Leaving Church

Most of my friends don’t go to church anymore. What's odd about that is the majority of us met at church.  We were lifers. We raised our kids in the church. We were committed to church. If the doors were open we were there. We don’t fit the typical demographic of millennials who have left the church. We are Boomers. And we are leaving in droves. I meet more each week.  Date of birth doesn’t seem to be a common factor in who attends church.

Recently, I had a conversation with someone who still attends the church that fired us. (I am working on a better way to refer to that church but so far I am finding it too easy to be sarcastic.) I didn’t ask him if he still goes but he seemed to need to tell me. He said, “Yeah, I still go but I don’t agree with what goes on there. It’s where my friends are.” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. There was a time when I felt that anyone who attended that church was in some way against us. I’m long past that now. And I certainly didn’t need him to explain why he attends. I know it is hard to leave a church.

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Religious communities are built on strong ties. It’s a big part of the job of church leadership to keep people happy and involved. And it is why shunning and church discipline are effective ways to keep people in line. When I ask people what keeps them in church or what they miss about church the answer is almost always the same thing: community. It is also what brings people to church in the first place. Everyone wants a place to belong.

People don’t always stay in churches because they are happy with the church. They stay because of their kids, or their friends, or they don’t know where else they would go. Staying in a church - even if you don’t agree with things - is the path of least resistance.

I never understood how significant it was for someone to leave a church that they had been actively involved in. It wasn’t a decision that I previously had the opportunity to make. I see how difficult it can be to sever those ties now. I can appreciate that it takes a lot for someone to make that decision. And I wish I had been less judgmental.

It has been over a year since I decided to take an official break from church. I had been going to a church in my community for several years. I certainly wasn’t a regular attender but I went often enough to convince myself that I was still going to church. But the weeks between going turned into months and I decided I should be honest about things. I needed to ‘shit or get off the pot’ as the expression goes. And at the end of the day I didn’t have strong enough connections in that community to keep me there. It wasn’t my tribe. There were some people that I connected with but I always felt alone when I went.

I met with the pastor and told him I was done with church. Not his church. All churches. I never told him what was behind my decision. It took me a long time to process it myself. It was largely disillusionment with organized religion. Everytime I went to church I saw it through a certain lens. I can say it was such a relief to be done. It was freeing to finally admit I was no longer going to church. To come clean about it. I love that I don't have to make a decision every week whether or not I am going to church. At least for now. In a plot twist I am dreaming of starting one. But I will save that for another blog post.