Volume 3, Number 4; October 1996
Editor: Gary Russell
Managing Editor: Curtis Rittenour
Designer: Matthew McVane
Type Placement: Ginger Calkins
Content Consultant: Paul Richardson, Monte Sahlin, and Ralph Martin
Published by the Center for Creative Ministry for the Reclaiming Committee of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. If you would like to ask questions, want to be on the mailing list, or would like to share your ideas, please contact us.
Why People Leave the Church
A church which encourages Bible study will inevitably produce members who are more spiritually stable.Since 1950, the apostasies and missing members in the Pacific Union Conference churches have averaged more than 3,200 people per year or about 270 per month. Why do people continue to leave our church in astounding numbers?
Many who have left our churches have been dissatisfied with their own spiritual condition and possibly have asked the question, "Do we really need the church?" No doubt there are other reasons as well.
I will expand on ten (10) reasons and/or possibilities given by Robert Kennedy, associate professor of theology and ethics, Atlantic Union College, as to why people leave the church.
1. Lukewarm Friendships
Before many persons became church members they had a circle of friends to affirm and care for them. Now as members they may have failed to find or make new friends or have not been able to "break into" that circle of friends that can somehow guarantee this caring and affirmation that everyone at sometime needs.
2. Loss of Fellowship
Any society's survival depends on fellowship and community. The apostle Paul has admonished us, "Let us not give up meeting together,...but let us encourage one another..." (Heb. 10:25 NIV). Fellowship gives a sense of belonging. When church members lose that fellowship and community, they go elsewhere to find it.
3. Lack of Integration
Adventism is a culture and a lifestyle. Everyone who becomes a church member must be educated, indoctrinated, and nurtured in this culture and lifestyle. Christ told his disciples to "...go and make disciples of all nations ... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19 NIV).
4. Lapse in Spiritual Growth
Some who join the church don't continue to grow and mature in their new-found Christian experience. Some have the experience found in the parable Christ told about the farmer who went out to sow his seed. "...some fell along the path, ...some fell on rocky places, ...other seed fell among thorns..." (Matthew 13:1-23 NIV).
5. Laxity in Bible Study
John 17:17 says, "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth." Christ knew how attractive sin would be in 1995. Christ's plea is that we would be changed, protected and sanctified through the study of His word. A church which encourages Bible study will inevitably produce members who are more spiritually stable.
6. Liberalization of Doctrine
When church members begin to liberalize church doctrines such as the Sabbath, the Law of God, the Second Coming, the Sanctuary and the Three Angel's Messages, they begin to drift spiritually and to doubt in the church.
7. Lack of Participation
When people join our church, they need help to discover their spiritual gifts. Once discovered, they should be put to work in the church according to their gifts. "The best help that ministers can give to the members of our churches, is not giving them sermons, but making plans of work for them" (Welfare Ministry, p. 115).
8. Little Inspiration from Worship
It could be that your church would do well to be creative and innovative in your worship services, yet still conservative enough as not to bring confusion to God's work. This may encourage some to stay and not to go elsewhere looking for "greener pastures".
9. Lure of the World
Bright lights and happy sounds have a tendency to lure many Christians away from the church. Instill in each member the admonition Christ gave, "Love not the world, neither the things of the world..." (1 John 2:15).
10. Unstable Characteristics
Some people are so unstable that when real sacrifice and commitment are called for they leave the church. They are not "founded" and "rooted" in the "Rock of Ages."
by Ernest Castillo, Pacific Union Conference Executive Secretary and ASI director. This article was published in the Pacific Union Recorder October 2, 1995. Reprinted with permission.
This interview of a twenty-something college student/waiter who left the church in 1992 is excerpted from the book Ten Who Left by Fred Cornforth and Tim Lale.Are you still an Adventist?
I am. I follow the beliefs very closely. My mother has been an Adventist since I can remember. My father just recently joined the church. That's pretty cool. I was raised to be an Adventist, and I attended Seventh-day Adventist schools almost all the way through. I did attend public school for six months. It was a real switch being in such a huge place. There were tons of students. I really missed my friends from academy. So I went back. I really enjoyed the social system at academy. It was a pretty good place to be. Even now, I really miss those friends. On the other hand, a lot of policies are very contradictory. Hair, jewelry they miss the point! [The faculty] end up being judgmental and condescending to students in their policies. Is this why we're here?
