body called the church that Jesus so passionately loves and calls his own.

Think about that.

We need more church

Do we need more churches? Yes.

Do we need more humble churches? We do.

Do you we need authentic, transparent leadership? Absolutely.

Does the church need to change? Without a doubt.

The church needs continual reformation and transformation.

So what will the future look like?

Will we gather in quite the way we do today in the future? In some ways yes; in others, no.

Hopefully we gather more frequently and work through our differences at a deeper level and impact our communities more powerfully.

These two posts offer 10 predictions about future church attendance and 11 traits of churches that will impact the future.

But regardless of how the church gathers in the future, we will gather…we need to gather.

We Christians need each other, probably now more than ever.

And even if you don’t think you need other Christians, I promise you you do, and so does our world.

Now, more than ever, the world needs Christian working together humbly under Christ to lead people into a growing relationship with him, in whatever innovate and fresh forms that takes.

The church is not dead.

Far from it.

Maybe it’s just beginning to take shape for a brand new era that desperately needs it.

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  • Kougetsu Barakage

    “But as trendy as the idea of writing off the church may be, it’s a mistake.”

    It’s not a mistake. This idea that the church is some institution is the problem and why people are leaving. The church IS the Body of Christ. It doesn’t fit into a building or a program or your idea of a flock. You can’t contain it because it is led by the Holy Spirit of God. It doesn’t belong to Sunday services and ‘fake love’.

    It doesn’t belong to the promises of comfortable chairs, comfortable living, and comfortable words. It is TIRED of watching people in buildings living lies. It is TIRED of pastors bowing down to unrighteous government, to sensational entertainment, to YOUR IDEA OF A CAREER. It is TIRED of being ignored while you put people up on stage that buy into your system and refuse to ROCK THE BOAT. The only reason why a REAL Christian needs to be at YOUR CHURCH is to minister to someone that YOU CAN’T REACH…and that person might even be yourself! Don’t forget that Jesus himself turned over the money tables….its seems like some things never change. We who actually follow Christ are TIRED of you exploiting people who want to believe…TIRED of your messages that scratch ‘itching ears’….TIRED of a pastor who leads a culture that doesn’t really care about anyone but themselves, at all…

  • shelley

    Well I left church because of it’s contradictions. it’s need to continue in rituals that are supposed to make one more “spiritual” I am not against anyone who wants to be baptized in water or wants to take communion or wants to tithe or wants to wash another’s feet. These are carnal ordinances and we are under the law of the Spirit of life. Jesus said “the flesh profits nothing” So who you going to believe?

  • Larry

    That so many people are commenting shows how important this topic is! God, help us listen to each other with love and be directed by You.

    I think we must remember a few things here. First, Jesus, in a pretty real way, left a ‘church’ that was led by Pharisee-types. (This was a Spirit-filled move, of course, not some “Oh, I’m bored” kinda decision.) He left a church that was very organized, where “leaders” went around telling people what church was supposed to be, making long prayers in public, loving their nice clothes, etc.

    Then, Jesus set up the new church. Hopefully you all know the story. His church, after he left, didn’t have a weekly sermon, a rock band, big stage lights, etc. But what they did have was given to them, by God, and they shared it all. And they had the Holy Spirit. And I doubt that any of them feared that people were “leaving the church,” as the church then was so seductive (and I mean that in a Holy way) that people came in masses, lived as what we ‘mericans would call communists, and devoted themselves to the brother (and sister)-hood, to the word, and, well, just read Acts 2:42, interestingly the picture was painted again for us in Acts 4.

    I read the New Testament for myself and began to try and follow Christ. It wasn’t because of modern ‘merican church. God’s church in the New Testament was so revolutionary, and loving at the same time- I couldn’t not want to follow. But then I began going to church, and many of us share in the kinds of experiences that follow. My story, in short, is this: A church that my family went to for years were mis-handling money; taking way more for paychecks than what was being accounted for. My poor mother tithed to this church quite faithfully, all to go in to buying the pastor a boat! Well, I know that we all sin, so I tried to go directly to the pastor to talk about this, and he’d have none of it. So I quit going then. And I wasn’t super angry. Most churches, maybe not to the same extreme, are set up like this – poorer people come and tithe, and the pastors live very middle class lives. What difference is a boat?!

    It’s not an “Oh the church isn’t perfect,” kinda thing for many people. It’s a “Where’s the real discussion? And accountability?” kinda thing. Remember, the early church wasn’t started by anyone with pedigree. These were just common people who God chose.

