I want to share some categories of non-goers that Bean shares from her book Being a Christian Without Going to Church. These are Disillusioned Followers; Reflective Exiles;Transitional Explorers and Integrated Wayfinders.
Disillusioned Followers “leave because they are hurt or angry or they have come to disapprove of the leaders or vision of the church.” I would think that many would fit into this category. Often when people share their stories of why they have left or are ‘seeking’ another church, they begin by sharing about their previous church and how they had been hurt or were turned off by the members and/or leadership of the church. They may have felt unaccepted or unappreciated. They may have disagreed with the direction that the church was taking. This becomes an area in which the church can be proactive.
It is of vital importance for the church to be instructed by leadership in the area of how to welcome new members into the local fold as well as in the need to find new members a place and way to minister. Caution must be given, however, to not move too quickly to put new people to work. Oftentimes, an individual may be of the type that takes longer to integrate into a fellowship. They need time to just watch and to become comfortable with the group and to determine if it is a good fit for their personality and style of worship. This is why multiple churches exist. Preferring a certain style of worship over another is not wrong. It is ok to say that it is time to move on and seek a more natural fit. But care must also be taken to not let people sit in the pews too long without seeking to integrate them into the work of the church. Sometimes, people want others to approach them rather than to approach others themselves. I believe that sometime people get disgruntled because they feel unappreciated or unwanted. When church attenders feel needed and wanted, I believe they are less likely to complain about the course that the ministry is taking. There is a big difference between core emotions and cover emotions. Core emotions are the heart of the problem and cover emotions are the outward actions we see. So, a core emotion may be feeling unwanted or unappreciated and a cover emotion response may be to become disgruntled or a complainer/gossiper. Address the core emotion and the cover emotions will flee.
Reflective Exiles ” leave not because of hurt but because they are re-evaluating and deconstructing foundational questions of faith, belief, values, and blind acceptance of a leader. They often begin to wonder about biblical models for church and have ‘ideas for a new way of church’.” In response to this, I say bring on the apologetics in the church. We have to allow our members to think and learn to think about their faith. We have to encourage dialogue and welcome other opinions, but to teach them how to evaluate those opinions. There is a huge difference between assertions and arguments. Assertions are just opinions and are not debatable. Arguments are claims supported by facts. All too often, people have assertions that they want to share but they have little support for those opinions. This is where the church can really use their small groups to walk through these assumptions and to seek out truth. But most of all, we must not be shocked by differing opinions. We must just establish criteria for investigating those claims.
Transitional Explorers “focus not on what they have left but on beginning to find a new way forward. They are ‘reconstructing’ rather than deconstructing.” A response to these individuals would be to acknowledge them and use their visionary abilities proactively. Why must they leave their present church in order to move forward? Why not approach leadership with their ideas and trust in the Spirit leading the church as a whole to analyze those ideas to see if they fit into the overall vision of the church. The issue for the individual is to not negatively react if the ideas are rejected in some way. Throughout church history, consensus has been a vital component in deciding whether or not to move forward with an idea. Not being able to trust in the leadership of the church as a whole and to feel your ideas weigh more heavily than the whole is to me a sign of pride that must be surrendered. I am not saying that it is impossible for the leadership to reject ideas without reason but I would say that it is not the norm.
Integrated Wayfinders “have gone through a process of evaluating Scripture and previously held beliefs. Often they have embraced the possibility that there is truth in other belief systems and certainly in other expressions of Christianity…” A word of caution must be made here. I am afraid that our society too quickly moves toward an unhealthy and unbiblical form of pluralism. Pluralism implying a multitude of paths to God and all equally valid. Christianity is an exclusive religion and we claim that our truth claims are just that….true claims. This is an area where if an individual compromises they will eventually find themselves without a firm foundation on which to stand or proceed. We owe a lot to our early church fathers who sacrificed for the truth. They were seeking a doctrine that had a foundation based on biblical truth. We must do the same. If an individual begins to let culture dictate truth then we are in trouble. We must be very careful with throwing around the word ‘experiential’ as it applies to faith. Experience must not outweigh biblical truth and its expression in true worship. Who of us has not heard the statement, “I am a spiritual person but not religious.” Be careful with this one. It is hard to get people to evaluate their spiritual experiences in light of biblical truth.
I have no problem with other expressions of Christianity as long as those expressions remain true to biblical teaching. There are so many artistic, dramatic or musical ways of expression that can be explored in worship. Forms of devotion, prayer and silence itself can be a powerful expression of worship. We need to and are free to explore these means. But we must pay close attention to intended outcomes concerning the use of these forms of expression. Do they ultimately glorify God in their expression or man? An awe of God must be maintained at all costs.