How would you compare your upbringing to the world you live in now?
I lived such a sheltered life. Now I work on the night shift at Denny's. Wow, I have seen so many amazing things. I had a man threaten my life with a gun. I have had lots of people threaten to kill me. I have been asked out several times by both men and women. I have met a lot of homosexuals. I don't agree with what they are doing, but I consider them friends. When I was growing up, finding friends among faculty and other students was easy. In the world, you really have to work at it to discover who your real friends are. Life is much more complicated. I had never encountered those things before. I had created in my mind what I thought about homosexuals and others. Now that I've gotten to know some, I have become much more tolerant.
When did you stop attending church?
I was a college student at a public college, my second try at public school. An Adventist college was nearby, and I would attend their vespers program because I didn't want to get up to go to church Sabbath morning. I started dating an Adventist girl, and we just stopped attending. She was very religious. We were really tight. When I had to move back home, our relationship slowly grew apart. Back home, I didn't go back to church either. I just got out of the habit. But there is more to it than that. I had a lot of friends from my academy who went to school in that area. I lost contact with them over a six-month period. I feel as though I was abandoned by my friends. That really played a role in it. I have tried to reestablish contact with one friend several times. He was real busy. As with my other friends, after a while, I just gave up trying.
What would it take for you to start attending church again?
I don't know. I really don't know. I like church. But I am at a transition point in my life. I don't really know where I am going or what I'm going to do with my life. There are some things in my life I would have to change. I am currently dating three women. I don't feel this is right. I also have some hobbies like war strategy and war simulations in which we use guns that shoot paintballs. I don't think that is right either. I have so little free time. I work two jobs it seems like I have no time for God. I only have time for me. That's wrong. It seems like all these things can take over your life. I am so exhausted at the end of the week. I don't work on Sabbaths, so I end up sleeping until late on Saturday. The boss at one of the places I am working [not Denny's] has been pushing me to work on Sabbath. I'm going to quit work there in a couple of weeks.
Do you see the church making much of a difference in this new world you are discovering?
Not a whole lot.
What would you have the church doing?
I really don't know what I would have them doing. Probably improve the hands-on involvement in community events. Talking with and befriending homosexuals. They really aren't that bad, if we would only take the time to talk with them. They are really afraid that they will be condemned. Another thing I see when I'm working at Denny's is all these homeless people. Some of these people have lost everything and end up on the streets. There is a lot more of this going on than I ever imagined. I wouldn't know how to go about changing it some wouldn't appreciate help very well.
Are you happy?
I don't know how to answer that question. Parts are good, and other parts need to improve. I guess you might describe me as the "stalled Adventist." I am still working on my future. I do not know what I want to do with the rest of my life.
What are your biggest fears?
I am afraid of losing my friends, my family. I am afraid of getting married. I am afraid of losing my hair. I guess I want to be known for something. I want to be remembered for the kind of guy people liked to have around.
Reprinted with permission from Ten Who Left (Pacific Press, 1995) by Fred Cornforth and Tim Lale.
Jesus for a New Generation
Putting the Gospel in the Language of Xers, by Kevin Graham Ford (InterVarsity Press, 1995)Born in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, today's generation of young men and women is in crisis. Many grew up in broken homes. They now face random violence in the streets and the prospect of no jobs after college or demeaning and boring jobs at best. Small wonder so much of their favorite music aches with anger and despair.
Not surprisingly, these are also people bred on skepticism and cynicism. That's why it's hard to reach them with the gospel. But Kevin Graham Ford, himself born in 1965, hasn't at all given up on his peers. And in this innovative, often gripping book, Ford offers stories and advice about how Christians of all ages can best reach out to today's college students and young adults.
Here you will find some of the most readable and practical guidance available on such topics as post-modernism, narrative evangelism and life in cyberspace. This is a book for evangelists but also for friends, parents, older siblings, pastors, teachers and any other Christians who care for those in the generation called X.
Okay, returning members have made it through the parking lot, up the steps, past the greeters (no doubt a positive experience, if your greeters watched our Sept. 7 broadcast), they know where the rest rooms are, where the kids go to Sabbath school and now they have found a Sabbath school class.
