The “De-churched” – How to Talk to Us

Some people have found progressive communities of faith in which they feel comfortable, connected and cared for, while some of us have been so wounded by the leaders of organized Christianity, that we simply cannot and do not attend.

I’m a Bible College graduate. I was a youth minister for years and a pastor as well.

I know what they label us.

They call us the “de-churched.”

It’s always a hot topic really and the more a person surrenders their autonomy on their spiritual path, the more intense the discussion becomes! Those who have found comfort in remaining a part of Christianity or progressive faith communities celebrate that they feel comfortable in their congregations and they act as though they have stumbled upon a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

church_FireBut some of us have found that each effort to engage in Christianity ends with a slammed door, a crossed boundary or a judgmental word. I have found this each time I have attempted to rejoin Christianity and either I have really bad luck finding socially and emotionally intelligent Christian groups (or leaders) or I am just not destined to be a part of any organized Christian-based community. (Or a 3rd option I have yet to discover).

I share this not only because I think it’s hard for some of us to leave… but because what complicates our recovery is how some of those who “stay” treat those of us who left.

Sometimes they talk to us like we gave up.

Sometimes they try to recruit us to reform. (Does the analogy of a bad marriage help? Not everyone is called to stay with an abusive spouse and help them heal after every beating.)

Some of us leave because we don’t want to suffer anymore.

Some of us leave because it is well with our souls to do so.

Some of us have turned the cheek too many times and now have endless scars and can’t proceed with this form of faith.

Some of us still really dig Jesus, but have been shown over and over, that Christian does not = Christ-like.

It’s a sad reality, but it is our reality.

So, let us be.

Don’t tell us how awesome your church is – that’s your story.

Don’t tell us how to forgive – that’s your process.

Don’t tell us why it’s important to be in community – that’s your value.

Don’t tell us the church needs our unique voice – that’s your cause.

Tell us it doesn’t matter where we go Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights… because we are loved, just as we are and nothing about church membership or group-based spirituality will change that.

Tell us we matter.

And then walk with us…

walk_with_me_lhi_poster_1Like Jesus would.

And maybe that will lead some of us back to your churches…

Or maybe we will find that nature, the coffee shop, the movie theater and the community food bank feel more like church anyway…

So, in short, don’t talk to the de-churched…

Walk with the non-church goer.

Our stories are legitimate.

Our faith is real.

Our lives are whole.

We aren’t broken just because it doesn’t work for us to be in church.

And you aren’t whole because it works for you…

We become whole when we allow for differences, celebrate individuality and find cooperative ways to love mercy, do justly and walk… humbly.

59 thoughts on “The “De-churched” – How to Talk to Us

  1. Excellent! I am probably in the same place, but perhaps not for the same reasons. I don’t see myself (at this point) as de-churched so much as “not going to church.” I do miss the community, but so much of the rest of it just doesn’t interest me. Like you, I was raised in church. I went to seminary to be a Pastor, and did that with two churches. But over the years, I’ve grown…impatient with what passes as “church.” I finally just stopped going. I appreciated that you recognized that it’s not about “giving up.” That’s not it for me. It’s fatigue. Maybe it will change someday. Maybe not. But I agree: I would appreciate not being told why, when and where I need to go back.
    Thanks, Gail!

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    • Thanks for this Bill. I think that as a former church leader, I tend to draw out some of the insecurities of current church leaders, when I discuss this stuff. It’s like there’s a sense of, “Oh shit, she just said what I fear the most will happen if I need a break,” or, “Uh oh, she’s bad for business.” The truth is, if the establishment of church is hurting more than helping, people need to feel free to walk away, without anyone telling them that they are quitters. And hey, maybe it will “reform” and become something we recognize as part of our faith… but if it doesn’t, that should be okay too… Hugs, Bill!

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  2. Hi Gail – this is good. If I were to add anything it might be something like “please don’t re-explain it to me. I didn’t leave because I didn’t understand my faith. I left precisely because I DO understand and it doesn’t fit me anymore.” One more repetition is not going to be the magical one that will make me believe again. And I would like to remind the church-going that I am very much a product of the same environment; the first 24 years of my life were very much about having the centrality of faith and church to my life. My atheism has precisely the exact same roots as your devotion.

    Or perhaps “please don’t interpret my experience for me. You weren’t there. I was.” It never ceases to amaze me how often a believer will reframe what I am telling him/her into terms that are not congruent with my reality. For example, my journey to find healing/resolution for the spiritual abuse I endured is NOT a search to “fill the God-shaped vacuum in my soul.”

    I suppose some Christians would perceive me as having “given up.” I haven’t abandoned my journey – what I have abandoned is something that was profoundly mismatched to my reality.

    Of all the things you said, what I appreciate most is the “walk” and the “be.” As an atheist I am absolutely not swayed by after-life considerations. The time we have is NOW, the people we have are each other, right HERE, right NOW. So let us walk and be together HERE; let us be kind to each other right NOW.

