Quitting church

Quitting church: Why the faithful are Fleeing and what to do about it

Julia Duin
Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008, £9.99, 192p, ISBN 9780801068232.

Julia Duin’s study of the mainstream churches in the USA highlights what she believes is something of a crisis. Using research done by the Barna Group, her own correspondence, and quotations from other written sources, she has come to the conclusion that many people with faith still more or less intact are leaving the church. She puts this down to a number of reasons, although on the whole they can be summarised as ‘needs not met’.

The book is quite autobiographical at times. Duin, who is Religion Editor of The Washington Times, remembers with fondness her experiences as part of the 1970s ‘Jesus Movement’, and she is quite up-front about the fact that the subject of disillusionment with church is a personal matter, as she has struggled with church in recent years. She seems to long for the church to have the energy she remembered in her Pentecostal days.

However, she is not calling for the church to turn the clock back, but rather for it to rediscover its relevance. She has no doubt that the gospel is still as powerful, but that pastors and preachers are not giving it full rein, opting rather for entertainment. She also questions whether these church leaders are connecting with people well enough about the issues which concern them. There isn’t enough teaching or recognition of the real problems people experience, she feels, whether those are emotional, spiritual or otherwise.

In her experience, a number of folk leave the church because their face doesn’t fit. Singles, for example, can often be made to feel excluded as the teaching is directed towards families of couples; women with gifts in ministry find few opportunities for development. The church, says Duin, is not only losing these people, it is losing touch.

The book is easy to read and feels like an extended feature article, rather than a piece of research, although each chapter has detailed references. At times it is tempting to feel that the argument is made too strongly and that churches are being blamed for not satisfying everybody all the time. However, this is probably too easy a response to make. Duin looks at a broad range of situations, including the pastors themselves and their problems. Her theme – that it is the churches themselves which are at fault – rather than a sign of the times or the leavers themselves – is uncomfortable, but the implication is that something can be done to reverse the trend.

My one reservation about the book is how applicable the situation in the US is to the UK. This is not a criticism of the author, but a reflection on the fact that the book has appeared in our shops. There probably are some comparable trends between the two nations and some church leaders here might gain something from her observations but the differences between the cultures are something to be borne in mind. ‘Back to Church Sunday’ has demonstrated that there are many ‘churched’ people in the UK who pursue other activities on Sundays. Does their non-attendance come down to the same reasons as Quitting Church identifies? A separate survey would be called for, I believe. Nevertheless, I think this is a fair study, and could be thought-provoking on both sides of the Atlantic.

Contributed by: Robert L. Foster, BA, DipIM, MCLIP, Deputy Counter Supervisor in the Maughan Library, King’s College, London who is a member of the CLIS Executive Committee.