Obsession: A Guest Post By Duane W.H. Arnold PhD

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115 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    This really hit home with me… my tendency is to let people go…often without knowing why they left.
    I would also note that we’re obsessing about a lot of things these days…but I haven’t seen this on the list.

  2. Jean says:

    I think there’s a difference between the facade of confidence in what’s going on, and the internal obsession with what’s lost, among at least some of these institutions. The problems are defective theologies for addressing the decline.

  3. Michael says:


    Expand on that…with almost all groups in decline what theology would make a difference?

  4. Em ... again says:

    in many churches it is the theology – the sound doctrine – that is being compromised that is causing the loss – in some denominations (Presbyterian) whole congregations are withdrawing

    never the less, what an excellent post to read this morning … scattered sheep – isn’t there a scripture that addresses a timid call producing no response?

    there is much to pray for and to ponder this morning

  5. covered says:

    This is a very good article. I hate it when folks leave. My heart tells me to go to them directly and ask them why they left but I don’t. What I hate even more is when they leave and then the snubbing begins. Living in a small town we will see these folks again and when they duck down the hardware aisle or just ignore me, it really bothers me.

    This article makes me think. I don’t want to do anything that would cause anyone to leave and often I feel terrible that I offended that person.

    This I know for sure. Suggesting that people “vote with their feet” and the term “blessed subtraction” should never be how I view folks leaving. Thanks for this article. It is something to consider.

  6. Dallas says:

    I’m sure it doesn’t account for all of the losses, but there are plenty of those credit cards that weren’t “lost” at all, they were carefully cut to pieces and thrown in the trash.

  7. Michael says:


    Well said all the way through…

  8. Michael says:


    That is a fact…happens way too often.

  9. EricL says:

    So many in our society don’t miss the church at all. Jesus says we will be known by our love for one another, but we are unknown by most.

    You can’t fix this with theology or church discipline or flashier events. It will not be until they notice our love for one another that they will be attracted to us. Lord, help to love. Please, Lord.

  10. Michael says:

    “It will not be until they notice our love for one another that they will be attracted to us.”

    After my adventures on Facebook yesterday, I’d say that we’ll keep seeing decline… 🙂

  11. Owen says:

    Another thought…..just from my own experiences in my own corner of churchdom.

    Over the past years (I would say about the last 20-ish), I have seen many leave churches I was attending due to sound theology – they actually didn’t want to hear the truth. (I will quantify my use of “many” – over the period mentioned, I would estimate 50-60 people.)

    We had a recent example last year, our Pastor had to bring up a touchy subject with someone in a position of leadership over youngsters in our church, and unfortunately it did not go well. That person and their entire family are still angry with the Pastor and they left the membership.

    So I do wonder sometimes how many may be looking to have their itching ears tickled somewhere else……

  12. Dan from Georgia says:

    A bruised reed he will not break…or something like that I read in the Bible. I am sure somone out there will dismiss that verse as meaning something else other than how I am interpreting it, but I think God is saddened when someone leaves, and I believe he wants them back, but its the theological jerks in the church who say “goodbye…dont let the door hit you in the butt on your way out!”

  13. richard says:

    as the article states – all denominations, fellowships, or whatever they call themselves appear to be in membership decline. so it would appear that those lost credit cards aren’t looking for a new wallet to call home, more likely that they are fed up with where they were. so many churches, especially mega-churches, are seen as nothing more than a business – in many cases a family business, with all sorts of kin or friends on the payroll. in many cases the pastor lives in a neighborhood that most of his congregants could not, sometimes an hour drive away – who wants to live in riverside when you can live close to the beach ? as ericL stated – not much love shown. no effort to even get to know those credit cards – just take their money to run the business.
    I agree with the article that some self-reflection on the pastors part is the first thing that should take place. with some love and humility, I believe communicating with “lost” congregants can greatly benefit both parties. it’s not easy – both parties may not like what they hear. but sometimes I think we are headed towards something new – smaller congregations that I hope we will know them by their love.

  14. Duane Arnold says:

    When you’re a pastor and someone leaves, it hurts. If you love those whom you serve, you take it personally. In taking it personally, it’s easy to come up with external reasons often unrelated to the actual reason. Sometimes the reason is that we are caught up in our particular “enthusiasm” and we expect everyone to share in that “enthusiasm”. Sometimes we are simply “done” with someone. We’ve heard enough of their complaints and we almost wish they would leave. The bottom line, however, is that we hold together a congregation, or indeed, a denomination, with love. We’re not all the same. We hold different opinions on a wide variety of subjects. It is our love for Christ that translates into our love for one another that holds us together. Love is the reason for seeking out those we have lost. ICor. 13 may seem “overused”, but it is still a pretty good guide to what that love is supposed to be about.

  15. Michael says:

    So…the question that should be asked is “have we lost our first love?”

  16. Steve Wright says:

    A great topic. I do think the credit card illustration is off – we obsess about a lost card because someone can find and use it for nefarious purposes and cause us a lot of headaches.

    We should temper the “lost members” by noting that many new churches are being started and filled and so much of that “loss” is transfer. Now, a wise church will evaluate why people transfer and see if there is room for improvement but at the end of the day, the people belong to Jesus – the Shepherd – and He leads His people.

    I assume also a lot of that “loss” in those numbers in mainline denominations is due to death?

    When I was a little kid I learned on some kid education show that people a) like you for the right reasons, b) like you for the wrong reasons, c) dislike you for the right reasons, d) dislike you for the wrong reasons – and they are four very different situations that involve different perspectives in our concerns.