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    • Brian, this response is so dear to me – one addition of ““please don’t re-explain it to me. I didn’t leave because I didn’t understand my faith. I left precisely because I DO understand and it doesn’t fit me anymore.” would totally be merited! I have found that I am not permitted, at times, to evolve within the Church. That is the main reason I left… if my beliefs shifted at all, there was a new denomination or church down the street for that, but I would have to give up my community if I evolved…

      So, for me, it has a lot to do with restrictions on my personal faith journey.

      That… and having progressives tell me how we agree on certain theological issues and therefore, I should join their cause towards “practical” Christianity. (And when I don’t line up with their ideas of me buying THEIR version, telling me that I’m weak or that I haven’t arrived.)

      Christianity often has an agenda… Christians don’t always… but the movement, in this age and time, most certainly does.

      P.S. Sometimes I joke that when I grow up, I want to try being an atheist. I’m barely kidding. 😉 (The good news… they aren’t recruiting me…)

      Thanks again for sharing here. It means a lot to me.

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  3. I can relate to this. I left an Anglican Church where I had been treasurer for 8 years in 1971, and subsequently spent some 20 years with a Sabbath keeping church that recognised in 1995 that much of their theology had been misguided.

    Any church can only take people as deep as their own theology and traditions will allow.

    I’ve just finished writing the story of my own journey from the time that I rejected the teaching of the trinity some 65 years ago.

    Possible food for thought?

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    • “only take people as deep as their own theology and traditions will allow…” such a wonderful point, Peter. I’m glad to hear, also, that you have recorded your experience! We all must find a way of finding our individual voice in this relationship to “established” religion vs. meaningful spirituality.

      Feel free to connect on FB and I would love to learn more about your writings!

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  4. Gail, this is lovely, and I’m sharing it with some folks. The only thing I’d add is that my choices are not a criticism of others who believe. They’re rooted in my personal experiences, and I recognize that not everybody has the same experiences I do.

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    • Thanks Suzanne. I think in context of my writing, people know that I don’t have full on criticism of those who stay or even those who reform… but, for those of us who really need to leave, it shouldn’t be such a big deal 😉 I mean… is it a cult or a faith experience? I think that being prohibited from outgrowing something shows a lack of understanding of how spirituality is integrated with personal experience. At the same time, growing back into something, can also happen… if we walk with people, we can see this.

      So glad you are sharing… it seems to really resonate and I am surprised, somehow, by that 😉

      Much love!

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  5. I’ve recently found a church I enjoy. Kind of a fluke actually. But that was after facing alot of rejection and pain from other churches. I attend the church because I enjoy the interaction with the people and they accept me for being agnostic-y and i just love theology but I have no plans to actively be involved in the church past showing up. I’ve been burned to many times and know how the church can be filled with power plays. So I would never try to guilt people into going to church since this is the first time in quite awhile that I have attended regularly. I might tell them about the church I go to if it comes up but not in a “you should go because I have found one i like” but just because sometimes when talking to people we share what we do in the weekends and that’s what I do. Plus I know how hard it is to be comfortable in church after being hurt. My motto is let people do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Sorry for any typos I’m on my phone

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    • That’s a great motto, I would say. Some of us “luck out” and find communities that jive and some of us are just as lucky to never have to awkwardly work through that environment again 😉 Much love, yo!

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  6. Oh, I so relate to this… I found a church that was a perfect fit for me, then after 6+ years I accepted a promotion which moved me to the southwest, to probably one of the most conservative towns in the country. I spent the first two of my three years there “church shopping” with no success. I even found a place called “the Underground Church” which I thought might be even a little more progressive, but NO! It simply met in the basement of a bank. Now i’m living in Canada, where society is generally more secular. In all the churches I’ve tried, the participants were my parents’ age. Nothing wrong with that, but I was looking for a community with at least some people like me…. So now I watch webcasts of my original church to get my fix when I need it. And I find like-minded believers online to satisfy my need for community. THANKS for sharing your insights and experience.

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    • Cindy, it’s awesome that you share how you have creatively adjusted to culture and technology. I’ve found a few online communities (and created one too) that feel more like church than anything I’ve ever experienced. Sometimes I still long for what I recognize as church, in my youth, but the diversity that results from our resilience seems to fuel something that can’t be matched in a building… for me. Much love your way!

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  7. I pondered this for quite a while, even thought about posting some friendly debate, but realized that would this crowd would probably see it as making their point. So I’m only going to make one comment, and it has to do with the use of one word, a simple preposition. I agree that churched, de-churched and unchurched should walk WITH each other. The article argues against the churched talking TO the de-churched, and I can understand that, but we all should be talking WITH each other, not TO each other – that is to say, conversations that go in both directions, both parties learning from each other.

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    • Yes the difference of being talked to vs walked with… I suppose we could be “talked with” but that sounds like what happens in the principals office and parents 😉 I appreciate your sense of treading lightly. It matters a lot to me when readers are respectful and know they could make it worse if they aren’t empathetic. Many blessings to you, Jim. Conversations do matter. I hear you!

