Leaving Church: Why Are Christians Walking Out?

YWAM Orlando Video: Phil Manginelli
Interview topic with Phil Manginelli, lead pastor of The Square Church and co-host of the Jesus Culture Podcast and host Michael Berg, campus director of Youth With a Mission Orlando.

Leaving Church: 4 Reasons Why Christians are Walking Out

Leaving church has become the new normal. Let's face it. The church is now confronted with questions about sexuality, race, injustice, Biblical authority, and spiritual deconstruction. The result? Church members are leaving. Here are 4 key reasons.

1. Jesus is Offensive

The historical Jesus of the Gospel will always offend you. It doesn't matter what culture you're from. We can't pick Him apart and just choose what we like about Him. He will challenge us and show us our idols; we are the ones who must change.  "We just have to recognize that the Jesus of the Bible, the resurrected Jesus, fully God and fully man, is not from a human culture, He is from a Kingdom culture, and He will offend you. He doesn't look like us.


He will challenge us, confront us, expose us to where we've bought into idolatry and where we trust in other things. These idols that are real are in our wallets, in our phones, and in our hearts." says Phil Manginelli.


And these idols are so easy to hide and so easy to explain away. We let them creep into our mindsets and into our lives. They change the way we think, the way we relate to others, and the way we see Jesus.


Phil goes on to say "because I can hide my idols, I act as if they don't exist.  Yet, the process of Jesus confronting and asking me if I will follow Him means 'will I leave my idols?', and we have to let that Jesus confront our idolatry again. We have to walk through the process of discipleship and formation, submitted to the way of Jesus. We need to find people who, like Paul would say, 'Imitate me, as I imitate Christ', who are anchored into the historic gospel that believes that the Bible is the anchor that is trustworthy, authoritative, and not in a false fundamentalism. ... [Then] we submit to [the Bible's] authority, and we allow that process through community and discipleship to become that part of our life.


We need to reclaim all of Jesus, and all of Jesus will offend you. And if Jesus isn't offensive to you in some way, then then there's something about you you're hiding. And we have to let that place [of discipleship] cultivate our lives to form obedience."  DTS is an avenue of being discipled in the way of Jesus.

2. The Church Has Failed at Discipleship

The bottom line is: the church hasn't followed through with discipleship.  Yet, it's not only the church. It's our home life. How we were raised. Our education and how it has formed us.


Deitrich Bonhoeffer writes about this in 'The Cost of Discipleship'.  He says the formation of our lives must come from within the church and it has to be stronger than the formation that is coming from outside of it (our culture and what it says is true).  The cost is high, but it is worth it. We must be willing to disciple a generation to know the full Jesus of the Bible. We must also be willing to say yes to discipleship. We have to say yes to obedience and submitting to the Bible's authority no matter the cost.


"There was a place where formation should have been the focus of the Christian community (both in church life, in home life, and in education);... following Jesus is an apprenticeship. It is a … coming unto Jesus as now Lord, Savior, Master.  We are His disciples and as His disciples we learn the way of Jesus and we [are] sanctified into His image [through] the process of discipleship through the power of the Holy Spirit … this is a formation process. And it is a central vision of Christianity that we come to Jesus." says Phil.


Phil goes on to say "This whole vision of working out your salvation with fear and trembling is what Jesus does-- He uses salvation through Himself [as] an incredible work within us. In His life He does this work of freedom: He saves you. He rescues you. He frees you. You know these moments happen.


But you know what he doesn’t do? He doesn’t change your friend group. Your habits. Your mode of operation. The way you think. Who you listen to. And you have to work out this salvation through the fear of the Lord into every single part of your life. That's a formation process. But in this, that got abandoned, and I have no other way to say it got completely abandoned... and this is where we see fault."


"We abandoned spiritual formation as the central way of of discipleship in the church; we left it as optional."


We've said the large gathering on Sunday was everything and left community and sanctification, becoming more and more like Jesus, optional. This made way for a generation of young people to walk out of church because culture said it was okay. It was better. Yet we must realize that God created Christianity to be lived within the bounds of community. To sharpen one another. To challenge one another. Not to just live comfortably with our own truths.


