The question of why some leave Churches of Christ — and others stay — takes on renewed importance as the number of men, women and children in the pews shrinks nationally.
The 2009 edition of Churches of Christ in the United States
identifies 12,629 a cappella congregations with 1,578,281 adherents nationwide. Those figures represent 526 fewer churches and 78,436 fewer people in the pews than just six years ago.
“The issue of our kids leaving the Church of Christ is huge,” said Tim Shoulders, body life minister of the Sugar Grove Church of Christ in Meadows Place, Texas. “Some of our kids get so sick and tired of the bickering that they want nothing to do with God and church.
“Other kids, whose faith in God does develop, begin to seek out churches where the focus is on God instead of bickering about the ‘true’ way to do things. Sometimes, they find a Church of Christ, but many times they have to look elsewhere.”
His brother Allen Shoulders left the Church of Christ in the 1990s and attends the Gateway Church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas. Gateway’s Web site describes it as a “non-denominational, spirit-filled Christian church governed by an eldership.”
“Gateway is less than 10 years old and already has over 15,000 members, many of whom are former Church of Christ members,” Tim Shoulders said.
Some experts blame the overall Church of Christ decline on the “graying of the pew” — churches marked by increasingly older memberships as young people leave.
To study the issue, Flavil Yeakley, director of the Harding Center for Church Growth in Searcy, Ark., is conducting an online survey titled “Why I Left Churches of Christ.”
At churchesofchristsurvey.com, the survey asks:
• Why did you leave the Churches of Christ?
• Do you have any advice or suggestions regarding things Churches of Christ could do to improve and do a better job of meeting the spiritual needs of those who are still members?
• If, when you left the Churches of Christ, you joined another religious group, what church did you join?
Also, please comment on what you have found in that other church that meets your spiritual needs better than what Churches of Christ were doing.
“It won’t be a random or even a representative sample,” said Flavil Yeakley,, a church growth expert who said many church leaders, including presidents of Christian colleges and universities, encouraged him to pursue the research. “But it’s the kind of thing where words sometimes are more important than numbers. If we can find a pattern and learn something about why people are leaving us, maybe we can do something to improve.”