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  8. I left a church after abuse. But it in no way affected my faith, my beliefs, my love for God, my search to go deeper in Him. I believe church can be what God intended it to be and I miss the community of my church but I don’t miss the abuse, bickering, power scuffles, etc. The church is made up of people and there are no perfect people. I tried to follow Christ and not let the people around me distract me. But there comes a time when you have to make a stand when things go beyond just misunderstandings and pettiness. When people are getting hurt. I tried to do it in a Christ-like way, according to biblical instructions but the end result is I’m out of a church after 23 yrs. I’ve “shopped” for several years now. But the damage has been done. I can’t turn my brain off from asking the questions. Is the same thing going on in this church and I just don’t know it yet? Is there enough integrity in this church to keep it’s eyes on the true prize? Is Christ really the focus or is it just another ego and pride driven enterprise… the more the people we can pull in, the more money we make and the more “successful” we can consider ourselves? Is this sincere or just entertainment? Is there spiritual depth being taught or just feel-good stories? I’m praying my way through this with the goal of forgiving and being made whole again. Whether that means finding a church or not is up to Jesus. Meanwhile I continue my spiritual journey with my own Bible studies and joining small Bible study groups. God and His Word are not at issue in my life. I believe and everything I learn makes my belief even more solid. God is good and His mercies endure forever.

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    • Sharon, those questions are so powerful and mirror for me, what happens when I do stumble upon a community that “seems” welcoming. The abuse is real and it leaves us in a bit of a PTSD state about even trying again because those questions run like a tape in our heads. However, they are also really important questions that keep the church leaders accountable and if they don’t have anything to hide, they ought not mind our asking, right?

      Glad you have found peace in the journey – thank you so much for posting – those questions matter to anyone who was hurt by church leadership. We cannot be blissfully ignorant of how awful the environment can get and that does make our versions of faith stronger… I hope. Or, for some, it makes their atheism stronger. Either way, somehow it creates empathy and that… binds us in a Sacred way! Namaste!

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  9. Thanks for writing this Gail. I am so sorry to hear that you and so many here have been hurt so much by other Christians. I get so sad when I hear this and I can only imagine how sad it makes Jesus when He sees us judge and put down our brothers and sisters in Him.
    I am originally from the Netherlands, a very secular, progressive and usually, accepting nation. The first small, but vocal political party I voted for when I was 18 or 19, was the Evangelical Peoples Party, a Christian, Socialist, Pacifist political party. It stood for everything I believed in and, now 40 years later, living in the Southern US, I still believe in what they stood for. I’m not a US citizen, so I compromise with pasting the rear window of my car with Obama/Biden, Obamacare stickers, plus a rainbow sticker saying Jesus Loves You, to try and make up for the hateful, fundamentalist, mostly right-wingers. And show that there are Chrisians who are lefties and who don’t judge people who are gay, or people who want to have an abortion. I do have to keep myself in check to not judge the judgementals :-)) I wish you all a full, loving life! Teddy

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  10. wow…. thank you for your words…. I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition and believed I would die a catholic. I served in many ministerial roles and found ways to work around those pastors who ignored woman, using manipulation and supportive men as my voice. Following my spiritual passion into graduate school and earning a degree in theology, basically put the nail in the proverbial tomb. Discovering the Christian misinformation I had been fed and believed (I drank the poison kool aide) and upon graduation was summarily told by the local bishop that even though I had more education than most of the male deacons there was nowhere for me in the church. It felt like I left an abusive relationship, I tried every way I knew to become what they wanted and needed to discover all they really wanted was my money (the envelopes for tithing came for years after leaving. I then joined a Methodist community which fed me in ways that I had never received in the Catholic tradition until a new pastor was assigned to our community and one day came in and summarily removed all women from ministry and replaced them with men – calls and letters to the local bishops were ignored, mocked and a meeting with the pastor revealed his total lack of insight or compassion. I was done and I remain finished with following the lead of any formal religious institution. The wrath of the Christians who want to save me are amazing – certainly nothing like the teacher Jesus demonstrated. I know that my faith is my faith and it has undergone many iterations of change and I expect it will continue as such. I have become a watcher of the world about me – the daily sunrise and sunset, the animals that scurry around our home and my grandchildren offer me ways of being that I know are pleasing to the creator, he, she or it. I know there is a power that is more than I and that I am more when I am tapped into that power. I am conscious of the moments not the rules, I am conscious of the still small voice of intuition that guides me, I am conscious of the joy of playing, singing, dancing and creating. I worship the God of my Understanding every day, all day, in all ways. I do not need a church to remind me to pay attention – just to open my eyes and see the sunrise.
    So, to those who think they need to save me… I say – show me don’t tell me – be like Jesus and the sun and the squirrels and the little children. Words are empty unless they are followed with actions.