    People leave churches for a variety of reasons. Some should bother the church in the sense of ways to avoid it happening, some should bother but with the recognition the issue is with the person, not the church, and there just may not be anything you can do to change their mind, some should not bother the church as the loss is for a normal or legit reason, some should be celebrated (like the adulterer or wife beater who moves to another church down the street).

    One of the problems today also, about the love thing, is we are to speak the truth in love – and in our society, to some people, the truth is unloving by their own definition. Period. No matter how presented, you are unloving in holding to the truth in the first place.

  17. Michael says:


    Every demographic survey shows that Christendom is bleeding members…people aren’t just transferring, they’re leaving.

  18. Steve Wright says:

    To be clear, one does not celebrate the adultery or wife beating. Nor does one celebrate that a new church down the street is more than happy (or unknowing) to receive such an unrepentant person. Hopefully, my rep here makes that point already, but thought I would say it anyway.

  19. Duane Arnold says:

    For Steve Wright –

    For some denominations loss is partially connected statistically with aging and death. That being said, it also points to the even higher statistical loss of the younger members of the families of those who are aging. The loss in this category is catastrophic.

  20. richard says:

    Michael, I don’t know if they left their first love – Jesus, but perhaps that second commandment that Jesus spoke of – “love your neighbor”

  21. Michael says:


    I’ve always believed that real love on the vertical plane always results in love on the horizontal plane…

  22. Steve Wright says:

    I don’t discount that younger Americans are not joining churches to the same degree that younger Americans in the past did.

    However, the demographic issue is a major one. How many of the multiple millions of aborted children might be in churches now, replacing those dying off?

    And I do not think CC Costa Mesa (or any CC for that matter) and the eyeball test does justice to the issue that multiple new, non-membership keeping evangelical/community/nondenominational churches are pulling a larger percentage of those younger adults who do go to church.

    We’ve lost plenty of people over the years to churches basically like ours, but better/different in some way, and yet these churches did not even exist years ago.

    I don’t want my comments though, offered to present a little balance and perspective from someone who lives this, to be misleading.

    I join with covered, very bothered when people leave the church and I don’t know why, and we are in process of making some changes so that we can better followup with such people – which is always a challenge in a larger, nonmembership, church.

  23. EricL says:

    How can a church learn to love and to live in community? I think these are the two areas where most Americans are poverty-stricken. We don’t lack in wealth or possessions, but have few real friends. Selfies are fun to take, but when you are in your rocking chair at the old age home, will you find much comfort looking through decades of photos of yourself?

    So how can a church rise up from that poverty to become rich in its love for the Lord and for each other? How can a church learn to live in community with one another? When we learn this we will become so much more interesting the lost world around us.

  24. richard says:

    on a side note, Michael, the Washington post has an article on a book you’ve been recommending


  25. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    I just wonder how many people in times past went to church for the entertainment value. Not just the glitzy stuff we see today, but there was nothing else to do – TV and radio being limited – people would go to hear a sermon, sing in the choir, join with others for meals or work on social programs. All things that do not require you to be religious.

    Now, 50 yrs later – you can do all of that and not have to get up early on a Sunday morning.

    I think I have said a couple of times here – we are not going to get the millennials, they do not join and I used the Angie’s List example as they now do not charge to see their service, because they saw that millennials do not join anything and will definitely not pay to join — churches included.

    We can look back to the good old days – but they weren’t. To look at the upside, perhaps today we have a greater percentage of wheat to tares in our congregations. Maybe, just maybe it has become easier for tares to leave.

  26. richard says:

    I agree Michael – true vertical love should result in horizontal as well. but it doesn’t seem to be working that way in many churches. perhaps that’s why Jesus had to point out two greatest commandments.

  27. Cash says:

    We know we should seek to save the lost…but what about brethren who are injured in some way? The Parable of the lost sheep comes to mind. He will leave the 99 and go search for the lost one. That is His heart. It should be our hearts also.

  28. Em ... again says:

    church attendance in this nation in times past was a societal custom to a degree – look at our movies of mid century last and you will see an overriding assumption that good people went to church and clerics were God fearing …
    i think it is safe to say that popular music, the theater, movie productions and now TV are the bow wave that the whole ship follows … who authors what we read? which comes first the writing or the demand? i’ve never been able to produce one, but they tell me that a small snowball rolling downhill is much larger by the time it hits bottom … dunno … just don’t know
    enjoy Christ, enjoy the real Reality

  29. Michael says:


    I reposted that on Facebook this morning.
    It’s the single most important research we should be looking at…and it shows why we have to be really intentional about doing all we can to retrieve wandering sheep.

  30. Michael says:

    “Selfies are fun to take, but when you are in your rocking chair at the old age home, will you find much comfort looking through decades of photos of yourself?”

    EricL, my church was speaking of this last night.
    It’s an older group and they were glad that if they lost a spouse they would still have a “family”.
    I’m not sure how you could replicate this in a larger group,but we need to figure it out…

  31. Steve Wright says:

    My experience as a pastor is that those who leave church who are hurting, AND who STILL want to be part of that same fellowship and just waiting for someone to reach out to them to make amends, is definitely in the minority.

    I know it is easy to bag on churches and their leaders, but there are a lot of people who really have an apathetic attitude to church attendance and (as MLD has properly noted) especially if that attendance involves a greater commitment of accountability/service/membership.

    Maybe some of that is technology (I listen to studies at home) maybe some the cultural change and how it not “necessary” for networking purposes to be in church on Sunday or otherwise “identify” as Christian.

