Newsletter #419 – Former Christians

How many “deconverts” do you know? These are people who previously were active Christians but who have left the faith. Most are young but not all. Roughly two thirds grew up in religious homes. They are growing in numbers. Most never return to the faith.

These conclusions come from a fascinating and superbly written new book, Generation EX-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith and How to Bring Them Back. Author Drew Dyck, focuses on former Christians (not only on Generation-X), summarizes recent research, and describes his interviews with people who have moved away from Christianity. The book identifies six kinds of leavers:

  • Postmodern leavers include many of the estimated 80 percent of those reared in the church that will be “disengaged” by the time they reach 29. Most have concluded that they don’t need God any more, don’t embrace Christian morality, reject the Christian worldview and criticize Christian indifference to the poor and disenfranchised.
  • Recoilers withdraw because they’ve been hurt by Christians they trusted or are disappointed with a God who seemingly let them down.
  • Modern leavers are the thinkers who like empirical evidence and debate about whether Christianity makes logical sense. Many are impacted by recent books that argue in favor of atheism.
  • Neo-pagans are fascinated with various spiritualities, especially Wicca (witchcraft), one of the fastest growing religions in America. This rarely involves Satan worship but can include worship of mother earth, ecology, and participation in various rituals and spells.
  • Rebels resist the confines of religion, especially the ethical and moral restraints that dampen hedonistic lifestyles.
  • Drifters just move away. They stop going to church, praying, or thinking much about Christian beliefs. Many still identify themselves as Christians but their values, attitudes and lifestyles have drifted far from God.

This book is a guide to the varieties of unbelief in a postmodern era. It includes realistic, sensitive and practical guidelines for connecting with ex-Christians. It has significant implications for those who coach, counsel, lead or teach.  Can you see which of these six ways of leaving could pull you away?

How might this apply to your work, your family, your clients  or your life? Please comment.

    • shirley
    • January 20th, 2011

    then how does the Joshua Generation fit in that God is supposedly and IS raising up??

    • Shirley, Good question but I cannot answer. Dyck’s book focused on 18-30 year-olds. Many were very enthusiastic about God, involved in worship and leading worship but they have left the faith. Things change so quickly that research in this topic needs to be ongoing.

  1. Interact with various religious communities, it seems to be that the religions all supply:
    * Compelling myths
    * Common beliefs
    * Sense of the mysterious
    * Engaging rituals
    * Mystical experiences
    * Codified disciplines
    * Behavioral demands

    In contrast, the American Christianities have devolved into a kind of consumerism that purvey:
    * Children’s stories
    * Doctrinal controversy
    * Popular rationalism
    * Bland ‘services’
    * Doubtful hype
    * Musical entertainment
    * Easy decisionism

    Leave your Evangelicalism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Carismania! Get out of your Building+Budget+Bigshot. Start obeying Jesus and his commandments!

    • From my perspective there is a lot of truth in what you write. Your last words seem a little preachy (maybe that was your intention) but how does this apply in a practical way to reaching young adults who have no interest in Jesus? I think this is cross-cultural, and cross-cultural communication can be difficult, especially when we seek to be sensitive and intent on connecting. Jesus did this well, didn’t he!

    • Dare
    • January 20th, 2011

    Dear Gary,
    Thanks for you article, sad but true, statistic would have been helpful, otherwise I would think its the usual challenges that have always faced a people of God from Isreal to date.
    The well articulated postmodern expressions of internal and external (of Church) disconnection from the Faith, in my opinon can be quite simply addressed by a return to a basic truthful commitment to the Lord first of all, then His message and method. It worked in His hostile envinronment it should work in ours.
    I’m challenged by your article to do this. Christians, especially leaders should be 100% what we say we are, a gangster rapper usually is.
    The reality, beauty and active operations of the Spirit of God still makes Christianity undeniable if unagreeable to some.

    Kindest Regards
    Dare.
    Dublin, Ireland

    • Dare, in Dublin, I suggest that the current younger generations are different from all who came before, even though there are similarities. Each generation may need to be met in unique ways (just like people in diverse cultures need to have unique approaches). The following statement from your comment sounds great: “quite simply…return to a basic truthful commitment to the Lord first of all, then His message and method.” But how do you apply this to people in each of the categories that the Dyck book identifies? Sometimes it is difficult to connect with people who have no interest in anything Christian. I agree that the Spirit of God is the key element here but that which “makes Christianity undeniable” to most of us, does not always connect with those who have left the faith, especially if our message comes with an attitude that implies superiority. You certainly do not show that attitude but Jesus was sensitive to the unique features of his audiences and we have the challenge to do the same.
      On an unrelated issue, my wife and I spent a week in the Dublin area a couple of months ago (then on to Galway). You have a beautiful country with incredibley friendly people.

    • A.M.
    • January 20th, 2011

    Maybe another perspective is to look at why so many are not drawn back. The world is a bleak and difficult place so why is the church not a refuge for so many who have been raised in it? How many of those who left had ever really found Christ in the first place? Of those who do know and are known by Christ, why do they not have an absolute need to be with their ‘family’? Is it possible that something very important has changed that the church have missed? How about the church in other cultures and parts of the world? Are they having the same problem. Maybe the same old just doesn’t work anymore? I am a fifty something woman, a believer. My desire would be for my generation and maybe even the one just younger, to really ask the tough questions; be ready to listen and consider. The numbers would not be so big of those who do not return if there wasn’t a very serious disconnect..

    • A.M., Great observations. Dyck found that most of the people who have left never had a close inter-generational connection with people in their churches. For them there never was a family to return to. Your perspective suggests to me that you would be the kind of “older” person (age is all relative) that twenty-somethings would be open to interacting with.

        • A.M.
        • January 21st, 2011

        That’s where my heart is.

