The calls are ringing out loudly concerning people leaving the church. Numerous members of the church are feeling this departure from the faith. Pews that used to be filled with entire families are left empty on Sunday morning. This dropping out of the church is creating stress in our churches. People are wondering what to do. There are plenty of suggestions for solutions, but fortunately the first step is to listen to those who left. Flavil Yeakley, a well-known church growth expert, has accomplished this goal. He conducted surveys to better understand those who were once members of the churches of Christ but have left for a denominational church, a community church, or have totally given up on any type of church attendance. He powerfully presents their voices so that those who remain can listen.
The first couple of chapters of Why They Left provide a little history of the churches of Christ. This history is given in perspective of other religious groups acrossAmerica. There are numerous tables in these chapters concerning the size of other religious communities, including demographic concentrations of church members. The second chapter looks at some research on growth patterns. The author has spent a lot of his time analyzing the retention rates for members of the church who attended one of the Christian colleges associated with the churches of Christ. His results for retention were that 58.2 percent are still members of some local congregation, 21.1 percent have joined some other religious group, and 20.7 percent have no present religious affiliation. These numbers indicate that we are not losing all of our children, but we are losing over 40 percent of them.
In chapter 4, the author examines some of the classic misunderstandings of the churches of Christ. He goes into sufficient detail on noting what prevailing positions have in the past been upheld by the church. Of course, there is no ruling body or creed to which the church submits, but overall there has been solidarity on most of the weightier issues in the church. In this chapter, there are some doctrinal issues about which people who have left have disagreed, but the church will never accept these practices because they are against the principles of the word of God.
One of the most sobering chapters is on neglect. In Mr. Yeakley’s research, people who responded noted that “no one cared about them leaving.” It seemed that people left and no one checked on them. Mr. Yeakley has some strong words to members of the church about these attitudes. Often when he presents these perspectives to the members of the church, people become highly defensive. Instead of acknowledging one’s missed opportunity, church members will simply blame the one who left.
In the final chapters of the book, the author looks at various issues concerning doctrine, evangelism, and leadership. He studies the issues of divorce and remarriage, instrumental music, and the role of women. Each of these chapters is excellent for understanding the issues better and how these truths influence people who have left. One of the best chapters is on leadership. It seems from the surveys that numerous people left the church because of tyrannical leadership. The final topic is on producing guilt free evangelism. It seems that some people are turned off from the church because of the guilt that is placed on them to reach the lost. In some ways, this is just sad. We all should feel the need to reach out, though the author does give some helpful hints in doing positive evangelism.
This is a classic book that should be read by all people who love and care about the church. The book is an updated report on the health and future of our congregations.
- How to Know if You Are too far on the Right or Left
- Review “Review of “Effectiveness by Numbers”
- Review of “Eiger Dreams”
- Review of “Why Jesus”
- Review of “Building Leaders”