    Maybe some of it is the largeness of the world (how many people are going to run into someone during the week who says “Hey, didn’t see you in church on Sunday”), or the largeness of some churches where one can sit in the back and not be seen/missed.

    However, I bristle a little at the constant “unloving” charges constantly tossed at Christ’s bride. Most every church I have ever even visited once, had plenty of smiling faces, greeters, handshaking, and other efforts to make people feel welcome. Especially for someone who chose to show up for a few weeks in a row, and was willing to offer their own hand and say, hello.

    And if one’s experience is a terrible, unloving church, then God knows there are plenty of alternatives within a few miles radius.

  32. Em ... again says:

    my grandmother’s favorite hymn was “Ninety and Nine” … thought about posting a link, but it is old and draggy and wouldn’t sell to today’s church crowd, i guess
    once upon a time church WAS about sheep and shepherding, not about head-count …

    i once found myself at gathering of pastors in a large city… the conversation all around me was about head-count – that “butts in the seats” thing…i recalled that night this morning and, as it did then, it struck me as sad and strange …
    it’s one thing to cast a wide net in hopes of a few good fish, but what happens to those good fish? left to flop around with the bait fish? errr something … dunno 🙂

  33. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Em brings up the point of how we used to “seem”. I just wonder how much of society was Christian vs just goodies (people trying to be good just in case there was a God.)

    Have you ever noticed in the old movies, all the sermons or Bible readings were Old Testament stuff. You never heard a New Testament sermon being preached – (at funerals, they may have made the sign of the cross – but the sermons would never mention Jesus Christ by name — and I think the people liked it that way.

    As Em said, there was a time you had to go to church to be respectable, whether you believed anything or not. In today’s society, folks have been released from this bondage – your employer doesn’t care if you belong to a church or not.

  34. covered says:

    Michael, I think that your #30 is spot on regarding family. We are wrapping up the Book of Philippians and like no other letter in the N.T., this letter seems to be about family. We can’t stress enough that church has to be about family as much as teaching God’s word and trying to live a life that is pleasing to Christ.

    We have very few “rules” but one that we will never back away from is clicks. No one is excluded from a function because of money or social status. Not only that, we intentionally seek out those who I know are struggling financially and encourage them to serve. So far the result has been that other’s sense a need and they take care of it like a family should.

    Here’s something else that I am sure will bother some here but we allow kids to sit in service during worship and we bring all kids in 1st grade and older to receive communion with the adults. What has happened is that the kids are learning how to be still during “big church”, and they all learn how to take communion as a family.

    So, do these things noted above keep people from leaving? No, but folks know that all are welcome to come and hopefully feel loved when they do.

  35. Em ... again says:

    i don’t think i was ever in a church that didn’t have a little cadre who lurked, looking for victims… those folk who didn’t belong in “their” church…
    they showed up even good churches and usually the pastor was completely unaware of his behind the scenes police … but isn’t that true almost everywhere in society? shouldn’t be infecting a church, but it’s there, also … not sure how they can be reformed…

  36. Michael says:

    “Here’s something else that I am sure will bother some here but we allow kids to sit in service during worship and we bring all kids in 1st grade and older to receive communion with the adults. What has happened is that the kids are learning how to be still during “big church”, and they all learn how to take communion as a family.”

    That is as it should be…I wouldn’t go anywhere that did otherwise…

  37. Em ... again says:

    “Not only that, we intentionally seek out those who I know are struggling financially and encourage them to serve.”
    AMEN that is wonderful… i recall a family – not in anyway “downtrodden” – second generation owners of a family business – Jimmy Carter’s administration killed the business and these folk, now in dire financial straights, quietly *donated* their time to the janitorial duties of their fairly large church, saving the dollars allocated to hiring help … a dignified pair cleaning toilets and the kitchen after hours when nobody knew? as unto the Lord – He who saw in private rewards openly as the pastor’s own kids went off the rails, this couple’s sons remained devoted to the Faith… as a parent, what greater reward than that

  38. Dallas says:

    In my experience most of the people that I hear complaining about the church and leadership are far from apathetic, otherwise you would think they would just quietly disappear.

    More often than not it seems the finger so quick to point at the apathetic lazy people who won’t show up at their church is connected to an overbearing leader who is chasing people out the door.

  39. Steve Wright says:

    Dallas, as I am sure many here would affirm, there are a LOT of Christians that do not make church attendance a priority. I said “apathetic attitude towards church attendance” and gave multiple reasons why this might be the case today. I never used the word, lazy, nor was “apathetic” used in connection to their faith commitment or general character – just Sunday attendance.

    There are many, many people who consider our church their church home. They have not been “chased out the door”. Nor are they bouncing around to other churches from week to week looking for love. And they certainly do not skip because of a lack of love here – it’s about the one thing people say we have going for us (it sure is not our location or facilities)

    But the fact is that some people come maybe once or twice a month. Some come for a few weeks in a row, then do not show for awhile, then return. This is true in all churches, more so the larger (and easier) to do so.

    I have spent eight years on this blog, regularly criticizing abusive church leadership – posting under my name and church. However, sometimes a pastoral point of view is warranted to point out an alternative side in what can become a one-sided discussion.

    It is not adversarial in nature to present that pastoral side and experience. All pastors at one time were congregants and have experienced church from that side of the pew. Not all congregants have experienced church from the side of the pulpit and/or leadership.

