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WHY DO PEOPLE QUIT THE CHURCH

There is almost always a delay between when a person tails away from the Lord and when he quits coming to church services. Many continue to attend out of habit, fear of what others will say, family pressure, or until they can find an excuse to quit while saving face. Others gradually grow weak and then fall away in a time of testing. These are like a diseased tree that looks healthy until a storm tests its strength and reveals a rotten core. The devil will see to it that each Christian faces turning points that can cause us to drop out of faithful service. We could call these "faith tests."

A personal or family crisis can be a "faith test." A devastating illness—a child diagnosed with leukemia, the breadwinner involved in a crippling accident, a mother facing breast cancer—can create a faith problem and questions like, "Why me, God?" "Why now?" Marital problems and divorce can gradually destroy an entire family's commitment to the church. A baby born with a serious handicap, a seriously injured child, the early death of a child or spouse, the loss of job, a teen getting pregnant (or fathering a child), an adolescent drug, alcohol, or criminal situation can all bring on "quitting time" for some people. The embarrassment of sin can be overwhelming to a family to the extent that they do not want to face their brethren. Our loving acceptance is never more needed than in family failure and personal-crisis-(Galatians 6:2) We should not assume that personal difficulties are easy to bear. We should be slow to harshly judge another's situation—especially if we have not faced a similar one (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:2-4). We should "consider ourselves lest we also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). "But by the grace of God there go I" (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10) and I might not fair as well as my brother under the load he bears if it were laid on my shoulders. I should try to "sit where he sits" to understand his pain (cf. Ezekiel 3:15).

"Life transitions" can be a "faith test." These normal developmental events of life include the teen years, graduation from high school, entering young adulthood, getting married, changing jobs, having a child, children leaving home, mid-life crises, and retirement. Other life transitions that one might have to face include loss of income source or financial reverse (e.g., business goes under, house destroyed in fire), loss of community standing (e.g., not elected or reelected to prominent position). These changes can test our faith and make us vulnerable to dropping out. These fall under the "care of this world" that Jesus mentioned as a thorn bush that chokes the Word (Matthew 13:22).

Disappointment with brethren can be a "faith test." "I missed two Sundays in a row and nobody called to check on me." "I had surgery and nobody came to see me or even sent a card." The preacher isn't interested in me; he only has time for "important" members." "The elders don't pay any attention to my opinions. They just do what they want to do." "The Bible teacher disagreed with my comment." In this person's mind, the church is the of-fender and is filled with hypocrites who have hurt him and do not really care about him.

We must admit that all Christians (including preachers, Bible teachers, and elders) are imperfect. At that level, everyone has been hypocritical—inconsistent, at least—at times. It is impossible to perfectly live up to the "perfect law of liberty" we preach (James 1:25). The one who charges, "There are too many hypocrites," is himself inconsistent once in a while!

We do not defend hypocrisy, of course; hypocrites must repent in order to be saved (Matthew 23:28; 1 Timothy 4:2; James 3:17). Jesus said that sinners will be appointed a "...portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mat-thew 24:51). At the same time, to use hypocrites as an excuse for forsaking God is foolish (cf. Luke 10:29; 14:8). The presence of one or a hundred hypocrites has nothing to do with my relation-ship to God...unless I let it. Do we come to the assembly to judge our brethren (Matthew 7:1-2), or to worship our God (John 4:24)? Which is worse, to continue to worship and work faith-fully with other imperfect saints, trying to get stronger, or to drop out and let the devil have our souls?

How do we win back those who quit over hurt feelings? If our approach is critical of their behavior ("you are wrong to drop out"), we should not be surprised to find hostility. We might do better to remind them that it was not God who hurt their feelings. It makes no sense to take it out on Him when He has only blessed and helped us. Losing one's soul (the end result of quitting the church) is a high price to pay because we do not like a church member (Ephesians 4:32). When tempted to give up over hurt feelings,- we might ask ourselves these questions:

-Did anyone spit on me? They did on Jesus.
-Did anyone beat me on the back? They did Him.
-Did anyone force a thorn crown on my brow? They did His.
-Did anyone hang me on a cross? They did Jesus.

They did all these things to Him and more. Yet He never lost focus on honoring His Father's will.

Moving to a new community can be a "faith test." A job change that requires moving from one town to another often tests our commitment. In the religious world at large, some studies suggest that about half of those who move and find a new church home change from the religious group they were attending to a different fellowship. For many who move seeking out a new church is not an urgent matter. Nearly three out of ten persons on the rolls of Southern Baptist churches have moved to a new community and never transferred their membership to a new church. We might attribute such practices to the results once-saved-always-saved theology but we would have to admit that many within churches of Christ who move are slow to place membership with a new congregation. Moving offers an opportunity for weak Christians to "take a break" from church and often leads to falling away entirely. Abraham is a good example of changing communities without "losing God" in the shuffle. Commentators have long observed that you could follow Abram around Canaan by the smoke of his altar fires (e.g., Genesis 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18; 22:9). Paul, too, found God's people at the appointed time of worship wherever he was (cf. Acts 16:13; 20:6, 7).