Why People Leave Churches

People leave churches for all sorts of reasons. And if you didn't already know that, then the rabid responses to Rachel Held Evans' blog on why young people are leaving should be a clear indicator.

Some think the problem is they're too self-involved and need to defer to their elders. Some think the church needs to get them more involved and stop wasting time with fruitless discussion. And some think that a shift in cultural thinking might be playing a role (I heartily second that).

Oddly enough, not many have explored the fact that at the end of the day, leaving the church--or a church--is a highly personal decision. But alas, in our still modern world, we want over-generalized hypotheses and mass-produced solutions. Besides, who has time to keep track of everyone's spiritual well-being? That, indeed, is a question worth asking.

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Maybe it doesn't bother anyone else, but it bothers me that so many church leaders and pastors seem baffled by the large numbers of young people taking an ecclesial bow. Why? Because it means they don't know. It means that the shepherds of local churches don't know the spiritual conditions of their own flocks.

Now, if you know your pastor personally ("if" being used with a hint of sarcasm), you probably know how busy he is. I'd bet he's even told you. Being a pastor is a stressful gig, but I wonder if for the right reasons.

A recent study showed that most pastors spend 10-18 hours preparing their weekly sermons--some up to 30 hours. Think about that: 25-50% of a pastor's working hours are spent preparing something that takes up less than 1% of their week. Granted, I've made my lack of affection for sermons (or what I prefer to call "op ed verse-of-the-week pieces") abundantly clear. But even that doesn't satisfy such a huge disparity in time management.

Instead, I think Scripture gives pastors a different set of priorities. The scariest of which being found in Hebrews:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account (13:17).
I once did a devotional on this for a bunch of high school guys at a Bible conference years ago. And the dorm head told me afterward that this terrified him.

It should.

As I said before, being a pastor is stressful. But not because of busyness. It's because the spiritual welfare of an entire congregation is on his shoulders. No, that doesn't make him responsible for solving everyone's doubts and problems. It just means that his job is to know about them. And if sermon preparation is getting in the way of a pastor knowing his people, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that young people without spiritual mentorship are leaving. Then again, maybe I didn't leave those two churches for that very reason.