    We all have our own experiences and the easiest thing to do is blanket everyone with those experiences. Some people leave churches for very good reasons, and a pox on those churches who could care less….but not everyone does so, I assure you.

  40. Steve Wright says:

    I’ll close with this. When Cash poured his/her heart out on this blog with that article a few weeks back about why he/she does not go to church on Sundays – that was NOT someone apathetic about church attendance. In fact, if memory serves, the desire to find a church home was strong and hoped for in the future.

    I have no doubt Cash’s story resonates with a lot of Christians who have left churches. And any pastor or elder who ignores this reality is making a great error. To be dismissive of such people is not to model Christ or His love. I say that will all the sincerity possible through a keyboard.

    However, the flip side of that coin is this. If one proclaims that ALL the people who leave churches must have reasons similar or as weighty as Cash’s story, that too would be an error. It just is not the case, especially in these days and this culture.

    My wife and I have made the decision to leave two churches “for cause” in our lifetime (out of the five we have been a part of over 23 years). However, in each case we were visiting another church the next week. I know a few people who have given a reason why they stopped coming here (not related to being somehow mistreated or uncared for) but the thing is, this reason that was big enough to get them to leave their home church of many years was apparently not reason enough to get them going to a new church. So something else is going on obviously, but no matter how hard those in leadership reach out, love on, and encourage them, they choose to stay away. You can’t force people to go to church or to tell you what is really going on as to why they left.

  41. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    I think I may be agreeing with a couple of Steve’s posts if I understand him correctly – many if not most people leave the church on their own and for their own selfish reasons. So many folks rejected church all their life, were coerced into going and joining a church and then after the inital buzz wears off and they are asked to be a serious part of the body, well it’s easier to just move on. This is not to discount people who leave for legitimate causes and for those the church should be ashamed.

    I shared this before that my church went searching for the missing. We had a list of those one the membership rolls that we knew were no longer attending and tried to track down those still living at the same address.

    There were 40 of us who visited (or at least knocked on doors like good Mormons would) to speak to the people to see if we could get them back. I don’t remember that an of the people my wife and I spoke with (probably 20) who blamed the church – most admitted they go lax, lazy and lost focus on going to church – some joined other churches like Saddleback at the invitation of friends.

    One other point – the parables of at least the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coins is not about us seeking the lost or obsessing over what we have lost – they are about repentance of sinners.

  42. Duane Arnold says:

    At one point, I “supplied” a church for a year. I showed up only on Sunday. There were about a dozen people left from what had been a congregation of about 150. The previous incumbent, waiting to retire, had simply stopped caring during his last several years. I did not gather that he was abusive or overbearing. People simply drifted away. During the year that I filled in, I did nothing extraordinary. I came early on Sunday. I tried to be nice to the ladies in the altar guild and the ushers. I attempted to have a reasonable sermon prepared, celebrated Communion with reverence, greeted people after the service, went to coffee hour and in the afternoon did a couple of calls at the hospital and nursing home. That was it. After several months the church had about a 120 in attendance. Again, I did nothing extraordinary. It was the basics of pastoral care and a good number of people came back.

    I think many here probably have similar stories. It taught me a lesson about “doing the basics” as a way to show people that you care. I don’t think that people are “chased out the door”, except in some extreme cases. I do think, and have seen, however, that there are churches where the “basics” are no longer practiced, especially in certain denominational circles.

  43. Steve Wright says:

    Dr. Arnold,

    Care to elaborate some more on your story? Specifically, what did you do differently than the prior pastor who “stopped caring” – given you just showed up on Sunday?

    Did he not have a reasonable sermon, not celebrate Communion with reverence, or greet people etc.

  44. Duane Arnold says:


    Without casting judgement on the previous incumbent, he had been there a number of years and I think the church and the people involved became “wallpaper” – i.e. taken for granted. He’d talk with people if he felt like it, but no longer went out of his way to engage. Again, I have to say, this is what I heard second hand, so to speak.

    In my article I used the word “obsessed” in relationship to the lost credit card. I probably could have used other words in looking at the Biblical parables – they all seem to end with rejoicing because the participants were passionate and/or diligent in seeking out or welcoming back that which seemed to be lost. In the case of my story, I’d have to turn to Michael’s comment about what happens when we lose our first love…

  45. passin through says:

    #43 #44

    It’s called phoning it in.

  46. Steve Wright says:

    Thank you Dr. Arnold,

    Without obviously being able to comment intelligently on your personal experience, I do think one reality in our day is the “newness” factor. Something (or someone) different.

    One of the challenges in our culture is we are a people looking for something “new”, constantly. How many people actually wait until their phone stops working to replace it with the newer model? How many years were we content to just have Oreos, then double stuff Oreos. But now? There are dozens of varieties of Oreos that just seemed to show up overnight. Look at Doritos, Snickers bars, flavors of Coke etc. Super popular TV shows have a run of a few years and people get bored and tune in elsewhere. (And yeah, the writers and cast often are in coast mode too – like some churches).

    Is it possible (some) people take this mindset to church too? Is it possible the “newness” factor contributes as much if not more in terms of people moving from one church to another – not newness in a change in doctrinal beliefs (though that happens as MLD and Xenia bear witness in their lives) but just newness in the church? Hearing a different guy in the pulpit and getting to know him, his background and stories etc.

    I’ve encountered a lot of people over the years who simply say “We started going over to church X” and there literally seems to be no reason for the switch except to “check it out”. New place, new musicians and songs, new people, new pastor and new sermon style etc.

