Community. Conversation. Connection.

To Those Who Quit the Church

This post is part of a discussion on Craig Groeschel’s book, The Christian Atheist, covering chapter 12: When you believe in God, but not in His Church. You don’t have to have read the chapter to add to the discussion and you can do so in the comments or add a response post from your blog to the link widget here. Also check out my co-facilitator and friend, Sarah Salter’s post over on her blog.


 The church does not exist for us. We are the church, and we exist for the world. –Erwin McManus

I know some and maybe most who read this will already agree that the Church was and is God’s idea. It’s a powerful agent of change when functioning properly. As Pastor Groeschel pointed out in this chapter, “The church needs me whether I think I need it or not.” I’m not sure how you can study the Scripture and not see the beauty and mystery of the Body of Christ.

Still many would not belong to a church community for anything. It’s even in the news with author Anne Rice’s announcement that she is leaving Christianity, but not Christ. The problem is that without true community, we can’t be the Church and the enemy effectively isolates us and renders us ineffective as a whole or at least partially.

A pebble by itself can be an irritant or simply swallowed by the landscape, but put together with a million others, that pebble can provide a great path on which to travel.

The reasons people refuse participation are as diverse as the people who do sit in the pews and chairs every Sunday.

You don’t like the time commitment. You think there are too many hypocrites. You think the pastor talks too much about money. You believe the music is too loud or maybe not passionate enough. The leaders aren’t spiritual enough. They don’t do it like your last church. The programs being emphasized are not what you like… The list goes on and on.

Those people I can advise to look again to Jesus and see what He said about His Church, His Bride. If we could feel a fraction of what He feels for us as a community, we simply will not have the ability to give up.

Still there’s another category. Some have been so wounded and hurt by those in the church. The risk of getting involved in a new place feels too overwhelming, too much of a burden. We may have been broken by community (or a false community), but we will never be whole if we refuse true community.

One thing Craig Groeschel wrote in this chapter that stuck out vividly to me was this: Be the change you want to see. I would like to attempt that today.

If you’ve been hurt to the point that you’ve rejected the Church all together, I want to do something about it. You may have never received so much as an “I’m sorry” from the one who wronged you, but that is simply not right.

I am both a leader and pastor of a church as well as being involved as a churchgoer for the majority of my life. As such, I hope you’ll allow me to stand in for whoever committed this sin against you and I pray you can receive this in all sincerity today.

Dear saint and beloved of God,

You never got the apology you deserved from me. I truly am sorry that you have felt the sting of rejection all this time and it has caused you such pain. I’m sorry that you have not been able to trust others in the Church because of my selfishness and negligence.

I did not represent God as I should have in those moments. It was not His will that you go through this. It was not His plan that you be separated from His people though I understand your reaction.

I should have loved you as Jesus loved you and cared as He did. Instead I tore you down and talked maliciously about you. I verbally abused you. I robbed from you monetarily and other ways. I physically and emotionally abused you. I sexually abused you. I spiritually abused you.

It was wrong and evil and I can’t take it back. All I can do is offer the humblest, sincerest apology and ask your forgiveness.


It may not feel like enough. It may seem too little, too late, but I pray you don’t wait for something that will never come or may not even be possible. I know many out there are searching, trying to figure out what’s missing, wanting to move on. Maybe those who have been wounded will even stumble here and experience some peace. I pray for that, in fact. If it touches just one person to see the depth of God’s love and care for them, I will be overjoyed.

We can cut ourselves off from community and it does indeed hurt and handicap them, but we are still hurting ourselves even more and being cheated from the freedom Jesus died for.

Why are you active in community and being the Church? Or why not? Do you have a story of leaving and/or coming back to the Church?

29 Comments

  1. As you will read in my post, I was one of those hurt by the church. Even though I since have returned and am blessed to be an active part of His body, your prayer resounded in me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    • Dusty, I just read your story and wanted weep. I’m glad you were brought full circle.
      Michael recently posted..Tuck Me InMy Profile

    • Thank you so much, Dusty.

  2. My name is Sarah and I’ve been hurt in church.

    Two quick stories for the discussion today:

    When I was in my early 20′s, I worked in the children’s and youth ministry of a church and witnessed what I was sure were warning signs that another volunteer was having an inappropriate relationship with a youth. When I told the leader above me, they went to that other volunteer and confronted him. When he denied it, they returned to me and called me a liar and told me to either take back what I’d said or leave the church. I opted to leave the church. Several months later, I learned that I had been right. The volunteer had been in an inappropriate relationship with the youth and had been caught. To this very day, when I see the leaders from that church, they turn and walk away. They not only never apologized, but they seem content to live in their denial that anything went wrong. From that place of hurt, your apology was so meaningful and healing!

