Written by Bill Whitt
February 20, 2024

Dealing With Doubt and Deconstruction

Here are a few practical ideas about how to help those who have walked away from the church or are considering leaving the faith.
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As church renewal leaders, we dream of building vibrant, growing churches, but the trend of deconstruction reveals that infrastructure may be fracturing. Young people are increasingly leaving behind the faith in which they were raised, presenting us with a unique challenge.

  • Only 39 percent of those who attended church regularly during high school say they consider themselves devout Christians as young adults. This is among the many results of an intriguing study by Lifeway Research.

What characterizes those who chose to stay active in church instead of leaving? The Lifeway survey offers some answers:

  • They felt connected to the church (61 percent of those who stayed said this vs. 24 percent of those who left).
  • They found the church to be welcoming (66 percent vs. 34 percent).
  • They agreed with the church’s beliefs (75 percent vs. 40 percent).
  • They said the sermons were relevant to their lives (67 percent vs. 33 percent).

Here are a few practical ideas about how to help those who have walked away from the church or are considering leaving the faith.

Five Fresh Ideas to Deal with Deconstruction
Idea 1: Welcome their Questions
  • Expect difficult questions and expect a dialogue rather than a monologue. Let their questions and concerns drive the conversation rather than your agenda.
  • When people ask difficult questions, thank them for sharing, and affirm that their questions are valid. This is an example of the Golden Rule — treating them as you would like to be treated in a similar conversation.
Idea 2: Listen with Compassion
  • You may worry that you do not have all the answers to their objections and questions. However, what if they don’t expect you to have all the answers?
  • Often, people want to be heard and understood more than they want to receive a quick and easy answer. If you approach the conversation with a firm commitment to practice active listening, you can communicate respect, empathy, and compassion.
Idea 3: Excavate Emotions
  • People often hide emotions behind logic, so you may need to dig deeper to uncover the hurt they are carrying. Again, we should affirm their emotions are valid, as this is a key part of healing.
  • We have to acknowledge that the Church has given people no shortage of reasons to walk away. In the Lifeway survey, young adults remembered their churches as judgmental (41 percent), cliquish (37 percent), and hypocritical (34 percent). Institutional failure and church hurt has left many wounded and in need of healing.
Idea 4: Address the Root Problems
  • Rather than simply reacting to the current reality, church renewal leaders can also be proactive as we look to the future. We can take decisive action now that will help our young people not feel the need to deconstruct their faith or leave the church when they grow older and encounter challenges.
  • Look at the statistics above. What if we worked to make sure our churches were more welcoming, and our sermons were more relevant? What if we discipled our youth so well that they truly understood and owned their faith? It could make a huge difference!
Idea 5: Lead with Love
  • In the end, everyone is looking for unconditional, grace-filled, life-giving love. If they find that at church, they will be likely to stay. If they do not, they will leave and try to find it elsewhere.
  • The perennial question for us will always be: Will we lead with love in our pulpits, in our boardrooms, in our counseling rooms, and in our classrooms? Let’s pray that God would enable us to minister with grace and truth, just as he did.

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