    Now, to be very clear, this comment should in no way be seen as indifferent to Dr. Arnold or his care and pastoring of God’s people. I am NOT saying that anyone new would have had the same results, no matter their commitment to the people. His experience just prompted the comment – but is not a commentary on his experience.

    But I do speak a little from my own experience in this matter, and what I found to be true, given the circumstances of how I became the pastor here several years ago.

  47. Steve Wright says:

    On phoning it in…

    I went to a non-CC church for awhile where the sermon was always from a random text and one thing I noticed pretty clearly was the pastor had two types of sermons. One where he never looked at notes, moved around the stage a lot etc. The other which was clearly written beforehand, and he was basically reading – sticking to the script (and the pulpit where the notes were).

    Now, I don’t know which of the two represented preparation and which was phoning it in (because the scripted sermon very well could have been from years prior – as there never were any relevant illustrations etc.). On the other hand, the scripted sermon might speak to great preparation that week and the other times he was just winging it for Jesus sake.

    I don’t know.

    I do know it is one more instance of how teaching through the text of Scripture, chapter by chapter, solves a problem for the pastor. Each week the material is right there to study, and then deliver – and each week is different. As each chapter in the Bible is different.

    If I had to come up with my own sermon ideas each week, I would be well into repeats by now I am sure. 🙂 I’m just not that creative or original. 🙂

  48. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Whatever Dr Arnold did in his year as a pulpit supply pastor was good. Raising a declining church from 12 to 120 is honorable and through it all we must remember the work of the holy spirit.

    But no matter how small the church, if the word is being preached, baptisms occur and the Lord’s Supper is regularly serve – this church is 100% sucessful. Now how they pay the bills is another story, but that is not the purpose of church.

    So at the bottom, at 12 they were church.

  49. Duane Arnold says:


    An excellent point… we are caught up with the “new” in our society. There is, however, a case for consistent pastoral care in terms of retention and returning congregants.

    Also agree with MLD… at 12, they were still church.

    I still go back, however, to the issue of loss. It is an important part of our mission that, in my thinking, is passed over too quickly these days. Again, just my opinion.

    BTW, please call me Duane… we’re all equal here!

  50. Steve Wright says:

    There is, however, a case for consistent pastoral care in terms of retention and returning congregants.
    Amen. And I agree with MLD about the blessing of being part of raising back up a congregation as you were used there…

    I remember in a church planting/evangelism class in seminary, one of our books was filled with case studies of older, established churches that had a dramatic turnaround in attendance. One thing I recall is that of all the churches studied that could claim such a thing, the majority of them involved pastoral change and so were excluded from the discussion. They sought to focus only on churches with that change and basically the same leadership over many years. As it was quite rare.

  51. Steve Wright says:

    But no matter how small the church, if the word is being preached, baptisms occur and the Lord’s Supper is regularly serve – this church is 100% sucessful. Now how they pay the bills is another story, but that is not the purpose of church.

    So at the bottom, at 12 they were church.
    MLD and I are agreeing too much today…

    Plus he is describing my first pastorate. 🙂

  52. Jean says:

    One description of a church is a hospital for sinners. It’s almost a cliché

    “And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    However, if that’s what the church is, then you must ask yourself at your church:

    (1) Do you have any healed people there? If so, then what is church for them? A training center?

    (2) Can a church be a hospital and a training center at the same time? Can a church serve both groups?

    I will lay my cards on table by stating that there are no healed people – there are only forgiven sinners, no better or worse than any other sinner. A faithful pastor will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Otherwise, you will bread hypocrites and factions and drive away the broken hearted.

  53. Em ... again says:

    the hospital cliche is an old one now, but i think it is misleading…
    in our Lord’s day a physician attended the sick more than likely where he lived, did they not?… today’s hospitals (and churches) are hospitality and money making institutions

    funny, but true story: a few years ago i had my gall bladder removed about 5 in the evening, went home afterwards and about 7:30 the next morning i was awakened by a phone call from the hospital inquiring as to whether i was satisfied with the care i’d received the day before – that was all – a short list of “on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate….”

  54. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Why would the church be compared to a hospital? All of the inhabitants of the church are people who have already been raised from the dead – John 5:24

    btw, this is the 1st resurrection.

  55. Em ... again says:

    gotta say… i have no problem with MLD’s interpreting btw in his #54 as suits his theology – but when and if we get to Rev 20:5 and its surrounds, i’m just not going to be here to comment – one way or another 🙂

  56. Erunner says:

    I’m curious about church membership. How old is old enough to become one? If the age is lower than college age I imagine many leave to in a sense find their own way. Either way when kids go off to college many seem to leave the church all together. I don’t know how this does or doesn’t factor into the numbers shared in the article.

    A church we attended for a spell was non denominational with a membership option. It seemed quite a few never became members so I don’t know how you account for those who aren’t members who end up leaving.

    Being once more in a CC what I see a bit of are folks who attend either the Sunday or midweek service but not both. What they do is split their time between two churches. I always found that odd and imagine these are the ones who simply disappear after a time. Maybe they found a third church and dropped one of the previous two?

    Another reason I believe many/some leave a church is when the pastor leaves or retires. Their attendance was due to their attraction to the teaching style or personality of that pastor. This doesn’t just happen in mega churches.

    Finally I believe that for some a small congregation is a sign of failure on some level and also a sign there isn’t going to be enough offered to keep the entire family involved. Also, I believe many seek to avoid the intimacy a small congregation offers. It’s easier to not be noticed while very easy to be missed.

