Friday, August 2, 2013

The Dechurched, The Wilderness Experience and the Next Move of God

The Movement Out of Institutional Churches

The ranks of the dechurched are growing every day. More and more people are questioning the influence and effectiveness of institutional churches in general. There is a growing movement that is creating a huge contingent of people who no longer attend regular services for whatever reason, many of whom are simply staying home. These dechurched people are frustrated with the status quo and at the same time have a fervent desire to have a much clearer focus on what the Church is supposed to be.

Many of these people are just simply tired of the ineffectiveness and lack of real ministry in these established churches, but a disturbingly large number of people are leaving because they've been hurt in churches with controlling leadership. Abusive churches are a major problem, churches that are run with very heavy-handed leadership leaving members used and abused. Once these people get free from the controlling environment, they are very likely to pull out of church altogether at least for awhile to heal and rediscover their relationship with God. Whatever the reason, the ranks of the dechurched are growing every day, people that have one thing in common- a deep desire to find Jesus and the real Church.

Exit sign is free clip art from

The Current State of Things
The Old Wineskin

The modern, traditional, institutional church as it is established now is one that breeds laziness, passivity and an atmosphere that encourages religion. Tradition dictates that one man or woman (or couple) is in charge, carrying the load of all things spiritual along with their staff and a handful of others, while the members for the most part remain passive and uninvolved. There is an assumption that the clergy has the education, the "spirituality" and the calling, and thus should carry the lion's share of the responsibility. There has been a clear division for centuries between the clergy and the laity, a division that promotes the sense that members aren't qualified to minister.

The entire set-up of a typical church regardless of its denominational affiliation (or lack thereof) lends itself very readily to the audience/performance type of arrangement with the majority of the members doing little more than just sitting and listening to whatever is doled out from the platform. There is little if any encouragement for members to function in their gifts, little encouragement for actual spiritual growth, little opportunity for one-on-one ministry. Typically, people file in, find a seat, chit-chat a bit, listen, then head for the car. And we feel like we've done our spiritual duty for the week with this arrangement.

Institutional church is rife with the traditions of men and thus religion- programmed institutions that are run with man's programs, man's plans, man's works. As spiritual as we think we have been, "church" is nothing like what it should be, and most people know it. What we call church is far removed from the ideal, on-fire Church of the New Testament. We've become lukewarm, complacent and bewitched by the religion that permeates our services.

 by Jon Zens
"Only by turning a blind eye to the New Testament can we end up with a deeply entrenched system that flagrantly denies Paul’s crystal-clear remark — 'the body is not one part, but many.' The way most churches are run gives the distinct impression that everything depends on one part — 'the pastor' — not many. . . There is already Someone to lead congregations, and His name is Jesus Christ. But the system’s focus on a human leader functionally negates the leadership of Christ. Do we care that Jesus clearly said, 'don’t be called "leaders" because you have one Leader, Me.'"
Church is free clip art from

Church Buildings- Money Pits?

These churches have buildings that require a great deal of money to build and maintain, thus a constant need for funds. This sets the stage for the generally accepted doctrine that says that the tithe must be paid, specifically to the local church, or the curse is just around the corner. They also promote the notion that the blessing comes as a result of giving. Many churches find themselves under pressure to produce finances for building programs and resort to arm-twisting to extract at least the tithe from as many as will conform to that particular tradition. And the pressure is greater every year with those churches that are actually growing and need bigger buildings and more paid staff. Paid staff- now there's another tradition that probably isn't anything like what the New Testament Church was.

Consider the thousands taken in every Sunday morning in traditional churches across this country. What percentage of this ultimately goes to feed the hungry, support missionaries or accomplish other actual ministry? Consider the budget for just the building (maintenance, utilities, insurance, etc.), and how many hungry children could be fed with what comes in? Bigger is not necessarily better, in my book.

The abuse of the prosperity message has corrupted many a ministry over the years. When this kind of doctrine is promoted and the money starts rolling in, the temptation to covetousness is huge, and just doing a little research on big-name television mega-ministries will prove that the draw into love of money is often too much to resist. With the prosperity message being emphasized in many of these churches, the members are left believing that their giving into these ministries is their ticket to the blessing of God. Think about it- this leaves grace completely out of the picture and introduces religion; giving becomes works that earn your blessing. And of course the church itself will prosper nicely with this arrangement, but do you? How many of us have been completely brainwashed into this kind of thinking? We give because we are blessed, we don't get blessed because we give. That's works and more religion. I have included a link below to Kenneth E. Hagin's book The Midas Touch, written to confront the abuses of the prosperity message.

