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The Most Dangerous Thing a Christian Can Do

The Most Dangerous Thing a Christian Can Do

It was one of those little pieces of information that helped clarify so much in my mind, that described through data what I had seen with my own eyes and experienced in my own ministry. It is a piece of information we all ought to be aware of and one we all ought to consider. It warns us that one of the most innocent things a Christian does may also be one of the most dangerous.

Ryan Burge and Paul Djupe spent two years conducting a large and comprehensive study of people who have “dechurched”—who once faithfully attended church but now no longer do. The results were published in The Great Dechurching and were widely reported in a host of media outlets. In one article, the authors list some common misconceptions about dechurching, and it was the very first one that especially captured my attention.

The misconception is this: People leave primarily because of negative experiences with the church. Our assumption as we consider people who have left the faith is that they had a negative experience within the church—that they observed or even faced abuse, or that they grew tired of scandals or politicking in the name of Jesus. Or we could assume that they began to critique their faith, perhaps under the tutelage of the many YouTube or TikTok deconstructionists. Then, as they began to doubt the faith, they began to distance themselves from it.

One of the most innocent things a Christian does may also be one of the most dangerous.

But that has certainly not been my experience. I have seen quite a few people leave our church and others over the years, and could count on one hand the number who left because they were revoking their faith. Burge and Djupe’s data bears this out. In fact, they found that the majority of people who have become dechurched continue to consider themselves Christian and continue to affirm a basic confession such as “Jesus is the Son of God”—hardly the profession of an acolyte of Bart Ehrman or Richard Dawkins.

So why do people leave? “Are you ready for the number one reason people stopped attending church? They moved.” The study found that around three out of every four people who left the church “did so casually, for pedestrian reasons including moving, the inconvenience of attending, kids’ sports activities, or family changes like marriage, divorce, or having a new child.” In other words, it was not their convictions that led the way, but their circumstances. They didn’t mean to leave the church, but inadvertently allowed their lives and lifestyles to hinder their attendance. Church got displaced by other priorities until it became little more than an afterthought. They became unintentional deconstructionists.

And this was the “aha!” moment for me because it is so consistent with what I have observed. We have had people join our church after moving to Canada from another country. They arrive with glowing recommendations from their former church. They were active, they were involved, they served in many capacities. But they are not with us long before their attendance begins to decline and we begin to see them rarely if at all. We do our best to reach out to them, but find they have stopped attending not only our church but any church. What happened? They moved, and somehow their faith was not equal to that move.

Church got displaced by other priorities until it became little more than an afterthought. They became inadvertent dechurchers and unintentional deconstructionists.

It can happen with former members of our church as well—that they move away, perhaps to study, perhaps to work, perhaps for economic reasons, and when we follow up to try to ensure they are integrating into a church in their new community, we find that they are not attending church at all. They moved and it somehow undid what seemed to be a thriving faith.

Neither of these scenarios is universal, of course, and we have had many people move in and move out who commit to their new church and thrive there. But both of these scenarios are common enough that we need to be aware of them.

Every journey begins with a single step and that is true of so many of those who leave the church. They leave by inches. They leave without meaning to. They leave because they have not been adequately cautioned about the coming challenges—that what seems like a time of exciting new experiences and new starts, may actually be a time of unintentional dechurching and inadvertent deconstruction.

I think the caution for all of us is that moving or other major life transitions can be an unexpected enemy. We need to caution ourselves when we prepare to significantly change our lives and we need to caution others when they do. We need to understand that one of the most common things we do is also one of the most perilous. We need to know that one of the most dangerous things a Christian can do is move.


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