    Also there are times you walk into a small church and you’re overwhelmed by the attention you receive as it appears you’re a fish on the hook and they aren’t about to let you go!

    Especially in Evangelical/non-denominational churches you’ll find yourself in a high school gym and then maybe renting space at a larger church. This can keep attendance down as folks like the security/luxury of owning your own building and church time isn’t limited by the hosting church. At times people leave for the larger church with their own building and more activities to offer.

    When Duane noted how the church he served grew to the size it did although by no means huge I’ve attended churches where hitting 100 people would be huge, even after existing for 10-20 years.

    Thanks for the article Duane.

  57. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    The beauty of Revelation if read as it was meant to be read retells all of redemptive history in a repetitious way.
    Rapture theology literally (pun intended) forces the reader to miss this.

    If you read 20:5 and 6 together it is an exact description of John 5:24

  58. Josh the Baptist says:

    As long as 1,000 years doesn’t really mean anything.

  59. Erunner says:

    wrong thread MLD???

  60. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    It does mean something – it is the rule and reign of Jesus today.

    Here is our difference about the return of Jesus – I say Jesus is coming from his throne – you say Jesus is coming to claim his throne… and that is a huge difference.

  61. Erunner says:

    never mind…. i just read your 54 MLD. carry on!!

  62. Duane Arnold says:

    #56 Erunner

    Size, location, facility, etc. all play their part in retention and loss. I think, however, that church is meant to be relational rather than spectator oriented. The ability to “funnel” new congregants into smaller groups – home Bible studies, ushers, altar guild, singles group, etc. – is an art, but when accomplished has numerous benefits… including retention. It also allows for others, not merely the pastor, to note when someone is “missing” and to reach out to them, often with much greater effect.

  63. Michael says:

    Duane @ 62… that’s gold.

    However, I think there is a lot of resistance to change…even resistance to believing the numbers about the shrinking of Christendom.

  64. Josh the Baptist says:

    Love how when MLD is slightly challenged, he throws out all sort of goofiness against who ever he perceives the threat.

    MLD – I believe what the Bible says, that Jesus is on His throne at the right hand of the Father.

    You posted two verses and said they were the same. One of them talked about reigning with Christ for 1,000 years, one didn’t. If you delete 1,000 year part, your comparison works. Otherwise, we have to figure out why 1,000 years equals at least 2,000 years.

  65. Michael says:

    We’ll argue about eschatology on another thread…

  66. Josh the Baptist says:

    I’m just replying to MLD’s claim that the verse in John is the same as the verses in Revelation. I’m not concerned with his eschatology.

    As far as people leaving the church, I think a small percentage of it is our fault and we should do everything we can to keep them.

    I think most of it come down to the changing culture, and like Michael says, we’re just going to have to learn to be people in exile.

  67. Michael says:

    I think it’s more than a little our fault.
    If I’m going to be honest, if I didn’t pastor a church, I don’t believe I would attend one here in the valley.
    I’ve never felt so outside the mainstream of Christendom in my life.
    I want the boy to have a habit of being in the community of faith,but I don’t know what will happen to him and his faith after I’m gone…

  68. Jean says:

    There are two things that churches do that burn people out:

    1) Changing things on purpose to keep people off balance. I had a local mega pastor tell me that to keep people’s attention, you have to surprise them with something new or different constantly, or they get board. Our world is full of surprizes. Where can we go to for stability?

    2) Turn Christianity into a constant to do list. We spend all week doing; where can we go to “receive” God’s gifts and His rest?

  69. Josh the Baptist says:

    Well, therein lies the problem: our pastors don’t even think church attendance is crucial to Christian life.

  70. Michael says:


    I do believe it’s crucial…but I also believe nothing is more damaging to faith than ending up in the wrong church.

  71. Michael says:

    The only place I’m sure that he would hear the Gospel every week is at one of the traditional Lutheran churches…where he would be fenced from the table.

    He will not attend a CC or one of the multitude of CC knockoffs…and that’s primarily what we have here.

  72. Duane Arnold says:


    Agreed. People don’t want to believe the numbers. I did a presentation for the governing board of a denomination last year. I used their very own statistics. After the presentation, I was asked, “Don’t you just think that this is just a 30 year slump and things will eventually improve?” A friend told me that the look of incredulity on my face was priceless…

    I understand what you mean about feeling outside the mainstream. We’ve all read the church growth books… bought the t-shirt… attended the seminars… and a lot of us are DONE! That being said, I think that the hope for the Church comes from the “outliers” and renegades. I always remember Athanasius – exiled five times, accused of every crime in the book, but, by staying true he eventually set the Church on a proper course…

  73. Josh the Baptist says:

    I do think the changing culture, like MLD spoke about, is the main contributor the the declining numbers. Again, we do hurt people, and should take that seriously and be responsible for our actions.
    However, 20-30 years ago kids didn’t play soccer on Sunday mornings. Now they do. Our culture simply shifted, and now, we get to be the church instead of a place for social gathering.

  74. Michael says:


    Love the Athanasius example.
    The theme I use in my book is one of exile.
    Our problem is in gathering the exiles…

  75. Michael says:


    I can only speak for myself and my own circle of influence…the culture has nothing to do with it.

  76. Josh the Baptist says:


  77. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    “The only place I’m sure that he would hear the Gospel every week is at one of the traditional Lutheran churches…where he would be fenced from the table.”

    But that is easily remedied. Wouldn’t you rather he hear the truth and wait on the supper than be tossed to the theological dogs and eat at will at a false table?