    I left the church the first time I was seriously frustrated by it. This time, ironically, I’m taking the writer’s last piece of advice – which, by the way, seemed like it was written in a snarky tone. Like, “I bet you won’t do this!” Well, that’s our model as a church – what’s found in the Bible. Maybe there’s a reason for that being our model. After all Christ said, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” That wasn’t, “You should talk about me, but set up a business in the meantime. (and Make people sign up for three channels to have a conversation on your blog).” 🙂

  • Craig Pennell

    I agree with some of where the writer is coming from, we are the body…but what is needed now for “the Church”, not your church, my church, their church, but “The Church”, is for Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving believers like Carey, to stop worrying about getting people into church, and start doing the kingdom work we are meant to do.

    A church meeting can never fill the need each and every one of us has for relationship with the Father.

    If you haven’t read “So you don’t want to go to church anymore”, get a copy, it’s free to download.

  • Paul Cummings

    Great blog Carey – you are so right in so many ways. We truly have to get back to the idea that we are the church. The bricks and mortar are just a place for the church to gather. Yes, many churches have rules that people don’t like. Many churches are hungry for money – mostly to sustain the bricks and mortar but also, to pay the pastors and staff, who are the ones building discipleship within the body we call “the Church”. But thinking about the rules and roles and the need to finance discipleship, the church also, as you say is a community of Jesus seekers. To hear a great sermon that gives you that “ah ha” moment, to really feel the presence of the Holy Spirit during a great worship session can’t always be found without a community seeking the same. A group of people, praying in agreement, worshipping in agreement and learning, in agreement is what is missing. That, I believe is where we need to be headed as “the church”.

  • The church is both ontological and functional. It is both what it does and who it is. For the most part, ‘The Dones’ are ridding themselves from what it (the church) purports to and doesn’t, so they can actually do what it’s suppose to do.

    There is more genuine discipleship being done by the dones who leave ‘church’ than the do’s who stay in church and focus the bulk of their resources, money, time, people, and energy, in sustaining their non-disciple-making ‘organizations.’

    In a recent pole, of church attendees, less than 20% said that they have shared their faith with another person in the past year. When asked if they ‘evangelized’ anyone that number drops to 11%. When asked if they think they have made a disciple in the past year, that number drops to less than 3%.

    The dones are leaving fruitless ecclesiastical systems for Spirit driven fruitful mission. They are the ones who are actually making disciples of Jesus. They are not gathering to gather. They gather to scatter and then gather again on the way. Church happens when disciples are made. They gather naturally, or shall we say supernaturally.

    I am not speaking philosophically or ideologically. I speak from over 10 years of experience on the mission field in one of the most diverse parts of the planet. I have seen over a dozen generations of disciples made in 7 years and a retention rate of over 90%. They gather in an inordinate number of different ways, some traditional, and others like you would have never imagined.

    The church doesn’t have a mission, the mission (God’s mission), has a church. In that sense we are a people. if disciples aren’t being made and most church growth happens by simply moving people around, then THAT is not the church.

    The strength of any local gathering is proven by its disciple making. No disciples? No Church!

    As to organization, there are a myriad of different levels on which a local ekklesia can be organized. In truth, I have seen both churches with great organization and no mission and churches with very little organization making great advances in the Kingdom.

    As a missionary, I have seen countless good mission ventures killed by trying to ‘plant a church.’ There are a number of things that can kill a good mission, but church is the number one perpetrator. At least ‘church’ as understood in its traditional sense.

    I am a missionary. I am also a ‘done.’ But that doesn’t mean that I don’t gather often, or stay on task, or rebel against authority, or dismiss structure when it’s advantageous to the call of Christ. it just means that I am done with all systems, programs, church services, sermons, and the like that are robbing resources from the Great commission to make sure that they’re around next week.

    Most churches designate between 3-8% of their income towards mission and over 90% in self-sustination. These things ought not be so.

  • In the Christian community, I am tired of Christian cliches, Tired of Christian lingo, Tired of false ideas of what Christians should portray to the world, False holiness that puts the mark so far out front … you will never attain it. Focus is on giving, attendance, much of what is portrayed in church is outwardly, not inwardly first. I am so tired of the phrase, Sunday I “got to church”. The world laughs at Christians today. We are commanded … all Christians to make disciples, it is not a program it is a daily task each of us are given in the place God has us, and slowly we build the church one individual at a time. In our world Today we have incorporated the world into our circle … it is performance based, results based that, money based, what looks good. Yes, I am done with this fake system and so is the world, we are a joke!

  • Well said Carey. Bless you brother. 🙂

    • Paul…thanks so much. Appreciate all you and your church are doing to advance the Gospel in Orillia and beyond.

