I’ve been contemplating the church, how people view it, and the role that it plays in our lives. One area I wanted to ponder and discuss is why people leave the church. What causes a person, who has spent their whole life attending church, to fall out of love and leave?
Falling Out of Love With Church
Have you ever heard of a couple that has been together for a while, and then they slowly “fell out of love”? A break up is very different. When you break up with someone, you’re choosing to end your relationship with someone. Before a break up, the breaker-upper might even make a list of all the reasons they want to end the relationship. It’s a conscious and reasoned decision.
Falling out of love is interesting, because people usually aren’t aware it’s even happening. They wake up one day, look at the other person, and the love they used to feel is gone. There’s little explanation for it either. Somehow, over the previous months or years, the spark that made the relationship special slowly goes out. They stopped trying, or their partner stopped making them a priority, but the romance is gone.
This “falling out of love” happens with the church too. People who attended church for much of their life slowly find themselves no longer involved. They didn’t break up with the church, or have some major disagreement with the church’s theology or teaching, they simply don’t go anymore. They might still believe in God, but church isn’t a part of their lives, their relationships, or their priorities.
My Story of Falling Out of Love With the Church
I grew up going to the same church for the first 30 years of my life. When I was in middle school they started a youth service, and that was awesome. I gave my life to Christ in the 7th grade and got baptized. Church and my belief in God helped define my identity. I stayed involved through my college years. During this time I met my wife, and I went through the ups and downs of that relationship. She grew up Catholic, so that gave us a lot to work through as we tried to figure out what our future would look like.
Before we got married, my wife and I had a lot of conversations about church. I really valued my non-denominational roots, and the freedom to follow God in a very “church of Acts” sort of way. Quite frankly, if we didn’t figure this out, it was a deal breaker. Luckily for me, she was OK with moving on from her Catholic roots, so we moved forward and got married.
As newlyweds (I’m about 25 at this point) we started attending the only church I knew: the one I grew up in. This was a lot harder on my wife than I realized at the time. She left a church she had gone to her whole life. From this point I began a five-year process of falling away from the church.
This didn’t happen overnight. Many of the people I had grown up with either moved or stopped attending. I was largely involved with the youth in my early 20’s, but looking back it was pretty superficial. Family kept us connected, but my heart was in a weird place. I never stopped believing in God, but I wasn’t investing in church or relationships like I should have been. Then, a few years later, we had our first kid. Church took a backseat almost overnight. For the next several years we kept coming to church (most of the time? some of the time?), but we were going through the motions.
Reconnecting with Church
Fast forward a tad, and now I’m about 30 years old. We moved to a different city, but we continued to come back to my childhood church. That next summer we took our oldest to a local VBS at a new church, and that sparked something inside of us. We wanted to reconnect with a church.
At this point, we knew we wanted to find a local church to attend. Having Christian friends growing up was super important to me, and I want our kids to develop friends at church that will be a good influence as they move through school. We decided to check out the church that had the VBS. It was small, near the beach, and we knew a family that already attended there.
It was nice, but since we were open to the idea of finding a new church, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to keep looking. I’m not a church hopper. If we found a place, we were in for the long run. The very next Sunday we went to a new church that our neighbor invited us to. It was BIG, and that scared me, but we weren’t connecting at our small church, so what did we have to lose?
We loved it, and we’ve been there for five years now. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were looking for more than just a church to attend. We wanted to be involved. Whenever a new class or activity would pop up, we would go. We intentionally got to know other families and find ways to serve. It’s not just a place we go, it’s a church home. We’re not just taking up a seat on Sunday. We’re actively investing back into the church, and it has been awesome.
What I Learned From My Falling Out
I’ve learned some things from my falling out of love with church, and then returning to start anew. Here are my two big takeaways.
1) Our Marriage is a Spiritual Team
Early on in our marriage, church was a place we went, but we didn’t commit to it together. Part of that stemmed from us being newlyweds, and we were also figuring out the whole Protestant and Catholic thing. What will the role of God and the church be in our marriage and family? That wasn’t a question we talked about much.
For our marriage, finding a church that was new to both of us was a huge deal. It marked the start of a spiritual revival in our relationship. We began to have conversations about how we were going to raise the kids and spiritually guide them. We reflected on how we treat each other. It’s not that our marriage was bad before, but it had an unrealized potential. I’m not sure this would have happened if we hadn’t come back to church.
We’re not perfect of course, but we have direction. We’re moving closer to each other, and closer to God, and that gives me so much hope for the future.
2) The Christian Faith is More Rewarding in Relationships
It’s much simpler to attend church on Sunday, and never move beyond merely consuming the worship and message. In fact, I’m sure there are people who get a great deal out of Sunday morning church without ever talking to another person. That’s not bad, but what if there is more?
Having other Christians in our lives can challenge us, offer support, and provide accountability. We can grow in ways that we can’t on our own. It’s very humbling to admit our limitations. Other Christians can teach me, and support me, much in the same way that my wife and I are better parents when we’re working together.
I’ve made some friends that I never would have met without truly investing in church. We’ve found families at church in similar life stages that we only know because we’ve gone beyond the Sunday morning experience. It takes time, and getting to know people takes patience, but I trust that God wants us all in.
What Would Church Look Like In Your Life?
Thinking about the events that led to my falling away, I realize that everyone’s story is different. If you’ve left the church, your set of circumstances is probably different from mine. My encouragement for you is to take some time to wonder about how life might look if church was a part of your life now. What sort of impact might it have? What are the difficulties you would need to overcome? What are your fears?
For me, not having church as a priority in my life caused my faith to stall. While I never stopped believing in God, I certainly wasn’t growing in my faith. My relationships were sort of stuck as well. I wasn’t maturing in my spiritual life, and I felt that bleeding into my relationships with others.
Church reminded me that being a Christian is about something more than myself. It’s a body of believers who love Jesus, come together to worship, and spur each other on to love like Jesus. Coming back to the church was my first step in declaring that God is at the center of my life, and I want to keep moving forward. I only wish I had come back sooner.