  78. Michael says:


    Some of the most faithful believers I know will not step foot in a church anymore.
    The politicalization of the church and the empire building in particular are the primary reasons they give me.
    I talk to a lot of people outside the camp…and it’s not about soccer…

  79. Michael says:


    I’m really wrestling with this as I consider the table very important.
    However, it’s just as important…maybe more important for him…that he hears the undiluted Gospel and forgiveness of sin pronounced every week.
    He hears that in our church without fail…but I fear for when I’m gone.
    A lot…

  80. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    If I was in a place where I could not get the supper as I think it should be presented I would abstain … even if it was years.

  81. Michael says:

    My view on the supper isn’t that different from Lutheranism…I just can’t heartily affirm it. Maybe T will…

  82. Duane Arnold says:


    I remain cautiously hopeful. God has a strange way of raising up obscure people and movements that prove to be game changers:
    – A merchant’s son from Assisi who gives everything away…
    – An Augustinian friar from a provincial German university…
    – A failed missionary priest who returns to Aldersgate…
    – Even a Foursquare pastor from Costa Mesa!
    As we wait in hope, we just have to do the good that we can in the place we’ve been given to serve and try to gather in the exiles and the lost…

  83. Michael says:

    Amen, Duane…I need those reminders…

  84. Steve Wright says:

    I coached a little league team right when I got out of college and we had the need to schedule a tiebreaker game, but still try to fit it within the upcoming playoff schedule and someone suggested playing on Sunday and it was dismissed immediately. This was around 1990 – when I played youth baseball in the mid to late 70s I never played (or practiced) on Sundays.

    I understand that each local community sets their schedules and the National LL Assoc has no say in them so I went online to look up my old hometown and sure enough, they now schedule games on Sundays.

    One only has to look at the change in the blue laws around this country (and remember that businesses that used to close now have to have workers manning the shop) to recognize the cultural shift in this country.

    The Rose Parade avoiding Sundays, and Chick-Fil-A closing all day are now notable exceptions when that used to be the norm in this country.

    I have many MANY congregants who often are working on Sundays. And many others who don’t only because they have the tenure that they can schedule Sunday as their off day.

  85. London says:

    A few weeks ago Cash wrote a terrific article about why he/she doesn’t attend church. That article got me to thinking and writing (for myself) about why I don’t attend church either.

    What I think I’m coming to realize through that exercise is that my lack of church attendance has more to do with my being an introvert than anything else. Most of the time, church becomes an energy drain rather than something that refreshes or sustains me in any meaningful fashion.

    Ever since Cash wrote that post, I’ve been contemplating how to nurture my own spirituality in ways that work best for me. Journaling about times that I was engaged and excited about spiritual activities has helped me identify what matters to me and how best to include those things in my spiritual life.

    Thanks Cash!

  86. Steve Wright says:

    Good grief in the tiny Oklahoma town in the middle of rural nothing-ville (where my family has roots) population 5000 or so there is about 20 churches of multiple denominations. My jaw drops driving around that little cow pasture place at all the churches (many much nicer looking than ours here in LE).

    Politics and mega-church complaints aside, there are multiple church options for anyone who actually WANTS to be in one. All the more in most places of the country where a car makes a church in the neighboring town a very realistic possibility.

    Of course assuming this hypothetical person is not the type that is looking to bail the moment one sentence of a sermon is disagreeable, or the moment one person in the congregation is not “friendly” to them some Sunday. Or the moment one announcement rubs them wrong.

    There are churches of every size and “flavor” out there, every form of church government, every doctrinal stance….yeah, maybe one’s personal wish list forces them to accept only 4 out of their top 5 desires of their perfect church…

    Imagine if the Christians being reached and converted by the missionaries of the faith throughout the unchurched nations of the world had the same demanding set of criteria before they could worship with the brethren on Sundays.

    Even in India I once spent a Sunday preaching at four different churches through the day. And I mean DIFFERENT churches, not just in location. Different in every way, shape and form. They all accepted me as their guest speaker, they all had different challenges and issues (which I was briefed on), they all loved Jesus and worshipped Him.

    We have it so incredibly good in this country, are so truly blessed, we have no idea.

  87. Steve Wright says:

    My reply crossed with London’s so I just want to remind of a point I made earlier where I praised Cash’s article and how it no doubt did minister to many.

    I don’t want anyone to think my post 86 is in reply to London

  88. London says:

    No worries.

    I was writing more for my own benefit, and to thank Cash, than anyone else’s anyway.

  89. Em ... again says:

    #57- way back up there…
    surprisingly, if one takes what seems literal to be literal, it doesn’t destroy the ability to see the harmony and the patterns and the repeating of the patterns one bit… but this need for figurative interpretations to fit one’s theology of choice doesn’t bother me… i just won’t stand aside and accept it as infallible…

    i think my side’s interpretation is infallible, tho 🙂

    no, i don’t… but it’s closer IMO

  90. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Em – I will take this over to Open Blogging – we can discuss 😉

  91. Josh the Baptist says:

    Michael, of course the people that you speak to were the ones hurt by the church. They are important, and we should be listening to them and try to fix those situations.

    They are a very small percentage of the larger numbers that aren’t coming to church. Most were part of the cultural facade of American Christianity. When the culture shifted, so did they.

  92. Em ... again says:

    MLD, i hadn’t read the comment thread yet this morning – my replies/observations were in response to a statement you’d made as a footnote to your #54 … i’ll decline the invitation, but thank you for considering such a discussion with me worth your time

  93. Josh the Baptist says:

    But yes, I totally agree that politics and ambition are huge problems for the church.