Understand that I tend to be rather biased in this regard. I spent 12 years in an abusive, charismatic "word of faith" church that distorted the Word to pad its own pockets. But since coming out, I am discovering how duped many of us have been for decades, believing these doctrines that are part and parcel in most churches anywhere you go.

Money is free image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Dechurched Because of Spiritually Abusive Churches

Spiritually abusive churches, or what I call Red Flag Churches, aren't readily obvious. Generally they exist in the charismatic branch of Christianity, flourishing among those congregations that have no denominational oversight. They seem to have all their ducks in a row, with what seems to be preaching according to the Word of God, great worship services and the gifts of the Spirit in evidence. But they emphasize extreme submission to authority and exert an inordinate amount of control over their congregations with absolutely no accountability. It took me 12 years to finally come to the conclusion that the church I was in was anything but healthy, so I know first hand how difficult it is to recognize an abusive church. Leaving is difficult for many reasons, and the emotions experienced are very intense. Some liken it to spiritual rape. For me the feelings of betrayal were the most intense. I have had to deal with coming to the realization that most of the teachings I had received for three decades had been doctrines formed by scripture twisting and proof-texting.

Churches like this are everywhere, and the number of people suffering from spiritual abuse seems to be growing every day. These people require special ministry and more than likely much more time to recover, making their wilderness experience a longer and harder season. Many of these may never return to institutional church, completely leaving anything that even vaguely resembles what we traditionally view as church, and some may abandon their faith altogether.

Those that are leaving these kinds of churches are a significant part of the dechurched. Their experiences are unique and those that manage to overcome the fallout from the abuse will come out on the other side with a much deeper commitment to God and to a ministry centered on grace and the Truth.

Red flag is free clip art from

The Wilderness Experience

As people leave their churches, the next step seems to be a wilderness experience, a time when a relationship with God is strengthened and God deals with issues that need to be taken care of. It's a time of preparation much like Moses, David, Paul and many others in the Bible went through before their time of ministry. Many who have left their churches felt like they had been called out by God, even though the people they left behind have accused them of being rebellious and unsubmitted.

When believers make the decision to leave what they've known for years, a season of prayer and seeking the face of God is necessary to determine what to do next. The wilderness experience also works to purge out old faulty doctrines, wrong attitudes and other issues that would hinder ministry, as well as pulling all crutches out. Tradition tends to create crutches- you think you're spiritual IF... if you read 3 chapters of the Bible a day, if you pray for an hour a day, if you go to the building every time the doors are open, etc., etc. The wilderness experience forces believers into the arms of God, building trust and faith in our Heavenly Father apart from all the the traditions of men.

The process of leaving is hard at best, particularly if those left behind aren't very sympathetic. Coming to terms with the reality of the situation can be very difficult and can take quite a bit of time to reconcile and is particularly hard for the dechurched that have left abusive churches. This presents a whole different set of problems that are dealt with in my post Red Flag Churches.

Time in a regular, institutional church can also create a laziness in believers, a tendency to expect the leaders to carry the load of all things spiritual. God will work to remove those crutches in order to pull you into a relationship with and dependence on Him. Many of us have relied on others for much of our spiritual responsibilities, and in the wilderness all that must change.

The process is certainly no fun, but necessary to bring us into a place of true, unhindered ministry, a stronger relationship with God and clear direction. It is not an easy time by any means, leaving the familiar, losing all our former crutches and having to face our wrong attitudes and beliefs, but as we come to a place of complete surrender to God, learning to be led by His Spirit, that is when we can truly be used by God to bring real change to those around us. And this is, indeed, the point- coming into a deeper relationship with God and learning to hear His voice so we can be led by His Spirit, not by all the other voices around us.

Desert is free clip art from

The Next Move of God
The New Wineskin

Institutional churches generally are doing all they know to do and there are some good programs out there, and many look to the small, house church movement as an answer. But there again, this is just another man-made system that is prone to corruption- pride, love of money, whatever. The problem is that it's still a "format", a system devised by man. And as such, being left in the control of man's hands, it will eventually become a system that will tend to leave God out.

I have come to believe that the true Church is merely His people living their lives led by His Spirit, demonstrating the love of God to those He brings across their paths. No system of planned meetings can accommodate what God intends with His Church. For more on this, see Will the Real Church Please Stand Up? 