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    • Thank you so much for sharing a portion of your story here, Kathy. So much of what you said matters and needs to be shared in whatever venues feel empowering for you. The line “It felt like I left an abusive relationship, I tried every way I knew to become what they wanted and needed to discover all they really wanted was…” really resonated with me because I feel like whether it’s money, time, or soul, that sense is real for many of us… all they wanted was… something we couldn’t give. I am glad this is not the case for all people, but it’s a legitimate experience for many and how we process it is ours, ya know? And wow wow wow, the call to using more than WORDS to communicate intention. That’s exactly there this post was headed – conversation does matter, and I believe in it, but in the end, the urging that we WALK together, is exactly what you are getting at – actions. It will always be true that no one cares how much you know until we know how much you care.

      Thank YOU for caring enough to comment. Much love on your journey!

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  11. I went from being the gay son of a Baptist preacher father and missionary mother to being de-churched and ended up an atheist. It was a long process but things make sense to me now. I wouldn’t change a thing.

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    • That is so powerful Tom – to say you wouldn’t change a thing. I think that too, as I examine my faith experience and all the steps it took to build it up, tear it down and reassemble something that works for me. I share your sentiment! And, no joke, I often say that when I grow up, I want to be an atheist 😉 If I ever land there, I know it will not be because of wound, but because of process. Evolution of spirituality is required for socially and emotionally intelligent beings. I would consider myself among friends if I ever become an atheist! Namaste, yo and thank you for sharing here!

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  12. OMG you have no idea how relevant and powerful this post is!!!!!! I am gay and have been “dechurched” for 12 years and at first I felt such guilt and a backslider – (another great – NOT – church word ) but over the years my love for Jesus and my trust in God, and the ability to walk free from fear and to walk in grace, has revolutionised my faith – authors like Brennan manning, Philip yancey and mel smith have helped me find the God of the bible and leave behind the religious god created in mans own image – thank you for writing and publishing this post x

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    • If “backsliding” was more like a slip’n’slide, maybe more people would try it 😉 Man, that phrase has been used against us, no doubt! Thank you for letting me know how the post mattered. I originally thought, “Nah, there are like 10 people who feel this way, but hey, we need a voice.” Turns out… quite a few more than 10 feel this way! That is somehow affirming even in its tragic way.

      From one Ragamuffin to another… hugs and love your way, Karen!

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  13. Just like others in this post, I thank you for speaking out. Sometimes those of us who have left feel so isolated. We are still on a journey, still walking with Jesus, only the walk is more real. After what our family experienced its surprising any of us are still believers. We endured years of abuse before waking up to the fact that Jesus would not approve of the way things were being done in the church. We were in many leadership roles, too. We even lost contact with our oldest son because of how he was looked down on by the church. He wont forgive us because he sees us as a part of it all…even though we have desperately asked him to forgive us. It is a sadness that we have to live with. It is our hope that one day, we can help repair such damage by just being the love he has called us to be in this world.

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    • its surprising any of us are still believers… lynn, true words! Thank you for reminding us of that. And for those who don’t believe any more, their resilience is equally remarkable. The resilience of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me. I am sorry to read about your eldest son… as someone who works with young parents, I always remind them that their child’s tantrums are not always a reflection of them… so, allow me to remind you of that, as an adult parent, the same is true. He is on a journey that will hopefully lead him back to his roots. I wrote a lot about that in my most recent book, because after my father died, I realized how glad I am that I did take time to understand him, before he died, in spite of his faults. (Not that your faults are what led him to push you away. Clearly he’s overly attached to the outcome of your church attendance, which is tragic). Nonetheless, I thought I would touch on that topic, in hopes of offering some encouragement…

      Good vibes, big hugs your way, Lynn! Be. Love. Indeed!

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  14. My Baptist church was my family, in a very real sense. All through junior high and high school, my Grandfather was my pastor. He baptized me, and performed my first wedding. I remember feeling uncomfortable reading the creed on the wall, in the ornate painted gold frame, that specifically outlined what I was allowed to believe, but church was where everyone belonged. I accepted my Grandmother’s certainty that Christians, and specifically Baptists, were better than everyone else. It was all I had ever known. After I left my small Kansas hometown, I stopped going to church. It might have been rebellion, or I might have just realized even then that I did not fit.
    That was thirty years ago, and although I have tried to attend a few local churches, it has not worked for me. The first one was horribly narrow-minded and judgmental, and I could not accept that the loving God about whom I had learned as a child could be the same one I found there. The church that felt most inclusive seemed to lean toward prosperity theology, which I find abhorrent. The sermon series on “stewardship”, while it got the scriptures right, pretty much said to people like me, who live on the poorer fringes of an affluent community, that if we were better, or holier, or more favored by God, we would be affluent too. The kicker was the “Christian” financial services that had tables set up in the lobby. I never went back.
    These days, my younger brother and his fiance are attending a young, hip, rock & roll sort of church, and I attended one Easter after much urging from the family. The praise heaped upon my brother on social media, for the accomplishment of getting my young daughters in church, made me sick to my stomach. The service felt to me like an exercise in brainwashing. I do not believe that loud music, bright flashing lights, and emotional manipulation bring me closer to God in any meaningful way. It may work well for some people, but I find that I feel closer to my Creator when I hold my children or watch a sunset in perfect stillness.

