Young Voices

What do you mean, you want to leave your church?

What do you mean, you want to leave your church

“I’m thinking of leaving my church,” said one of my close friends. Later, a second and a third friend also brought this up during a meal. Soon, I could no longer count with both hands the friends who had decided to leave their church, or the Church. What was happening?

When I started tertiary education, I joined a campus interdenominational Christian community and heard from other young adults what life in their churches was like. I heard accounts of spiritual growth and tight-knit small groups. I also heard of deep dissatisfaction and the desire to leave their churches.

For one group, they wanted to give up on Christianity entirely. They wanted to walk away from the universal Church. They had “tried church” and it did nothing for them. They had been through Sunday school and youth services, but nothing connected with them. Some I believe were true believers, but they lacked basic understanding of the faith. Others were like the hard ground in the parable of the Sower and the evil one had snatched away what little Bible truth they had (Mt 13:3-9, 18-23).

But there’s a second group who wanted to leave the church. These wanted to leave their current local church for a new one. Common complaints from this group included: “I’m not growing in my church”, or “The teaching in my church is inadequate.” Many friends felt this way and they explored other churches, seeking one that could meet their spiritual needs. In my uncharitable moments, there was a minority of them whom I thought of as church (s)hoppers or consumers.

Another situation I experienced was when my own church small group graduated from youth ministry. Everyone took different paths, be it National Service, tertiary education, work, or something else. During this transition, it became difficult to meet as everyone was adjusting to a new life phase. To varying degrees, the group members deprioritised church. What I’ve noticed is that when a young adult’s church community starts to falter, it can be demoralising, and one might start seeking other communities outside the church they grew up in. Some look for another church with a “more vibrant” young adult scene, others find an alternative community to replace church altogether.

There are legitimate reasons why someone changes church. I’ve had conversations where the quality of Bible teaching was the issue, the way worship was conducted, and even what the mission of the local church was.

Then there are more personal reasons for leaving. I’ve friends who have felt bullied or ostracised in Sunday school or youth ministry. Others have struggled with questions about the faith but could not find satisfactory answers. For them, the Bible came up short. (This should never happen in the Church! God’s Word has the answers. This is one of the reasons that compelled me to help with the youth’s Bible curriculum.)

Ryan Kwok

One observation about those who leave is that many of them have not seriously considered this question: “How can I obey God and use my God-given gifts to build up the church I’m in?” Heart breaking as it is, some have a consumeristic attitude towards the church. They overemphasise: “How can my needs be met?” Perhaps they should heed Paul’s words about each believer being given a special role to build up their church. The question then becomes: “How can I do my part to meet the needs of others in my church?” Serving is part of spiritual growth.

One of the factors that helps keep people in church is service. The Holy Spirit has bestowed on every believer at least one spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:7,11) and it’s our responsibility to use it to serve our local church (Eph 4:16). When I first began serving in Children’s Ministry, it was humbling to hear fellow teachers tell me they’d been praying for weeks for another teacher; and I was the answer to their prayer! I realised that being part of the church meant being loving and unselfish as we engage in mutual ministry, using our gifts to care for one another (1 Cor 12:25-26). Every believer is an integral part of the body and should be serving others with their spiritual gifts (1 Pet 4:10-11). I felt a greater sense of belonging, even ownership of my local church, after I began teaching Sunday school, and my peers that were serving felt the same way too.

This is not to say that serving in church is always the answer to what keeps young adults in church. Many of my friends were very involved in their own churches before they decided to move to a different one. While we might be sad to see people leave our church for another, we should encourage them as fellow believers to stay strong in their relationship with God, recognising that every individual has their own spiritual journey to walk, regardless of which local church they decide to join. But from my experience, I have noticed that many who leave the church entirely had never really participated in the life of the church. They were more like consumers or spectators.

Thankfully, several Christian Fellowship friends who did change churches are now thriving. Others, after much reflection, chose to remain but they’ve applied themselves by bringing back to their churches what they’ve learnt from campus ministry. And we continue to spur each other to serve our churches with our spiritual gifts. Regardless of which local church we worship in, I take heart in the truth that we are all still unified as one: the body of Christ, the universal Church.

Ryan Kwok serves in Kampong Kapor Methodist Church as the curriculum head of its Youth Ministry. He has been teaching children and youth for the past six years. / Photo courtesy of Ryan Kwok and illustration by Dominique Wang