How do you, as a class member or teacher, go about making the returning member feel loved, cared for and accepted? It's a big order! Then again, it may not be as tough as you might think.
The November 2 Together Again Roundtable begins to tackle the question, "Now they're here, will they come back?" And it all starts in the Sabbath school class. Hosts Paul Richardson and Butch Nelson and their guests will look at what the Sabbath school class can do to make the returning member feel at home. They will also address specific "don'ts."
This is one place where the application of the Golden Rule is handy. Do you like being singled out for attention in a strange environment? Or would you rather sit back and watch awhile to see where you might fit in? Would you like to be identified as a guest or just blend in? Everyone is different and the guest in a Sabbath school class is no exception.
In addition to individual preferences, "how" you teach the Sabbath school class can be an important factor. The Roundtable will look at how learning styles can affect your class and its format and how having a number of different class formats can improve the potential for a returning member becoming an active member.
Together Again Roundtable (formerly Reclaiming Roundtable) is an interactive process. You will be able to contact and speak with the hosts and guests by phone, fax and e-mail. So, jot down November 2 (1996) on your calendar. Current satellite tuning information: Galaxy 9, Channel 22. For updates or changes check your ACN directory (or call 1.800.226.1119).
A Workshop for Friends Reaching Friends Who Quit Church
Most missing members are looking for a safe place to come back to church. This eight-part workshop helps churches and members build safe places through relational bridges. Materials in the kit include: Leader's Guide, Participant's Guide, Overhead Transparency Masters, Training Videos.
Learn more here
TogetherAgain Video Seminar on Reclaiming Missing Members
Quarterly TogetherAgain broadcasts are made on reaching former members. These two-hour videos can be used in training events for your congregation or missing members ministry. Ask for the "TogetherAgain Uplink/Reclaiming Roundtable" video tape by event date.
Learn more here
Welcome Home Kit
Mailing materials and Guidebook for a Reclaiming Ministry
A 24-page Guide Book to help you set up a Reclaiming Ministry in your church. Also included is a Homecoming Kit of artwork on a CD-ROM disc to be customized for use on a reclaiming Sabbath of your choice (including letters, response cards, refrigerator notes, posters, bulletin inserts, etc.).
Learn more here
All people are first class candidates for the kingdom"Second Class" has kind of a discouraging ring to it, doesn't it? Like its cousins, "second string" and "second fiddle", it means something is not quite up to par not quite good enough to be first class.
"First Class" is what we all want. We like first class service, first class homes, first class cars. In band we want to be in the first chair. On the sports team we want to be on the first string team.First class sets the standard by which all else is judged. We talk about "Cadillac style," "Champagne taste," and "Diamond quality." The best credit cards used to be gold. Now they're platinum.
We even judge people by class. I once listened in a minister's meeting to a well-known evangelist attempt to regale us with the success of his latest evangelistic endeavor. At one point, speaking of the people who were baptized at his meetings, he gushed, "And I want you to know that these are quality people!"
I remember cringing and being angry. Quality people? What makes for a quality person? His definition was that these were educated people physicians, engineers professional people. I said to myself, "I guess then, my Dad is not a quality person, he's a tool-and-die maker. And my Grandpa is not a quality person either, he was a farmer. Grandpa finished high school. Dad never did." Frankly, I didn't care for that evangelist's definition of quality people. I still don't!
But I find that in the church we divide people into classes. Professionals often get better treatment than others. Those who follow the Adventist lifestyle to the max are considered better Christians than those who don't. Academy students are seen as better Adventists than those who attend public schools. Those who refrain from wearing cosmetics and jewelry are considered more spiritual than those who don't. And those who use Bibles other than the King James, well... you get the picture.
I'm reminded of some counsel of Jesus. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1 NIV). Jesus spent most of his time with second class people. He hung out with fishermen, prostitutes, and tax collectors. He spent time with the racially outcast, the medically untouchable, and the politically powerless.
Sometimes we're tempted to see those who have left the Adventist church as "second class." After all, they've left "the truth." So we ignore them, we talk about them behind their backs, we belittle them. Yet, it is those of us who do so that are acting second class. I believe Jesus would have us love them, honor them, serve them. That's what he did. .
We have a first-class Savior. And in His eyes and heart, human distinctions notwithstanding, we are all first-class candidates for His kingdom.
Gary E. Russell