Community. Fellowship. Body. Movement. Gathering. Alliance. Society. Union. Fraternity. Village. Club. Mob. Clique. Team. Congregation. Association. Gang. Ensemble. Collection. Family.
I could come up with a pretty long list of words that have been used (and abused) over the years to describe church. The fact is that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be shared, spoken, and lived out within community. Try as we might, we can’t be Christians on our own. We need a community. We need a church.
We’ll never be able to calculate the value of community; the sense of belonging and of being loved. Yet for so many, that fire has been washed out, and they are no longer connected to a community/church.
Some leave because they never connected, only showing up on a Sunday mornings and occupying a pew. Some leave because they never believed and grew tired of pretending. Some leave because they didn’t fit in; because their lifestyles didn’t match the status quo; because the community couldn’t accept them, or even worse, didn’t even notice them.
The reasons go on and on; pastors who have behaved poorly; churches so focused on buildings and infrastructure that they neglected the outside world; unwanted and distracting political stances; perceived persecution over issues of gender and sexuality; countless stories of judgment.
Still others have left because the messages of do more and try harder, eventually just beat them down when they realized they could never be good enough. Yet others, particularly the younger generation have left, as I read in a blog recently, because they had been constantly catered to, constantly kept busy, but had never been taught how to be a part of the church.
Data from the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, states that in the United States, 59 percent of young people ages eighteen to twenty-nine with a Christian background have dropped out of church. Among those who came of age around the year 2000, a solid quarter claim no religious affiliation at all, making this group significantly more disconnected from faith than members of generation X were at a comparable point in their lives and twice as disconnected as baby boomers were as young adults. It is estimated that eight million young adults will leave the church before their thirtieth birthday.
I like to call these people, those done with church, refugees. Refugees are people who’ve been forced from their homes, where they’d prefer to stay. Refugees are often times reluctant leavers, packing up and moving on only as a last resort. We believe the church needs to be a refuge for all, which includes our own refugees.
The movement of people away from the church, to us, indicates both a threat, and an opportunity for the church in America. The threat we see is that the church continues to be less relevant with diminished importance in society. The opportunity we see is that revivals happen when the church is forced to find new ways to engage. The question isn’t whether the church in America will exist in 10 or 25 years from now, it’s what will the church look like?
REFUGE.CHURCH has a heart for the refugees. Those who, for whatever the reason, have left the church. Those who have given up on the institutional expression. In research, we’ve found that those who have left the church aren’t so much angry at the church, they’re simply disinterested.
The programs won’t bring them back. The coffee won’t bring them back. The show, the lights, fog machine … that won’t do it, either. But relationships, real conversations about the tough stuff, honesty, a safe place to express doubt, transparency, and being known more about what we are for, than what we are against … just might.
It’s time for a new strategy. It’s time to be uncool. To be radical. To be different. It’s time to re-think church as we know it, much like previous generations have done before us. Whether it be the Evangelical movement out of fundamentalism, or the Mega-Church movement of the 90’s and 2000’s, each generation has moved the church in a new direction to continue to proclaim the Good News that Jesus brings.
REFUGE.CHURCH is an experimental church with no rules but the Gospel. We hope you explore our ideas more on this site, and considering partnering with us on this journey.