  2. I converted to Catholicism in 1987 (from Judaism).

    My experience of the institutional Catholic Church has been the most disappointing experience of my life.

    (This has nothing to do with my belief in Jesus Christ.)

    I am a meditator and a Yoga practitioner.

    I can’t speak about other denominations, but the structure of the Catholic Church is so rigid, that it can’t breathe.

    The direction of communication is one way: From the top down.

    The “faithful” have no real means of expressing their needs in such a way that they are “heard.”

    The common complaint that “all they want is money” does seem to be true, in my experience.

    The activities in my local church are ALL centered around money.

    The amount of activities that I would consider “spiritual” are few and far between.

    Even the so-called “Bible-study classes” are no more than one-way “teaching” (read: brain-washing) of the Catholic interpretation of Scripture.

    There id no real room for discussion, since the “powers-that-be” a) won’t allow it, and b) aren’t equipped to entertain other spiritual approaches to understand and “absorb” the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    Issues such as suffering, the nature of the physical body, the place of the “material world” in the life of the Christian is so poorly dealt with, that it is no wonder that people leave.

    Make no mistake: People still want and meed “spiritual” guidance. Life is tough. But, from my point of view (at age 62), the “answers” that the Church seems to provide are evidently not sufficient to keep many people “in the fold.”

    • A.M.
    • January 21st, 2011

    A question to anyone who would like to comment. As a fifty something believer who sees a need for change in how we are teaching and communicating with young adults; how does one approach my own generation who seem to be somewhat resistant to our need to perhaps change our way of doing things. How does one avoid arousing a defensive response that blocks the communication? Change can be a very threatening circumstance and many would rather avoid the conversation or genuinely see no need to change anything. It frustrates me.

    • Ken J.
    • January 21st, 2011

    I find bits of myself in each of Dyck’s 6 boxes. I have been finding it is not exclusive to my experiences as I continue to connect with others outside the religious institutions.

    I have been living outside the institutional confines for quite some time. For me it was not so much as leaving a belief system as it was finding my life in Jesus and sharing it with others in the moments.

    It is one thing to live out of systemic beliefs {faith} and its obligations. It is quite another to live out of your new and good heart co-abiding with Father and Son; knowing them more in those moments.

    I suppose most of the departures come out disappointment, hurt and the sometimes obvious inconsistencies between Jesus and those following Him.

    I have been hurt as well but the outcome was a greater life in Him and with others. I know of others hurt deeply but left the notion of Christianity to embrace other safer notions and religions like Atheism.

    There seems to be a false sense of comfort and control in being able to find logical explanations for your circumstances and the world in any systemic belief; you are more in control of what you want to believe.

    Life in and with Jesus is not that safe as you don’t hold to beliefs you can control. You are in a love relationship with a person you learn to trust as He discloses more of Himself. You are safe in Him; not what you know.

    • Dixie Sellers
    • January 23rd, 2011

    My husband and I have been actively involved in the ministry for nearly a quarter of a century. Our most recent assignment could have easily gutted out our faith had it not been for the former churches we were assigned to. While there are some very lovely and faithful people in the parish, for the most part, my husband’s message of reconciliation and knowing Jesus was met with indifference, apathy and at times, hostility. By the time we had arrived at the church, a “country club” mentality had set in, where the majority of the parishioners were turned in on themselves and THEIR catalogue of what Christianity should be about. Anything new which was introduced was met with a lukewarm response. Many parishioners continued to look back to the past and wish they were in “the good old days”. And instead of talking to the clergy about concerns, they talked ABOUT the clergy behind their backs. Through several generations of “social preaching with Jesus used as a tool to advance social agendas and the latest politically correct ideas within the church”, the church simply was not prepared to hear the truth, no matter how much my husband and some other church leaders tried to take “the pulse” of the congregation. Financially, this attitude has taken its toll, with my husband’s salary being cut by 32 percent and other minstries being done away with all together, because of the negative, toxic setting which drove people away. One man could not do it all…and there were very few people equipped to step up to the plate to help him turn the situation around. During the search process, the church and its leadership were presented to us as what THE COMMITTEE THOUGHT THE CHURCH WAS…they could not even SEE the dysfuntion…and when aspects of this were gently and frankly pointed out…it was not received. We are now exhausted, torn up, financially drained and I am, spiritually weary. I am typing this on a Sunday morning. I will probably go to another denomination this afternoon, out of habit. I do believe in Jesus Christ with all of my heart and He has been magnificent in His care of both of us…I just don’t know if I can ever step back into the active fray of leading people to Christ within a church setting…my wounds are, at the moment, gushing.

    • Thanks for so honestly sharing your experiences and struggles. I don’t know how many people read these posts but I hope that we will get responses from anybody who has been where you are. Your message is gracious but it reflects a lot of discouragement, disappointment, and most of all weariness. You may want to read Wayne Cordeiro’s book Leading on Empty. His circumstances have been different from yours (he was too busy) but his experiences and observations can be very helpful. I have given that book to a number of my church-weary friends. It sounds like Ken and Dan have faced their struggles and found a way to go on. You have faced where you are too but now how do you go on when you get resistance and are not sure where to turn? Do you have others who understand and who can walk alongside you? Maybe as much as anything you could benefit from somebody who can pray with you, talk about the relevant scriptures (there are many people in the Bible who would understand your story), listen attentively, and journey with you. I don’t want this to sound like some insensitive cliche but I really believe that God will show the way in due time. Write again to tell us how things are progressing.

  3. I am currently a licensed marriage and family therapist and I approach clients using a biblical understanding of humanity and the principles that guide us. I am a prodigal, returning to Christ who never separated Himself from me – it was I who separated from Him. The best decision I ever made in my life was to seek reconciliation with Him.

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