    Finally, it is avoiding the judgment of my very Baptist family that is currently preventing me from attending the church of my choice. There is a local UU church that I have been interested in looking into, but the knowledge that it will be the biggest scandal in my family since my brother married a Catholic woman has kept me from it. I feel like a coward, but I am not sure I have the strength right now to withstand the barrage of judgment that will come. I know that my family is praying for me, and to be honest, sometimes that really ticks me off.

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    • Growing up, I felt like I belonged at church too. I can totally relate to that, though no one in my family was directly tied to my attendance, like your story indicates. That “rock and roll” atmosphere of church drew me in during my teenage years and that’s where the fundamentalism set in and I had to start “not thinking” to still belong. That was tough. Bible College was more of the same unfortunately. Nonetheless, I actually landed in an affirming Presbyterian Church for awhile and then an affirming church plant in a pastoral role… eventually I was even in leadership at a UU church. Gasp! What a journey from my Catholic upbringing, indeed. My point, and I have one… is that I did feel most comfortable in the UU congregation but in the end, it felt more comfortable to remain above the whole thing by staying committed to the process of faith rather than the geographical location of a weekly routine or leadership. Hell, for awhile, I found some Baptists that weren’t too bad, but that didn’t end well either because there was little to no interest in walking with me, ya know? I didn’t “fit” there either and they found ways to let me know during a very trying time, that my beliefs weren’t theirs. So… I guess we all just come up with a way of sorting through that angry response and hope to connect in ways that lift us up. The comments here seem to be doing that. If I didn’t know better, I would think we were having church right here on my blog! eek! 😉

      I won’t pray for you. 😉 Hope that helps. No… really… I send you love and thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts here. Many hugs your ways. You are no coward in my book, whatever you decide!

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  15. Thank you for saying so well what so many “de-churched” feel, thing, and have experienced, in why we have left the church, any church, behind.
    Not to discredit or make light at all of the painful experiences of this nature involving those for which it involved LGBT, but sometimes I think many may be hindering getting the basic points of such as this across, with so much focused on such experience related to those issues. It is the UNDERLYING problems in the churched culture that have and continue to be at work in these matters, non-specific to LGBT, but rather the general overall presence of such mentality and attitudes and behaviors within the Church, that makes it just the thing to do to others for any reason, or even no reason at all, just the someone doesn’t like someone, or isn’t comfortable with some difference about someone, or that someone has evidence of some failing or mistake or perceived ‘sin’ in their life that the churchly assume as their rightful position to judge.
    I am one to which, and for which, what you write hear, speaks. Your words describe my own experience, my own place now. I am passionate about my faith, matters of spirituality and even religion. Passionate enough about it, that I have gone far beyond in my efforts dedicated to studying the bible, church history and doctrines of Christianity and religion in general, than most Christians, and yet it has seemed that has itself been the biggest point of conflict.
    That the reasons I’ve left the church after every attempt to go back, until I’ve come to a place in which I know I will never go back again, has had way more to do with un-Christian and downright ungodly attitudes and behaviors I’ve encountered among the churched, and at the same time, their determination to reject that at even possible, to ever turn it against me, and any other that leaves the church, in that we can only have done so because we are too sinful, too rebellious, against God and the church. That we reject “godly teachings” that we may go out and lead ungodly, wicked lives without shame or guilt.
    My last actual attempt, the most determined of my adult life, having given myself utterly and completely over to being vulnerable and open and embracing of others there, over a decade ago now, went so badly, I have had to wonder if there were not truly demonic spirits determined to drive me right back out, influencing the whole situation! and that is not at all the kind of stuff I would have ever “believed in!” It ended with not only rejection from within the churches, but serious real damage to my reputation in my community outside the church, where I’ve been resident, respected neighbor and even small business person, for 40 years! No, I can never get over that, to try again.
    Bottom line, it hasn’t been anything about true principles of Christianity I’ve rejected, it has been ungodliness cloaked in the garb and language of Christianity by those using that to self-justify some very ungodly attitudes and behaviors.

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    • Jenell, thank you so much for taking the time to share some of your story here. I was really careful not to make this about LGBTQ issues because it is, like you suggest, much more than this – the “oaked in the garb and language of Christianity by those using that to self-justify some very ungodly attitudes and behaviors” is exactly what some of us simply couldn’t bear any longer. I had a very positive experience at a Baptist congregation for awhile and it was heart-wrenching that in the end, I still wasn’t “something” enough to be able to fit in… perhaps it was my evolution of faith or perhaps it was because I wouldn’t allow myself to worship the church’s leaders the way so many had begun to do. Whatever the reason, many of us do in fact, find our way out of the church and into a larger, more meaningful universal community…

      Sending you all kinds of good vibes and blessings and whatever when it comes to your journey, both spiritually and professionally. Whatever anyone has done to stand between you and your freedom to be yourself, I wish you wholeness, separate from the manipulation. I have been there too… oh the things they said about me when I left… alas, when a church leadership tries to silence it’s dissenters, it is because they have much to hide and much to lose.