    Secondly, when I first came to the church I’m in now, it took me more than a year to be willing to do anything but show up on Sunday mornings. One day while at work, I got an email from a young lady, inviting me to a concert at the local Bible college with a group of 20-somethings from the church. I was torn. I wanted to go, but I was just so terrified of opening myself up to be hurt again. I went down the hall to the ladies room and stood against the wall in there and just cried and said, “God, what do I do?!” And He said, “I didn’t send you to Whitley Church to get hurt. I sent you there to get HEALED.” And so, I went. And I’m still in the process of being healed…
    Sarah Salter recently posted..Tying Up Loose EndsMy Profile

    • Healing isn’t easy and sometimes takes a lot of work and always a lot of faith. I’m so ecstatic that you are walking through healing, Sarah--in the church. It is God’s power of restoration to turn defeat and pain into victory and joy. Thank you so much for sharing so openly.

    • I would guess that they avoid eye contact with you because they are ashamed. If they had further investigated your concern, they could have saved a youth from being taken advantage of… they could have rescued her and prevented further damage to this individual’s psyche…
      Now they can’t look you in the eye because they not only know they wronged you, but by dismissing you in the way they did, they wronged this youth.
      I feel bad for them that shame is getting in the way of them reconciling with their dear sweet sister, Sarah.
      Helen recently posted..Fun Filled Water StaycationsMy Profile

      • That is exactly it, Helen. It’s so sad. We’ve had people leave the church who spoke all kinds of horrible things about us and THEY run away when they see us in the store. If they were right in their assessment and speaking, then shouldn’t we be running away from THEM? It’s so easy to justify ourselves in our opinions and ripping people, but in our hearts we know and it haunts us…

  3. Jason, as a pastor myself, I appreciate your willingness to face the issues that cause so many people to leave the church and not even look back. I have made many attempts during nearly 40 years of ministry to reach out to persons who had been terribly hurt by the church. It is never easy. We need the church. We need its imperfectness to remind us that only Christ is perfect and without Him we will never be the persons He has created us to be. I know how much Sarah has been hurt by the Church and those who call themselves “Christian.” All of us who believe Jesus has called us to a life of servanthood will experience those hurts. Jesus calls us to be givers not takers. Our only problem is that the church, like the world is full of more takers than givers. That’s why so many people do believe in God, but really don’t believe in Church.

    • Neal, thank you for sharing your heart and experience. Blessings to you for standing in the gap all these years and showing the heart of the Father. You are so right. Many are so focused on themselves, being takers, that they leave a heap of destruction in their wake. Still the beauty of the Church and what He has called us to be remains intact and His word will be perfectly fulfilled. Thank you again.

  4. I been in too many church skirmages to admit but every time I think of ditching it I’m drawn back to these Scriptures.

    “But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” 1 Corinthians 12:20-21

    We need each other plain and simple and although it may not seem like it at times…we are stronger together.

    Great post and awesome prayer bro’

    • I don’t know how you can be the Church and not go through some of those distressing time (since we continue to live in a fallen world in need of redemption). Hurt tries to yell out over the truth and if we pay more attention to it, it gains strength and the truth is even harder to hear. God is able to wake us up though! This is what I pray for people and for myself when I feel like letting it all go, send forth your light and your truth, let them guide us; let them bring us to your holy mountain… (Psalm 43:3)

      Thank you Jay.

  5. Organizations exist for the benefit of it’s members. The church is the only “organization” that exists for the benefit of it’s non-members.

    And because of that it isn’t an organization at all, but an organism. It grows, flows, moves, acts, fails, recreates, stumbles, gets up, walks, runs, shares, joins, dances, kneels, trips, gets up, helps, serves, loves, sings….

    I don’t see church as an option for me. And I don’t see sharing these truths as an option either. I’ve never been hurt by the church and I’ve been in the church my entire life as a pastor’s kid. But I am conciously aware of the hurt that is happening and can happen.
    Ryan Tate recently posted..Which Version of the Bible is the BestMy Profile

    • That’s it exactly, Ryan! The Church is a Body, it’s alive. Treating it like a mere business or club to be dropped or picked up isn’t an option. I appreciate the thoughts.

  6. had this discussion with Anne just last week. undeniably, i’m a part of the church. as for the local assembly, if you will….no! whether or not that will change in the future, i have no idea. my church fellowship is online. have a few friends that are in the same boat so to speak. one sister sends me e-mail every week which is usually a Ravenhill message from You Tube. i listen to your podcasts as well. God is taking care of us and we are being fed by His Word. that’s the body of Christ. that’s the church. it’s not confined to a building down the street. i don’t need to go there to love people. there’s people all around me that i can love everyday. thank you for posting that which is up above. it encourages me and supports my stance of not having to actually attend church on a weekly basis.

    • Bud, I love you and I’m praying for you. God has a perfect timing and plan for all things. He is more than able and always faithful. Thank you.

  7. Hurt: I have stayed with a parish where I felt hurt until I married and joined his, and I have left a parish where I felt hurt because the festering emotions got in the way for me. I did not leave the Church as a whole, because where would I go? It is clear that we are meant to be part of a community. It took me years to realize that if I see other Christians as a brother or sister in Christ, that community is a family, and we don’t turn our backs on our family just because they hurt us sometimes. We do, however, find ourselves closer to some family members than others. Nevertheless, our love and prayers need to extend to all.
    Helen recently posted..Fun Filled Water StaycationsMy Profile

    • These are powerful truths and hard-won lessons, Helen. Thank you for sharing them.

