Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why People Leave the Church

At Yahoo News (January 11, 2011), Sheryl Young wrote: "Why teens, young adults are leaving American churches." Her main points:

  • Churched kids and teens spend six of seven days each week hearing other people say how judgmental Christianity is.
  • Churches use outdated methods of Sunday School.
  • Teens can only eat so much pizza at church social events before they see through this thinly veiled attempt at keeping them occupied and out of trouble.
  • Those surveyed say there aren't enough good reasons given for holding Bible beliefs other than "the preacher says so..." or "your parents say so."
  • Sometimes kids are routinely kept out of "grown-up church."
  • The Church in general hasn't yet been able to conquer racial reconciliation, domestic abuse and the rampant church divorce rate...sometimes in their own families.
  • Older generations won't blend a moderate amount of contemporary music with traditional hymns.
  • Or, the Church discards all the old hymns that were written out of peoples' struggles with life, pride and suffering. Thus, the newer generations don't hear about how God can help them through hard times.
  • Parents expect the church to teach what may fall within their own responsibility.
  • But then, young parents raised in the last twenty years have themselves grown up under the new pop psychology of never receiving or deserving any discipline or criticism. They've seen church become irrelevant. Now, as parents, they're hesitant to make (or even ask) their kids to go to church or develop a backbone in faith.
  • Lastly, everyone's too busy for church. There are too many other attractions in life.

A generally dead-on list, and one that will result in no changes whatsoever because the things keeping people away are the very things that many churchgoers hold most dear. It's very much along the lines of Jared Diamond's observations in Collapse: the things that ultimately destroy institutions are very often the things that helped them succeed, and therefore, when challenges arise, the first impulse of many is to rally around the old, now fatal, ways.

My own list, which overlaps Young's somewhat:

You Lie

I heard a campus organizer for Chi Alpha (a campus conservative Christian group) once lament that kids in college hear over and over that they've been lied to in church. I wanted to get up and ask "is not lying to them on the table?" The first few days in a comparative religion class or a conversation with non-Christian classmates will show them that all that garbage about other religions being from Satan is a lie. Everything conservative Christians say about evolution is a lie.

Note to PanzerPope: you've got a rampant problem with sex abuse among the clergy and you expect to be considered any kind of a moral authority? You don't have the moral credentials to criticize a snuff film. You want vocations to the priesthood but you refuse to make the reforms necessary to make that career choice attractive? And you really wonder why attendance is down?

You're moral cowards


From the article:

When kids want to know why someone like Gabrielle Giffords was shot, they don't need another lesson on Noah's Ark.

Forget Noah's Ark. Does their Sunday school teach them that when "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho" he massacred women and children?

They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. Joshua 6:21

You're Willfully Ignorant

Ask the average conservative Christian why it's okay for Joshua to massacre civilians at Jericho and you'll get a deer in the headlights stare. Because as often as they've heard this story, it never once occurred to them to think about it. They resolutely refuse to ask hard questions. Next time someone pulls the "evolution = Hitler" move on you, ask where the Jews are now? Are they in Hell for not being Christians? If so, how are Christians any different from the Nazis? Hilarity ought to ensue.

And this is why they don't have an answer when a teen asks why God could allow Gabrielle Giffords to be shot. The answers that worked in the Middle Ages when life was nasty, brutish and short, and any good at all was a rarity and a blessing - literally - don't work in a world of plenty. When we can do surgery with micro-precision, it's fair to ask why God doesn't do it all the time. If we fallible humans can eradicate smallpox, why couldn't an omnipotent God?

There are lots of serious, deep analyses of the problem of evil. And they might as well be in Klingon for all the average Christian knows about them. I am absolutely convinced that people like Richard Dawkins are being raised up as prophets against Christianity because the stench of its corruption has gotten so bad. It may very well be that the best thing Christianity could do would be go out of business for a while and then rebuild from scratch.

You're arrogant in your ignorance

Just read any creationist site if you can stomach it. Or consider James 3:1

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

Yet every Christian, it seems, thinks that verse doesn't apply to him or her. James? Pshaw. Wasn't that Luther's "epistle of straw?" Just read the half-baked comments Christians make on line and forward by e-mail to see how many think merely being a Christian, no matter how Biblically or worldly ignorant, gives them credentials to weigh in on even the most complex issues.

Your Sermons are Dull

Two minutes of theology skillfully packed into forty-five.

Your Music Sucks 

Church music falls into several categories:

Pukingly saccharine

Schubert's Ave Maria leads the list. %#$@*&; Sorry, my computer just threw up. It Is Well With My Soul is a close runner up.

Some of the worst isn't technically church music, but secular "inspirational" music. "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel, a musical that makes Springtime For Hitler look inspired, is a particularly glaring example.


O Sacred Head so Wounded. A Lenten favorite. Forty days of penance wrapped up in one song. The irony is this song has a march tempo. Sped up 50% the melody wouldn't be half bad. The lyrics not so much.

The worst ever was a midnight Mass I once attended at Christmas. It can't have been easy to find dreary Christmas songs, but the music director found them. I had no idea there even was such a thing.

Cocktail Lounge

A current fave is called I'm Coming Back to the Heart of Worship. Hint: if you close your eyes and play only the melody, and you can't tell if you're in church or in a bar, it's Cocktail Lounge music. Extra points if the song leader stops singing and goes Barry White and speaks the lyrics.

I knew a song leader once who was an eminently unattractive guy and terrible singer to boot, and when he got up there, you just knew that in his head, he was doing a stage act in Vegas and women were throwing their room keys onto the stage.

Just Plain Drab

After bashing conservative Christians a lot, I gotta give props to the Episcopal hymnal here. Now we are going up the scale, and here we are going back down and whoops, back up for a couple of notes. Okay, level it out now. Don't want to get overheated. You know the stories of the kid who faked piano practice by letting the cat run up and down the keyboard? It's like that.

Too slow

Everywhere. The organist is plodding along playing the song at 3/4 the speed it should be played at, and people aren't singing, because most people can't hold five-second notes. So she slows it down still more, so they can "catch up," except people stop singing. Now you musicians read music far better than I do, but I do know when the tempo signature says "Quarter note = 120" that means 120 quarter notes per minute. Not eighty.

I once heard a group of evangelicals singing It Is Well With My Soul, plodding along at a pace slower than glacial but a tad faster than continental drift, and they got to the verse that speaks of "bliss." I thought "Bliss? You all sound like your dog just got run over."

Every denomination has great music. I like to joke that when the Reformation happened, the Catholics got the good theology and the Protestants got the good song writers. But there are some great old time Catholic hymns, and a wealth of wonderful stuff from the Vatican II era. Old time evangelical hymnals are chock full of good hymns and there is great contemporary stuff as well. And it hardly ever turns up in church. At most churches, the good hymns are kept in a closet to be dusted off and used for "special" occasions. Whatever the denomination, and I've seen it in Catholic, Episcopal and evangelical churches - the music directors gravitate toward the most boring, insipid hymns in the book, either because they think drab is solemn and respectful, or they don't want people to get jaded by playing the good stuff too often, or - and I've actually seen this - they think their job is to "educate" the congregation musically. And so you'll get "O Sacred Head So Wounded" every Sunday in Lent, and that great, vibrant tune "The King of Glory" on Palm Sunday - maybe. (When my church sang it for the first time in just about forever, it had been so long that nobody knew the words any more.)