This week I came across this article about how committed church members are leaving the church, declaring themselves done with all of that church stuff. They apparently are called "Dones," which I keep mis-reading as "Drones." To be honest, it broke my heart. It breaks my heart for Christ's church, but even more for these dear ones who are missing out on the life of a healthy body of believers.
I wrote a few weeks ago about what to do when marriage is disappointing. The parallels between how marriage can be disappointing how church can be disappointing are striking, although of course on a vastly different scale. We expect church to give us some of the same things we expect marriage to give us: love, a sense of belonging, opportunities to serve and sacrifice, support during hard times, and an opportunity to better ourselves. We expect some give-and-take, and if we give until we're worn down but don't feel like we're getting much out of the relationship, we may want to leave. If that happens at a few different churches we may conclude that the problem is with the idea of church itself, and so we give it up and decide to "create our own spiritual experiences."
Sometimes church, like marriage, is just boring. Uninspiring. Same old-same old. So we may want to leave not because church has so devastated us, but just because it's not as interesting as we think it should be. We have a million things to do, and church isn't inspiring enough to seem important.
I get it. Sometimes church feels like work. In fact, my husband and I at one point determined that since church often feels like a work day we should view it as such. We relax on Saturday, as much as possible, and then attack Sunday as a church worker instead of an audience member. That perspective helped us enjoy Sundays more and stop resenting the fact that it was so much work to go early for choir, go early to help with the evening service, and corral those young kids to and from church twice each Sunday.
So what do we do with the fact that committed, serving church members are apparently leaving church for good? What's going wrong? It seems to me that our understanding of what church is--and what it is not--have gotten off track somewhere along the way.
Others can and have written eloquently on the subject of Why Church?, and I will leave that to them. But I will say this: there is a Biblical mandate for the church. It is the body of Christ (Eph. 5:23-32), and as such is the deeper reality to which marriage points. If we view marriage as important, how much more so is the church? It is a living building (1 Pet. 2:4-8), and Christ himself established it (Matt. 16:18; Col. 1:18). It is the vehicle through which believers are to discover and use their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:28 and elsewhere). Paul called himself the least of the apostles because of his persecution of the church (1 Cor. 15:9). It is to be the vehicle through which Christ is made known: "so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places" (Eph. 3:10).
Perhaps most important of all, church is how we grow. "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb. 10:24-25). Far from being an obligation, church is a gift to us. A way to be stirred on toward love. A source of encouragement. A family.
On the other hand, church is not a social club. It is not necessarily supposed to be fun. It is not the be-all/end-all of your spiritual life. It is not necessarily filled with people you like. The worship may or may not be your favorite thing. The sermon may not always contain new information to you--although at those times it is probably full of good reminders.
In light of all that, I guess I'd say that the simple answer to the question of what you should do when when church is disappointing is to go anyway. Put yourself under the authority of a Bible-believing church and then stick it out, the same way you stick it out with your family even when they disappoint you. If you've been devastated by a church, perhaps it's time to find another place of worship, but do find one.
Maybe, like in marriage, you need to adjust your expectations. Church will never be all you hoped. Everyone there is a sinner just like you, and they have idiosyncrasies that make it hard to put up with them. The good news is that they have to put up with your idiosyncrasies as well. And the benefits of learning to get along are huge. You will be sanctified in the process. You'll have people who can point you in the right direction when you're led astray. You'll have someone to be there for you when the chips are down.
Oh, Dear one who is feeling "done" with church. Please don't give up. I know it's hard. I know you're worn down. I know you're tired of being hurt by your brothers and sisters. But we need each other. You need us as much as we need you. I don't care about the numbers on the rolls or maintaining membership or making the budget. I don't care if we have to shut down this or that "program" because you can't lead it anymore. I don't care if you go to my church or a house church or somewhere else, as long as they preach Christ, and him crucified. Wherever you choose to go, your brothers and sisters need you. Your gifts are essential, or God wouldn't have given them to you. If you need a break take one and just come to be fed for a season. But please come. This body of believers is God's plan A for reaching the world, and there is no plan B. Let's work together to make our churches look more like the bride Christ died for.