A secondhand copy of Alan Jamieson “A Churchless Faith – Faith Journeys beyond the Churches” (2002) has just thudded onto our doormat, and is being read with sighs of recognition and interest. This is an extensive survey of people in New Zealand who were once deeply engaged in Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches – often in leadership – but who chose to leave church. At the same time, they did not lose their faith, but continued a vital relationship with God. What’s going on with this?
Interestingly, in a blogpost he writes:
“leavers are your friends. They will tell you things about the church that the satisfied church members never will. They will point out the sort of things that stop outsiders engaging with your church but never tell you. What these disgruntled potential leavers tell you won’t come easily and it will be painful to hear. But reflect on it. Sift what is said. What do you and the church need to hear? What is more about the person’s own journey and needs to stay with them? What can you consider as you plan and build for the future of the church?”
(it should be noted, that he immediately goes on to say that it’s not wise to put church leavers into places of authority to lead new initiatives back within the church: leavers are on a faith journey/transition which they need personal time for.)
If you are a church leader: is there an exit interview with folks leaving churches, people who were in leadership? If not, you are missing vital insights.
Many years ago, I heard an excellent talk, by a church leader, Paul Kyle, who said that when someone said something critical about his leadership, no matter how obviously fuelled by personal dislike or selfish immature attitudes – he would take that criticism to God in prayer, and ask “Is there any truth in this?”. A model response.
Alan Jamieson’s book was written for a PhD; as such, it is based on in-depth face-to-face interviews with more than 100 leavers and 50 church leaders.
He followed it up with another book, 5 years later, following the same leavers on their onward journey, in
(2006) Alan Jamieson, Jenny McIntosh & Adrienne Thompson “Church leavers: Faith journeys 5 years on”
Also mentioned and referred to in the first book, published 2002:
(1993) William Hendricks “Exit interviews: revealing stories of Why People are leaving the Church” (‘couple of dozen’ people interviewed, USA)
(1993) Michael Fanstone “The sheep that Got Away: Why People Leave the Church” (509 random people in public places, England)
(1998) P Richter and L J Francis “Gone but not forgotten: Church Leaving and Returning” (400 questionnaires and 27 in-depth interviews face to face; England and Wales)
(1995) David Tomlinson “The Post-Evangelical”. (Not research data but from personal experience).
More recent UK experience:
(2016) Steve Aisthorpe “The Invisible Church – Learning from the Experiences of Churchless Christians” (sets out to interview leavers and answer how they left. There are 4 chapters on the ‘why’ of leavers or those who came to faith through church projects but did not become regular church attenders)