      Wishing you well and thank you again for sharing here!

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  16. I was truly touched by this article and the comments from readers. Obviously, these are important ideas that resonate and I am grateful to see them voiced. Last week, my sister, who has struggled her entire life with feelings of guilt and shame, said, “I have not wanted to go to church because I leave feeling bad about myself.” My immediate response was,”Maybe you should find a place where you can feel good. A church isn’t suppose to make people feel bad.” I did not really think before saying it, but I believe it. I attend a pretty open-minded church, but I can still feel the push to attend, give, volunteer, etc. most organized groups, faith based or not want members, donations and volunteers to accomplish the goals of the organization. I do enjoy the people connection at my church. I have attended my current church for almost twelve years and have many shared experiences that I cherish. It is the place where I socialize. It is one of the only places where I can enjoy and participate in excellent live music on a regular basis. I believe spirituality is very personal. My own walk with God is manifested in those loving relationships with others and with the planet. It breaks my heart to hear so many stories of abuse suffered in the name of religion. Thank you all for sharing your stories. Perhaps opening this dialog will start healing and change.

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    • Patty, I’m so glad to know that this post and those commenting are giving you pause and reasons to share. I agree with you about what a church environment “should” be – so often, there is no room for evolution or progress of thought within the churches so for those of us who don’t quite “fit,” we end up getting really hurt. Eventually though, we either evolve into a new version of faith or a life of secular humanism in a sense, but still remember fondly, the desire to connect with others. I think it’s really something special that can happen online, actually… honestly… I see it here. In these comments. This place looks like church to me…

      Much love to you as you intend to walk with others 🙂

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      • Thank you Gail. Love and peace also to you. Thank you for articulating this hopeful message. I believe many people will find courage in your words to not only find their own spiritual paths, but be more accepting of the paths others take.

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  17. I really appreciated your thoughtful writing here. I am a regular church goer, raised that way and all, and it has helped me a lot over the years, especially with healing from trauma caused by my very religious dad, the disabilities of my only child, a daughter, and through her death and my grief. However, I have grown quite a bit over the years, through all the pain and joining the Army and being very involved in geek culture, so that I no longer hold the conservative values I once did. In fact, now, I abhor them, but I have so many friends and family that still cling to them. I am sure that many are praying that I wake up and repent for some things I’ve written in blogs. One consistent theme in my writing has been my utter disappointment in the way Christians behave in the world, how they dishonor Christ, how they are blind, selfish, ultra political, and scared to think. I know that isn’t so kind of me, to point these things out, but I feel as if I’m waking up from sleep. My daughter’s death really seared into me a desire to clear my life from all bullshit. I seek and need truth and I see such hypocrisy in people who say they follow Christ but who reject and demonize people who are gay, liberal, Democrats, atheists, etc. God has led me on the journey I am on, I feel certain. And that journey has led me to become best friends with someone who is a Wiccan priestess, and with people who are atheists, gay, and agnostic. And, I feel very centered and peaceful. I still feel connected to church, a liberal Methodist church where I was surprised to learn there are Christians who actually think, embrace science, open their hearts to people, etc. Now, I know that there may come a day when I feel compelled to leave, but I do sort of doubt that. I need the structure and I have a desperate need for spiritual connections, people I can talk to about the deep things that resonate in my soul because my emotional healing really benefits from that.
    My husband, on the other hand, has never been a church goer, and though he believes in Christ, he isn’t really compelled to pray or read scripture. I have always wrestled with the guilt that I should get him to be more involved and to come with me to church, but manipulation doesn’t seem right at all. I have learned that the guilt is not anything that is healthy or real. I respect him, and love him, and that means I have to let him be free to be who he is. The same goes for my Wiccan and atheist friends. I love them. I respect them. I do talk about my faith – and my healing process, mostly in writing where they have the choice to read or not read. They respect me, and I respect them and that is what is at the heart of what has been written here. We have to respect the journey other people are on, whether they go to church, don’t go to church, don’t believe in God or believe in a different type of god. I sort of hate the word tolerance though – because I don’t think we should be tolerant (as in just putting up with people who are different). I think we should be loving. And, love doesn’t disrespect people.

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    • Barbara, what a touching story to have shared with me and the others commenting on this post. I know all-too-well how grief and loss changes things and the way we process it somehow does make us stronger. I can share your sentiment about the word tolerance… we can do better, can’t we? No matter what our beliefs, we have to own that they are in fact, OURS, right? To have the positive sense of autonomy and be able to embrace our own sense of spirituality while making space for others… to just be… it’s a gift. I’m so glad you do that with those that walk this world with you. Thank you, from my heart to yours, for taking a moment to walk here. You are among friends, no doubt about it! Much love to all you call family and who love you!