Phil says, "There's no denying that we basically said discipleship is optional. And it is a lie. And there is a place that we have to recognize that why we got here is because when we stopped forming people in the way of Jesus, when we stopped making disciples, when we stopped valuing this, formation didn’t stop. Everybody just got discipled by someone else."  This someone else is just always on your phone, on your television, in your friend group, and in what you listen to. It's constant. It's effective. It's forming.

3. We Lost Focus

Culture and it's solutions to our world problems are alluring and convincing. Take Jesus out of the solution and we've lost the heart of God. We focus on ourselves and what WE can do. Our eyes are taken off of Jesus and become fixed on ourselves.


"[There is this] assumption that America and the American Dream were Christian concepts ... But there was this place of going, ‘well I can hand off, I can follow the American dream and follow Jesus, I can put my kids in any kind of education system, and they'll get formed into that. I can hand off the spiritual formation to my children's church."


We've lost focus. We let the world around us shape us and our families and expect to be like Jesus. But we can't be apathetic. We can't lose focus. We must realize God has made us for something more.


Phil goes on to say "I also think there is a godly joy that can come in entertainment, in forms in times … but when you get to the point where you realize,


'Oh, I watched Netflix 30 times as much as I read my Bible.', to not think that that's not forming, that's not shaping, that we have now invited technology into a place in our lives where we are consumed by our integrated lives more than we're consumed with a place of prayer.


To realize most young people come to church around 35 times a year at an hour to an hour and 20 minutes. [That is most people's formation]. Then you compare that to the amount of time we are embedded in relationships, in work, in reading, in secular concepts. This is the inevitable thing that will happen.  … So the pathway forward is beginning to name and discern what's done this to us and then in that it is the process of intentional spiritual formation."

4. We Lack Community

We just simply haven't been open to discipleship and being in community. Community is where formation happens. Sanctification happens. Following Jesus is a give and take and as we reflect Jesus to others around us, others reflect Him back to us.


Phil explains this key issue by referring to Deitrich Bonhoeffer. "Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a resistance pastoral training type of college and it's up on a hillside. He says he looks down below at an SS training camp where 13 year old German boys are being indoctrinated by the Nazis. He looks to his friend as he points to inside then outside of the college 'this (inside) must be stronger than that (outside)...  you think I'm being too intense. But I'm telling you, they're going to shape everything. If this isn't stronger than that, then what are we gonna do?'


It's like a prophetic witness to the church saying, 'Hey, listen, I know the cost might be high. And I'm telling you, at the end of the day, this [biblical discipleship] has to be stronger than that [which culture is teaching us].' Leaving church might be the norm, but it isn't what God has for us.


And the way we followed Jesus 50 years ago, maybe in a pre-technology world, in a world where secularism hadn't gotten this far, maybe we wouldn't have to be this intensive. Maybe when the TV was not in our homes every night; we just forget our normal is not so normal, it's so peculiar."


In a world where culture invades every aspect of your life, you have to be intentional about your walk with Jesus.  To walk closely with Him in a community of believers who will reflect Him to you in how they live their lives. To say no to a generation of believers leaving church and walking away from God.

The Question is...

Who are you being shaped by? Are you in a community where friends are leaving church and losing faith? Fearful or confused about how to confront these complex issues?


There is a cost to DTS in both time and resources, and it will not necessarily be an easy process the whole time. However, what will happen in those five months, the things God does when we give him an undistracted 24 weeks of our lives, is beyond worth the price. If you come to do a DTS with an open mind and a willing heart you will experience life-long transformation and be trained to live fearless


The question is: will you listen to fear’s perspective or will you choose to be fearless? Choose today to recognise and remove the ‘fear-lens’ and allow God to take you to new peaks of fearless living, realising the fullness of what he has for you in your life. The time is now.


Get trained. Live fearless.



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Written By:

Stephanie Otis | YWAM Orlando Staff

Feature Image By: Maria Fernanda Hernandez