With the rise of individualism in the West there has been an increasing trend of “private Christianity” where people believe in Jesus but they never attend any church. Some of them acquire teaching and/or worship songs via the Internet at home, while others just pray sometimes. I encounter several of these “secret Christians” when I’m out evangelising, and most of them seem convinced that church meetings really are unimportant, that it’s perfectly fine to be a Christian alone.
The Bible, on the other hand, clearly commands us “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebr 10:25). Even as the early Christians went on missionary trips they weren’t alone. Jesus commanded us to pray “Our Father” in plural, Paul emphasises in 1 Cor 12 that we’re all body parts in one body, dependent on one another.
But let’s face it, Christians who leave church aren’t doing it because they have a special Bible interpretation, but because church has disappointed them. As a house church leader I have seen several people go during the last five years, some of them to other congregations but a substantial number have become private Christians. Some of it is due to mistakes from our parts, other times we have been too radical.
Almost every single one of these people have left without saying a word to us. They just stop coming to the meetings. I don’t know if this is just a Swedish or Scandinavian phenomenon – I’d love to get some feedback from people abroad if you have observed the same thing. Before I became a church leader I just assumed that when people want to leave they announce it beforehand, give motivations and then say good bye properly to their fellow church members. This has been extremely rare, in my experience.
Obviously we don’t contact people immediately if they won’t come to a couple of meetings. Usually it takes some weeks or sometimes even months before we contact them, and then the thing or things that made them doubt church has rooted in their hearts to an even greater degree compared with when they first decided to stop coming. Usually it’s legitimate criticisms, but I think much of it would have been resolved if they would have talked to us instead.
I don’t want to judge or condemn people who leave church, but simply invite them to talk more about the things that bug them. Even if their trust in church has been damaged, I think that they too recognise that private Christianity isn’t what God intends and that healthy, Biblical churches are so much better for them and for others. As I sing in Welcome: “We’re sorry that we Christians often behave like piles of sh*t, but Jesus rocks and His Spirit rules so please pay us a visit.”