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  18. Thank you for writing this. I needed it. I quit going to church because of people who wanted to merely be “Sunday Christians”. It just makes me so discouraged to see people be so “nicey-nice” to you on Sunday, but act so far from Christ-like the rest of the week. Seeing “Christians” secretly judging and talking negatively about other church member’s back. These same people have no problem judging me, and I am related to them. It just made me sick. Finally I walked away from church. I have felt liberated and at peace ever since. I wish people would stop “praying for me” to “find my way back”. I didn’t stop loving/following Jesus. I am just not tying myself to standards that I can never achieve to get to heaven because I am human, and therefore fallible. I was really messed up for a while because of the damage certain types of “Christians” did to me unknowingly.

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    • It was my pleasure to write it, Jenna. I had no idea that there were SO MANY who would relate and connect! I keep joking that I thought maybe ten people would be like, “Cool Gail, I get it.” But wow the response is powerful! That peace that you feel, in walking away, matters… I hope no one ever really challenges it for you, even when they say they “pray for you.” I like to say to people, “Be sure you are praying, and not preying, and that’s fine…” Namaste and many well wishes to you on the journey!

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  19. I just wanted to say thanks for posting this.

    You know, you’re the first person to say that it’s ok for me to be “de-churched”.

    I graduated from a Baptist College in 2008 and went on to work as a youth leader for the next year or so at a local church. I left in the fall of 2009 and it was the hardest single thing I’ve ever had to do. Since then, everyone I loved, even those who in the beginning where extremely supportive of me, has become “disappointed” in me. It’s hard to have people that you respect so much be “disappointed” in you. It’s especially hard when the invitations to hang out stop coming and you realize that you’ve lost them. I appreciate this post. A. Lot.

    So thanks 🙂 You’re the kind of church I want to be a part of. We are all his “body” right?

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    • Becca, it’s like this thread of comments on here and on the FB pages where it was shared, became “church” in my book! Incredibly loving and powerful, save maybe a few stranglers who don’t “get it.” May you always find permission from others and FROM WITHIN, to be YOU 🙂 Mwah!

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  20. You see, it would be nice if this kind of welcoming was granted to the atheists, agnostics, and humanists, but we’ve been treated like outcasts and lepers by friends, families, entire communities for so long that when religion is discussed, the go-to response is one of defense. That’s why so many of our families do not know until the last minute, or under extreme duress, because of the ill treatment we’ve experienced, or seen experienced by others. So, if people acted this openly and welcoming all the time, the hostility would likely evaporate.

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    • Nekko, I couldn’t agree more! The hostility between “believers” and “nonbelievers” is in the use of the very words… we are humans, on a human journey. Some of us take spiritual tools for the trip and some of us take intellectual tools… some of us try to use ’em both and see how that fairs and that is tough too 😉 May you always find a safe place of welcome, in the cyber worlds and in the living, breathing, physical worlds! Thanks for taking a moment to comment. It is important to me that this post is bridging something very sacred… and human, in it’s honesty.

      Like

  21. I was raised by a minister. We were in church every time the doors opened. I played the church game for many years. I suffered from church burnout. I finally left a church I attended for many years because the pastor sold out to the highest bidder. In other words, he allowed financial support to dictate and change church policy.

    The only reason I attend a church now is out of respect for my mother. She is 88. I was not attending before last year. My father passed a year ago today. My mother’s church is her church. I am not comfortable there. People are nice to me, but I see all of the same problems that led me to stop attending church before. We, The de-churched, know what they are: hypocrisy, legalism, general obliviousness to the human condition, non acceptance of alternative lifestyles…I could go on, but I won’t.

    Thank you for this and thank you for letting me know that I am not alone.

    I am de-churched in spirit, if not literally.

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    • Anonymous – it’s important to me that you took a moment to share a bit. Sending you well wishes with the anniversary of your father’s death. My father’s death and the events surrounding it really changed me so I can think that first and foremost, my heart goes out to you in that… the first year was the hardest, no doubt!

      It’s such an honorable thing, to support your mom in the way that you are… it’s a small sacrifice, to be able to let her know you love her and not simply keep the peace, but be a supportive adult child. I respect that.

      “We, The de-churched, know what they are: hypocrisy, legalism, general obliviousness to the human condition, non acceptance of alternative lifestyles…” – we do know this… and yet, we have grace for them. And that, from some strangely ironic place, is Sacred, isn’t it?

      Much love your way!

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      • Gail,
        You are an amazing person. Thank you for your kind words. I agree completely. The “churched” need our grace and love. It is not for us to stand in judgement of them. I realized as I re-read my comment and your reply, I may have come off as sounding judgmental. I am more sad than anything.

        I return your love. I’m sorry about the passing of your father. It is not easy, even as an adult, to lose a parent.

        Blessings to you!

