Steve Bremner

Author, Podcaster & Writing Coach

A Proposed Solution To Keep People From “Leaving the Church”?This post is a 7 min read

A Proposed Solution for Keeping People From -Leaving Church--My post from last week about how you can’t find the professional worship leader in the New Testament has been burning up on social media, at least at the time of writing this. I could replace “worship leader” with professionally paid pastor/expositor, and feel the result would be almost identical.

Almost without fail each time I post an article like this on “doing church” as close as we can to the biblical model and deconstructing what we are doing instead, people automatically assume a certain set of presuppositions. That’s to say, most people will only read just that one post, and not stick around long enough to find out about what we’re doing in Peru, or how we’re making disciples in our neighborhood, it’s starting to bear repeating often in my individual posts as a disclaimer or a warning:




I’m not against institutional churches. Or professional worship leaders and teams who use their talents and skills to help us experience God in gatherings together. 

I am FOR all believers coming into the experience together, and not just being passive spectators.

When you talk to the average modern-day pastor, usually they agree with my last statement in theory, but there’s various ways this it is implemented, whether for good or bad.

In his latest blog post, Done with “Sit Down and Shut Up”, Thom Schultz addresses this. Incidentally, it was a post of Schultz’s I recently re-blogged and responded with Done with Church, But Not With God which burned through my social media after seeing it re-shared many times, so it should come as little surprise that I found something else of his I needed to stop and respond to with my own thoughts.

First, he writes,

People are leaving their churches because they feel excluded. Excluded from participating in the communication of the message.

This is one of the unanticipated findings in sociologist Josh Packard’s research on the Dones–formerly active church members who have walked away from all institutional religion. These are people who have heard countless sermons. They tend to be quite biblically literate. But they grew weary, very weary, of sitting in pews, feeling muzzled, while the person on stage monopolizes every word.

In his new book Church Refugees, Packard describes Liam who left his lifelong church because he “wanted dialogue as opposed to lecture.” Rather than only passively listen to the pastor’s take on matters of faith, Liam wanted to participate somehow. He had questions. But the one-way communication format at his church would not allow for any interchange. “It was all authority and hierarchy,” he said. “And that was the final straw in getting us to leave.”

It’s the Sermon, Silly Rabbit!

Many of us fail to realize that a lot of the way our meetings are set up causes the problems Packard documents in his book (according to Schultz, since I’ve not read the book myself yet). And then when droves of people start leaving the institutional church, we blame them, instead of taking any stock in the fact we’re the ones who’ve rigged the game and cause an elite few to run the show.

Many gifted individuals tire of sitting in the pew and want to participate. To repeat Nate Marialke, in the covenant every member of the Church plays a role, and that role is not to sit passively looking at the back of the head of the person in the pew in front of them while a professional seminary grad exposits the Scriptures for us.

Schultz goes on to state,

Liam, like many others in Packard’s research, found their spiritual growth stunted without the opportunity to engage in the conversation. Jill, another of Packard’s interviewees, said, “It’s in relationships and conversations that I find God.”

Many current church leaders would say their churches accommodate conversation and give-and-take in small groups and classes. They just prohibit it during the main Sunday services. “That’s my time to do all the talking,” a pastor told me. But it’s during this prime time when people want to engage.

And,

Many church leaders can’t even imagine a sermon time that would accommodate congregational interaction. Even though Jesus frequently involved people in his teachings, and the early church likely involved everyone regularly, the current rendition of weekly church services is stuck in monologue mode.

Engaging with God and His Word Should Not Be a Spectator Sport

In the rest of the article, he goes on to give practical examples of how dialogue and interaction can be included and utilized no matter how large a meeting takes place. Though I commend him for trying to bridge the gap with the dones, he basically advocates breaking the room into smaller groups to interact with others and process what the preacher just discussed.

The solutions shared are only about tweaking the traditional church model.

So nothing really is changed that much. Whereas you can imagine, I’m an advocate of the growing house church movement that allows for significant participation in its gatherings.

Some of the comments below Schultz’s post are quite helpful and basically say the same things I would write here. One of them noted that in this ‘model’ the preacher gets to draw up the questions, and so it doesn’t allow for creativity, diversity and out-of-the-box questions and soon becomes stale and develops into a ‘program. If it were a setting where not just the pastor can answer all the questions brought up and likewise not just not the pastor can ask all the questions, then I assume we might be on to something.

Another commenter asked,

I wonder if this might be a commentary on the lackluster sermon presentations that some people are having to endure? Personally, I can’t imagine being effected the same way in a small group discussion as I can be receiving anointed, insightful teaching. They both have their place but that are not both the same.

I tend to agree.

Revivalists of old could preach for hours and hours and nobody tired of it. One is famously quoted as saying “I merely set myself on fire, and others come to watch me burn.” The problem for most “dones”, is not hearing a sermon. It’s the belief that hearing a sermon and singing songs alone constitutes discipleship or fellowship.

As a footnote, if a preacher is truly anointed, you don’t care how long they preach, trust me. I’ve sat under men who preached for nearly 3 hours, but it only felt like 20 minutes and I had to buy the tape and listen to it dozens of times because it was so rich it felt new each time I heard it. Conversely, I’ve sat under 20 minute sermons that felt like 3 hours and I never wanted to hear them again.

Pastors and professional clergy need to get over their ego. At least the ones this applies to. I say that as someone who makes a podcast, and loves writing and by default, people consume content I create at their pace and the way they want.

I know what it’s like to look at others and think “oh, they have a bigger platform than I do.”

I know what it’s like to prepare things to teach and share, and be annoyed if after having spent time preparing, something happens that causes that to change.

I know what it’s like to believe I have something important to share, but worry that the people I’m sharing it with might ask dumb questions or derail the meeting with something that challenges fundamental doctrine.

Your sermon is NOT how you are discipling followers. It’s just ONE small part of the package

But if you’re really worth your salt as a pastor or teacher, you are more interested in whatever results in growth and fruit of the disciples, and not in building your own preaching repertoire. I’m not saying this is how all pastors are, but if they are true shepherds, they will adapt and realize pastoring is about the care for their flock, and that doesn’t mean gathering a flock once per week to listen to us share a sermon they could download off of the internet while a professional rock band or jazz band performs a set that we could also just watch on YouTube.

It’s for this reason, if people truly want to participate and don’t get to, they leave and find settings where they can.

As long as pastors think that tweaking the once-per-week-under-the-steeple-meeting is the solution to the problem, they don’t understand what the problem even is.

What if I told you you don't "attend" church. You ARE the Church.

Check out Dr Stephen Crosby’s article The Nones and The Dones for more interesting thoughts on this subject.

About Steve Bremner

Steve the coffee drinker is a Canadian missionary to Peru, who is called to raise up disciples who flow in the power of the Holy Spirit within a missional community named Oikos. If you like Steve's blog, you'll also like his Kindle books. Note: this post may have contained affiliate links of which the author receives a small commission if you purchase something recommended in the post.