Monday, December 15, 2008

Are De-Churched People socially inept?

I have been thinking about people that do not attend church lately... not the ones with no interest that Attractional churches are trying to grab, but people like me and my friends. I may talk about some of my peripheral thoughts on this subject the next few days (since everyone talks about the obvious stuff).

During a conversation with a close friend last week a couple of revelations either hit me for the first time or reminded me of things I had thought about on previous occasions, yet forgot. The friend, who has been through similar experience of late will hopefully blog about one of these ideas.

Over the past few years, as I have become more engaged in "emerging church" conversations and differing ways of expressing faith, I have seen a number of persons leaving the church behind. Called post-congregational, de-churched and leavers by a number of sociologists, theologians and demographics experts, these people have had a profound effect upon the church, mostly by their absence.

During this time many of my friends have become part of this demographic, some intentionally, some due to theological factors and some unintentionally (like Kristi and I at times). In fact, one friend, before starting a church of such persons, wrote a book on the subject (Life After Church).

Here is what popped into my mind regarding Leavers. Many Leavers I know are very lonely. Unless they are surrounded by a community of friends they either left with, were friends apart from church in a community they already knew, have great social skills or have a great work or neighborhood environment, they do not have lots of friends. Their friends have always been Christians, the kind they meet at church with similar interests and lifestyles (all of which are important).

I have seen it on many occasions. Friends decide to leave church and they move to another city. They are not the type of people to meet people at bars. Their experience with meeting people is simple. Go to church. Meet people. Find some people with similar interests. Meet their friends.

Without church as the crutch and without the skills developed by many outside the church (who had no options and had to develop the "meeting people" skills at a young age), many de-churched persons end up lonely, finding a few friends through work or neighborhood, but missing the deep relationships of their past. They may even long for the Christian community they had experienced, but since they are not interested in church, they have a hard time finding this connection.

So, in anticipation of the leavers, should churches and youth ministries work on people skills and relationship skills?

just a thought- next up ambivalence vs anger towards church.


Unknown said...

damn. i kinda feel like i've been stained with this 'us and them' mentality and when i just want to be a 'them' so that love can be actually somewhat authentic, i just sorta 'can't'. never thought about it all this way...

kristi said...

it makes me sad to read this. sad because we are in this boat. i want a church home. but i don't like how people say "well then just pick one and make the best of it." because it's not that simple. i think people who have experienced true community know this at their core.

i don't want to be a leaver! :(

Anonymous said...

Are you asking if churches should teach relationship skills to help prevent people from leaving or so they can find relationships once they inevitably leave?

Mike Murrow said...

i'm willing to bet that if churches did a better job at being a community (instead of just talking about it and writing about it and putting it in their mission statements) there would be 2 benefits. First there would be fewer "leavers." Second, those who do leave would have learned to be well adjusted enough to make friends.

i'm a leaver by the way, for theological reasons. i don't find it hard to make friends and i don't feel any lonelier than i did while in church. but i didn't grow up in christianity.

Anonymous said...

Yes, absolutely churches need to focus on social and relationship skills..but not only because of "leavers" often for the "stayers", too! We all need this in one form or another.

Jesus is all about relationships - our relationship with God and with each other.

I know some people think things like Myers Briggs and the Enneagram are hokey - and yes, like anything else, they can be taken to the extreme, but ultimately I believe tools and skills that help to develop emotional intelligence and relationship skills are critical to living in community - whether it be a church, a family, a neighborhood or an organization.

I know I can feel lonely whether I am with (or perceive that I have) friends or not and, for me, it comes down to my relationship and communion with God as to my level of perceived loneliness.

DJ Word said...

I am glad this got some people stirred up to think and discuss.

I have not formulated any distinct opinions as of yet. This is just an obeservation I am throwing out there.

I think each of you bring up something that plays into the whole.

1) as Josh said, we have this whole "them and Us" mentality instilled in us which HAS to mess us up relationally. We are taught to see others as enemies, projects, possible converts, etc. This harms normal relationship starting, IMHO.

2). Because it is little effort to get people to hang out with through church, it can cause our skills to be less sharp when in other social settings. Very few settings make it easy to meet people with similar interests (of course, for many of us, that is an issue because we have little apart from Jesus in common with many in our churches).

I am not judging here, just observing.

3)Brandon- probably jokingly telling churches to give relationship skills to people that will eventually leave. I am not totally serious here. Just making an effort to get myself thinking about everything.

4)Mike- true on all accounts. I do think those that were not raised in youth group and did all socializing in church through adulthood will have less trouble if they leave church.

4-5) to all, esp Pam, I think we are hurting our church memebers by focusing on knowledge above relationships. We are not teaching people how to be truly hospitable. We probably should focus on each other becoming healthy, relatively well adjusted followers of Jesus through whatever means we have, giving each other the skills to be Jesus to each other and the world.. not just knowledge and evangelism skills.

I am glad soemthing I posted is getting feedback.

Kellie said...

So...are we talking about best friend, common interest, we-would-give-our-life-for-you community or church fellowship/community? In my mind the two are very different. The first seemingly just happens & isn't "created". The second is very meaningful in a different way - it takes a ton of work & when done well requires that we use (& the church teaches) relational skills to serve people we normally wouldn't be in the same room with. The first is a bond of shared life, the second is a bond of shared faith journey & service.

It gets confusing in the church because often #1 includes #2 and so we come to expect that #2 should be #1 as well.

I am not saying that it should be this way. It is simply my experience that it operates this way.

Unknown said...


I am not ready to post any real thoughts yet on this but wanted to tell you, out of all the post you have made here, both A and I, as "leavers", found this to be the most personally beneficial to further thought. I've been thinking about it all day.


LMcG said...

I dont get it.

Why would you go to church to learn social skills? That thought disturbs me. These are the exact kind of ideas that create "leavers" in the first place; if church is just another social venue, what's the point in sticking around? You could just join a sports team or take an art class or sign up for meetup groups on the internet. Or read self help books.

Church is intended to be a holy place that connects you to the spiritual world. Social skills are meant to be learned throughout the rest of your meaningful life interactions.

The muddling of these two concepts is a cause of great distress to the modern church and it's members, I'm afraid.

DJ Word said...


I am not really saying that we should teach people social skills. What I am trying to say is that the way we have done damage to people being able to function outside our walls.

Some of this damage is the unintended consequence of good things (an easy place to find friends), while some damage is through the false dichotamies we have set up (us vs them) and seeing all people as projects.

I am not really saying we should give people relational skills for them to function in the real world once they leave. i am saying that we are doing something wrong to people that leave and cannot make friends outside the confines of a church.

Am I making any sense? It would not be the first time I was not (my question at the end was not to be taken seriously, but to elicit thought).

Ms. Avarice said...

I was actually talking with someone about this today... I was trying to figure out how to get all the leavers together in one room and get some community happening - no answer yet!

I'm a leaver for a couple of reasons, most importantly because I'm a lesbian, and The Church does not serve my needs. I do have some other theological disagreements, with The Church, especially regarding the way power relationships are structured. It is also really hard to get up at 9 a.m. when I'd like to be sleeping in. I value my own rest very strongly! I'd like to go back, but it's not The Church that I want to go back to, it's the people - breaking bread together, hanging out in a park, having conversations that bring us into a deeper understanding of our own relationship to the spiritual. But it's not really Sunday morning church that gives me those things...

I've definitely had a hard time developing deep friendships like I had as a missionary and as a church-goer. I think you're right about de-churched people having issues making friends.