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  22. I find my spirituality is healthier and more vibrant when I am not distracted by the ‘busy-ness’ of church. If I feel stagnant, I ask God to send me the next teacher, or book, or experience and She consistently does so. Yup, answers the prayers of little old de-churched me. Go figure. I did want the community church offers, or at least the fantasy community I thought it would offer. It didn’t work out so well for me. The fictive kinship of church family was something I wanted, but I learned that was a myth. I liked having a structure within which to give, but I distrust church leadership too much to give them money to waste when there are so many needs. So I have become very intentional about giving to other organizations and responding to situations of need with generosity. I do miss Christmas activities especially Christmas Eve services, but I have found other ways to seek spiritual rebirth during the holy season of nativity. So I have just accepted that God created some solitaires, and I guess I am one. I know people think I should be in church, but I am at peace with that. I really am de-churched and doing fine.

    Like

    • She is good! 🙂 Yes, I think the social connections is one of the reasons I tried church again, a few years ago. And it did blow up in my face, for the same reasons it did any other time I’ve tried it – power, politics and socially and emotionally dense conversations… not all churches are like that, I know, but agreed – for some of us, we thrive without the drama. True story!

      Thanks for swinging by and letting others read your response. It matters!

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  23. I tried several denominations. I am weary of the visiting, the being new, the dodging of questions when I realize that once again I don’t fit in. The last church I left I will not name but you are the ones who used to have open minds, open doors and open hearts, but you are now apparently rethinking that! The theology you claim is one I could love deeply, and many of your ministers are the real deal, beautiful souls. It is rumored that John Wesley may have been serious when he said that catchy little thing about do no harm. Sadly, a handful of your ministers do great harm by abusing power and exploiting those with less power. Those at the top of the corporate hierarchy need to remove your heads from the sands and take a hard and realistic look at who you place in churches, and then develop the courage to respond appropriately. Harm is being done by an unwell minority of ministers, and only the bishops can protect parishioners in such cases. Be brave. Be honest. Be realistic. Don’t affirm the leadership of men who crave power. But if you do, don’t pretend to care about the de-churched. Life can be tough here on earth. As for me, I seek peace. May God bless you as I go.

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    • “Don’t affirm the leadership of men who crave power.” I’ve seen it out of female ministers too 😉 Nothing plain about ya Elaine. I appreciate the additional comments! Peace and love, yo!

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  24. Gail,
    If you life near a Lifetree Café, I would encourage you to visit it. If you would like to know why I am recommending Lifetree, go to Lifetreecafe.com and check it out. The words of welcome at Lifetree Café are: “You’re welcome just as you are. Your thoughts are welcome, your doubts are welcome. We’re all in this together and God is here ready to connect with you in a fresh way.” No gimmicks, no judgments, no preaching…just an hour of conversation to feed the soul. Check it out.
    Dennis

    Like

    • Aw, Dennis… you have the sole privilege of being the only person to comment by advocating that I “try again,” which indicates that you missed the point… entirely. It also indicates, that on sheer principle, I will never look at that website. I know you mean well but you missed it, Dennis. 😦

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  25. Thank you for this, Gail. I truly do appreciate it. I got so tired of being the “church scape-goat” that I left. It was the same whether in a non-denominational church, or a regular church …. I was the one who became ostracized, especially after my husband died. I tried church after church & was always told in different ways that I wasn’t quite good enough. I finally said, “enough” and walked away. I will admit I have had peace to stay away, but there are difficult times when it would be nice to have that “church” family to back me up, but since they tended to not be there when they were needed the most … am I any worse off?

    Again, thank you for letting us all know that we are not alone!

    God bless every one!

    Like

    • Mikaea, much love to you on the grief process from your husband’s death… one of the more influential moments of my leaving church behind was how the congregation I was attending failed miserably to respond to my needs after my father died. Beliefs and politics stepped in and my grief was not well-received. Nonetheless, as much as I often miss what felt like a “church family” I find that there are so many other ways to find that community… honestly, I can’t believe how this post sparked that sense of community! It has taken me all week to respond to each comment, here in the blog, or on the Facebook pages that shared it… or in my emails… Eek!

      The bottom line is… we belong. Maybe not to a church… but… we. belong. We belong in the conversation and we belong to a community that transcends preachers and beliefs.

      Much love and blessings! Thank you for sharing here!

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  26. This post meant so much to me that I posted it on my FB page. I have had so many people who love me and even understand my journey insist that if I would only come back to Jesus and his way I would be whole again. I even have friends say things like “you are to a Christian!”. But I am not, and it wasn’t an easy decision. I spent years researching every Christian demonation, every sect, every religion that had written information I could read and ponder. I became very close to God in my journey. Getting my loved ones to understand that me and God are good without Christianity is an on going struggle. Thank you again for your article.

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    • Thanks, for connecting Michelle. This piece was a hard one to write and it’s actually being followed this Friday, with a “now what?” kind of piece, months later. I realize that the story has unfolded for me in ways I never thought possible – namely, feeling free to leave it all behind because that’s what’s best for me. The coming article brings it all together in a way that I hope reaches out to those who have felt the need to walk away. Much love to you on your chosen path!

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  27. Pingback: 5 Reasons to Lose Christianity… but Find Jesus | For Gail So Loved the World

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