  • Greg Topper

    This is written by another author that just doen’t understand the motivation behind those that are through with institutional religion. Dones didn’t quit because they are judging others they didn’t quit because they don’t measure up to the Done’s expectations.They want to live as Christians daily with their brothers and sisters in Christ. We want to do tbe Christian life together. We don’t want to fellowship week in and week out with the back of someone’s head in the pew in front of us and call that fellowship. We are tired of the superficial. We want meaning! If going to an institutional religious gathering called church is something you are draw to by the Lord, then go with our love. We won’t judge you,

    From the tone of the article, it doesn’t seem that dones are the judges. This is one of the attitudes that has many of us determined not to walk back into a religious institute again. Your article makes the Done’s point marvelously. Instead of turning your sword on a brother or sister in Christ because we don’t agree.on every theological point, maybe it’s time to engage the destructive enemy of all men’s souls. When I used to go to bars, I found better acceptance than in most churches I walked in after the Lord showed mercy to me and birthed me from above. Just my thoughts. I doubt it will make a difference. Those that are right are always right.

  • jozie

    I’ve listened to allot of the discussion here and I’m deeply troubled within my heart…the church today is nothing what Christ intended it to be we just don’t have enough courageous leaders and followers to stand up for the truth. The truth does sting but as we bare it we become shaped in the potters image. Who today wants to relinquish his own will and agendai for God’s?? None! That, reader, is the whole summed up, in a nut shell, reason why people are leaving…how can we (pastors/leaders/special members/rich/cliques/etc, come to the end of ourselves and give back authority to the one who died for us…We have left our first love and sought money, prestige, fame, popularity and the like instead of returning to our first love, Christ! Until there is a turn in the way these powerful people run church, we will never see the love and charity of the apostles and early church…what we need, sadly, is persecution like China or North Korea, where they must hide to worship…I would bet my life that these bodies have the love of Christ and have come to the end of themselves…it’s the giving up of our possessions, greed and selfish motives to coming to the awareness that we have already been given our great reward…our salvation…now what preacher today is preaching this? None! but you can count on the passing of the plate even more then the observing of our Lord’s body and blood….that packs a punch for me…and in the 30+ years I’ve been a believer and follower of the way….I have never seen the love and charity consistently played out for the people…but I have witnessed the exhorbant greed and entitlements and those warped ones twisting the scriptures to meet their demands so that they can live the lifestyle they desire…they will have to give an account one day..so let’s focus and point this debate where it needs to be pointed too….the bad conduct and behavior of the leaders/pastors of the churches who could care less for your soul and more about their wallets and houses and boats, cars, trips, and excessive entitlements they say the Scriptures reveal they deserve…I’m disgusted and appalled at it all …. this is why genuine authentic born again Christians are leaving…but, and i can only speak for me, it is very painful and heartbreaking to leave and to be left alone at home craving and desiring fellowship with like-minded bros and sis’s…but where are they? I long for the pastors and leaders to repent and do the work Christ intended…what a glorious day that would be when a rush of people begin gravitating back to the true church as the Holy Spirit is poured out among the people…I’m afraid it’s going to take a persecution to shake us to the point of waking up!!

  • chaizydain

    Organizations, especially ones that bring in big $$$, don’t change unless they are threatened. They don’t change even when the agent for change is within and working towards change.

    While I am not a fan of the Catholic church, the loss of parishioners, and thereby the loss of $$$, has forced change. Including electing the most radical agent for change that organization has seen in some 60 or so years. The Catholic church was becoming very out of step with its membership, but could not accept that it was on life support without fundamental change. The election of Pope Benedict XVI, a staunch wall for “tradition,” was the recent church’s attempt to head off that change. It didn’t work, and for the first time in nearly 600 years, a living Pope was forced to resign. IN this instance to a radically different voice. One might say a voice closer to that of Jesus’.

    That Millennials are un-churched in increasing numbers is probably not a good thing, for the Church or for them. However, Millennials have a different world view than their parents and grandparents. “Tradition” is no longer good enough, and a Church that stands by “because we have always done it this way” is destined to die.

    If the Church is listening, the Church will change to meet the needs of the body. You suggest collective ownership of property…which churches have adopted such ideals? You suggest meeting in community daily, which churches have adopted such ideals? If the Church expects people to return, to weekend worship, to regular attendance, to new “modern” expressions of faith, its going to have to lead the change.

    Actual Love will have to be shown, not wrapping paper love. If the Church needs to have the gangrenous parts fall away, the hypocrites who would stab you in the back while offering a hug of friendship, so be it. The Church will survive, how can it not. (I was driven away from the Church for over a decade by exactly such hypocrites. At the exact moment when I needed the support of my Church community more than any other time in my life, I was shunned and blamed…for having a medical malady…and accused of being too “un-Godly” or I would not be suffering. It took me a full 10 years to accept that those people were the un-Godly, not I.)