  8. btw….better clarify something i said above. what you said is very encouraging to hear from a pastor. as for it supporting my stance is what i wish to clarify. although i’m not in a local structured church so to speak, i’m still a part of the church. just another pebble. there’s absolutely nothing special about me. i’m not alone, not in the least. your blog, Anne’s, Russ Calloway, and others that have comments(discussions) help me a great deal. i read and follow the comments. think about’m. there are some that i pay closer attention to when they comment.

    • Bud, I know where you stand and you know where I stand! I love the online community of faith so much. I am challenged, encouraged, blessed, and so much more. For me though, I know I couldn’t replace my in-town relationships with believers. There’s an accountability and different expression of God’s love and care in working together. I just pray you stay open to this connection even if you don’t have it right now. Thank you Bud- you are truly a blessing to me.

  9. Your letter was so true. I appreciated this entire blog post. I don’t have anything to add, but I did want to at least tell you that.
    DS recently posted..that churchMy Profile

    • And I appreciate it, DS (most of all, I appreciate you).

  10. This is so beautiful. That a pastor would do this.
    Also I never thought of the church as His Bride. I know it’s unbelievable. I did read about it but never thought it that way. To think we are the Bride of the Son of God who is perfect we are so NOT perfect. Maybe we should not expect too much from the church. Because we are the church and we hurt. But then we should also be available to speak out conflicts and that is not always possible in the church. Well the church I go it’s not possible. And I’m a person who can’t stand that. I need to tell someone he or she hurt me and I need to know if I hurt someone so I can apologize. There must be a change of attitude within the church. Okay, I’m stopping here. Oh, I just remember a song from Casting Crowns “If we are the Body”.

    • I don’t know if everything needs to be confronted, but everything needs to be dealt with. I can overlook an offense and forgive the other person (sometimes they don’t even know they hurt me). It is very true though that we all have to be more open to both share our hurts and struggles as well receive those who are hurt and struggling. That will be a powerful and healing Church! Thank you Ani- great thoughts.

  11. Jason, I am sure you’ve seen how common this is -- people hurt by the church. Most of the people I got to know when we began talking to the community about planting Thrive Church were these “de-churched” people. That struck me that here in the Bible belt, most people were not church going Christians, but “homeless” Christians. We’ve got a huge problem on our hands here. It’s been a personal mission of mine to be part of the remedy, and I am thrilled that you are too. If ever we needed a missionary endeavor it’s in this regard. I’m praying for your efforts, buddy.
    herbhalstead recently posted..itwouldbeniceMy Profile

    • Thank you, Herb. I appreciate that. Praying for you as well.

  12. I left the church for 20 years. I left God, too. The problem was that I let my former church define God for me, and I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to see if that definition was really true. So I abandoned both the church and God — I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

    I came back because my husband is a believer, and he wanted our children to experience God through a church community. I started going because I had to — I had to drop my son off at Sunday School. Sometimes I stayed for the service. Sometimes I went to Barnes and Noble and read People magazine until it was time to pick him up.

    It took years, but slooooowly the message I heard about Jesus and God at my new church began to sink in — and it was entirely fresh definition of God, one that I had never experienced before. I let myself believe in this God. A God of love and acceptance. A caretaker rather than a punisher.

    Now I am an active member of my church — a different denomination than the one I grew up in. I attend worship every week, am a lay reader, have joined a small group, do service and volunteer activities, take classes — I even taught a class on faith and writing last winter. It’s a 180-degree turn. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

    I enjoyed this post, Jason — thank you (sorry for the long comment!)

    • No need to apologize, Michelle! I asked for stories and this is an excellent one. I pray many more find exactly what you have found and come to know the REAL God. He does express Himself through His Church. Lots of other stuff gets thrown in there, but it doesn’t taint who He is. Thank you so much for sharing.

  13. As a pastor’s kid, the most hurt I experienced growing up was from the church. I stood quietly in the back and watched them hug my mom and dad and thank them for the wonderful message and then I’d see the same people whispering deceit and lies about my family in the back of the church.

    I was uprooted from all natural family for my parents to move to Alaska to pastor. People would come tell me you can count on me and think of me as “auntie” or “grandma” etc- and it would never fail as I would slowly trust and love, they ALL have turned away and walked right back out those doors and from my life. I can even see them in the store to this day and receive the cold looks, quick jumps, and random redirections that they try to make.

    I think the most important thing is that Church is not filled with perfect people and we forget that. Christians are not perfect. Don’t put ANYONE up on a pedestal where they don’t belong. But Christians are committed people trying to make daily decision to take their lives in the right direction. And that’s what I can support and be a part of. Don’t expect to drive past my house and have the Spirit be so prevalent that you’ll see a cloud. We don’t operate that way. I’m a real person with real ups and downs who just happens to be committed to being a pastor’s wife and helping people along their journey to find a God who loves them so much just where they are.

    • That you face the rejection, pain, and hurt and offer to let Jesus shine through you to His Church in spite of what you’ve seen and experienced, that makes me love you all the more. I am so blessed to have you as my wife. Thank you, Andrea.