People who have gone through the upset and the wilderness experience that comes with leaving what was their church for years will come out with a relationship with God that many others will never know. And isn't that the point? In an institutional church setting, it is far too easy to get lazy and expect the so-called leadership to do all the heavy lifting. We are all to hear from God, be led by His Spirit, and have that relationship with Him that He intends. I believe the next move of God is merely His people learning to walk with Him every day, demonstrating His love to a broken world, a "liquid" church that moves when He moves, goes where He tells them to, and truly abides in Him. (See Liquid Church- The Shape of Church to Come.)

Many people are leaving churches out of frustration, feeling like they no longer fit in. These people are tired of the sameness of the services and the lack of real ministry. Some say they are leaving because of a prompting from the Holy Spirit. To these people, "church" brings up images of a system that is more of a drain than anything else- a drain on their time, money and talents. But not all who feel this way have left their churches; some will stay because God has not called them out. There are bound to be good local churches out there that are doing and will do effective ministry to their communities, so this is not a blanket indictment of local church in general, merely a general statement on how most churches tend to be. Working with local churches would be the ideal situation, bringing unity into the community and a real expression of love to those in need.

God is doing away with the old wineskin and replacing it with a new one that will not break when the new wine is poured in. In existing churches? Perhaps. That depends on how they react to this new move of God and if they choose to change with Him, and that is where people must learn to be led by the Spirit. Rule of thumb- follow peace. If peace dictates that you stay in your church, then that is what you must do. But if church is leaving you frustrated and discouraged, then peace may dictate that you leave and seek His face for a season to determine what you must do next. Pulling out takes courage, but many have done it and support is out there.

Sunrise is free image from Wikimedia Commons.

Support for the Dechurched

Out of Church Christians by Andrew Strom
This is a free book written by a man who had printed an article on the movement of Christians out of traditional churches and was flooded with emails from people all over the world who told their stories.

Done With Religion by Jim Gordon- Living with God outside the walls of religion. Great blog.

Dechurched, a Christian Trend- a new site still under construction. Looks like it will examine the statistics, have personal stories, and other links.

Recommended Reading

Finding Church: What if There Really Is Something More? by Wayne Jacobsen
For 2000 years men have attempted to confine the Kingdom of God in a man-made institution. The Kingdom of God is within you!!

Revolution by George Barna

The Rise of the Nones by James Emery White- White examines the exodus from traditional churches, how the rest of the population perceives the church, and suggestions for change.

Red Flag Churches: Distinguishing Protection from Control- This book recounts my experiences in an abusive church, and what I have learned since leaving. Free download.

Blog Posts

The Dechurched and the Next Move of God

Liquid Church- The Shape of Church to Come
Righteous Judgment
Where's the Love?
Will the Real Church Please Stand Up?
Church- Consider Your Ways
Clergy- Invitation to Idolatry?

Red Flag Churches

Red Flag Churches
What Does a Wolf Look Like?
Making the Decision to Leave an Abusive Church
The Spiritual Covering Doctrine
Spiritual Abuse Is Not Obvious
To Tithe or Not to Tithe


  1. I suddenly don't feel so alone after all these years in the wilderness.

  2. Thanks for the encouraging comments. Just sorry you have been in the wilderness for years like I have. Are you still attending traditional church? Personally, I had to pull out completely; the services just leave me cold anymore.

  3. This is so useful I bookmarked I need your help i recently came to know about the pain I'm facing is called spiritual abuse . now every one in church is thinking I'm crazy and I see the close people of mine in church started to judge me and the pulpit delivering messages " leaving body of Christ will make you dead " I'm in deep painful emotional situations anger bitterness pain depression anxiety and grief all mixed I lost the true me help me out to find please

  4. I am so sorry to hear about your experience. No, it's not fun, and yes, you will not be understood. I have dealt with this extensively in my blog, Red Flag Churches. If you click on my name, Marion Wiley, it will bring up my profile page where you'll see the link to that blog. You need to get out! It takes a lot of time to be healed from all this, but you will get there. Don't put yourself through any more abuse. I particularly encourage you to read my post "Leaving an Abusive Church" in the Red Flag Churches blog. And I have left links in all the posts to books that will be of great help to you. These churches drain you of everything you've got, and I'm so glad you have seen it for what it is. It took me 12 years to see it! And I've been targeted from the pulpit too. It's common practice in those churches. Stinks, doesn't it??? Stay in touch.