  94. Michael says:


    Church is difficult for introverts…as soon as they say “greet the people around you” I’m ready to go…

  95. Michael says:


    I don’t believe that.
    I believe there are large numbers who don’t reject the church per se,but do reject the culture of American evangelicalism.
    I would be one of those if anything happened to our church

  96. Josh the Baptist says:

    Why aren’t those people swarming to liturgical churches?

  97. Frank says:

    The bottom, reassuring, line is that in all this mess God is both in control and glorified. The reasons people leave a church are as many as the hairs on our head, and unless you are nearing baldness, or going gray, rarely missed.
    The “why” is the isdue, whether it be the person(s), leadership, or some combination of both. Last I checked , it’s tough to be in relationships with people when you don’t know, or care to know their name or story. Too many, in my opinion/experiences, “churches” are nothing more than a country or social club. Too busy on trying to get bigger, or into more locations, then rightly serving those who are faithful. This is a real issue that ain’t going to likely get any better anytime soon. IMHO.

  98. Michael says:


    Liturgical churches tend to expect compliance with a given confession and will be limited to those who do affirm them.
    Also, many who grew up in non denoms aren’t aware of what is out there and have heard for years that these are “dead” churches.
    There is also a question at times of availability…we would be in an Anglican church today if there were one here from the North American confession…

  99. Josh the Baptist says:

    That isn’t being fed-up with American Evangelicalism, that is exactly American Evangelicalism. To say, “I’m going to do it my way or no way at all”, is exactly what American Evangelicalism is.

  100. Michael says:


    You can look at it that way…or you can say that if it’s not done right,there’s no point in doing it at all.

  101. Michael says:

    I would never join a non denom here…and the choices become very limited after that.

  102. Josh the Baptist says:

    It has never been done right, and will never be done right as long as humans are involved.

  103. Michael says:

    I disagree.
    There are always going to be problems, but not necessarily insurmountable ones.
    I actually have a very short list of non negotiables…

  104. Josh the Baptist says:

    How can you disagree with that? Where is that church who is doing it right?!? Why haven’t we all moved there yet?

  105. Josh the Baptist says:

    AND!!!! There has never been a single church that wasn’t plagued with the same issues we struggle against today.

    I don’t get it.

  106. Michael says:

    I can disagree easily.
    MLD and Jean believe their church is doing it right and for them, it is.
    We think we’ve got it right for us in our church…and for us,we are.
    I’ve been in places or watched services where I believe it was in line with what I believe biblically.

  107. Josh the Baptist says:

    That’s just individualistic “Me and my bible” Christianity. American Evangelicalism!

    Have it your way, Burger King used to say.

  108. Duane Arnold says:


    In reading the comments, there is so much that is helpful. Yes, the culture has shifted, but in the beginning most of us were attracted to churches that were counter-cultural. It makes me wonder if we lost something along the way. Yes, some churches were “the country club at prayer” in the 50s – 80s, but very few are today. The mainline denominations actually have tried to incorporate evangelical elements… note the “praise bands” in UMC, Presbyterian, Episcopal, etc. churches.

    It seems to me that in addition to the people we have lost, we have also lost something… Not sure what to call it – our “cutting edge”… our “mojo”…

    Our maybe we have forgotten our first experiences as we came to faith. In the end, it is our passion for the Gospel and our desire to live out our faith that will attract people. I think it is also our love for people that might keep them…

  109. Josh the Baptist says:

    ” our “cutting edge”… our “mojo”…”

    Duane – I’ve been calling it “the fire” for the last year. I agree, we’ve lost it.

  110. Michael says:


    Unless you want to return to the choice between Rome and the East there is going to be a measure of individualism.

    What is important to me is a clear,consistent presentation of the Gospel.
    A sacramental view of the table and baptism.
    A heart for each other and the world that is rooted in the love of Christ.
    A desire to be uniquely a community inside a community.

  111. Josh the Baptist says:

    3 of those 4 are subjective. I’m sure all churches in America claim those.

    I would guess there are tons of sacramentalist churches out there.

  112. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Just as I agreed with Steve yesterday, I must also agree with Josh. The church is always in cultural flux and dealing with how to get “their mojo” back.

    Finney is the perfect example of this. As the country expanded west into the frontier, people gave up church as not important enough to make time for. Finney put together his shtick of fire, brimstone and the decision making that would be checked up on by the next circuit rider – churches bloom so the folks could stay good Christian folks between traveling evangelists.

    The Lutheran Churches that are confession have the exact problems all churches do retaining members. Non confession, like the ELCA have given up the faith in favor of a gay Buddhism type religion – so they don’t count any longer 🙂

  113. Steve Wright says:

    Well….another reason churches lose people is repeated, sustained falsehoods plastered online. And too many people eagerly violating the Lord’s commands against judging without knowledge and believing whatever they read.

    Once more, let me express my admiration for this blog’s owner, Michael, for making effort to research both sides of the stories he covers before he publishes to the world.

    Steve Wright
    Senior Pastor Calvary Chapel Lake Elsinore

  114. Dallas says:

    I missed way too much of this conversation to be specific, but I wanted to thank Michael and London for a number of comments that I found encouraging.

  115. Michael says:

    Thanks, Steve.

    By the way…if any of you have any questions about the former pastor of CC Lake Elsinore and how he has been treated…by all means contact me.

    Things are not always as they are Facebooked…and sometimes they’re damnable lies.

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