Here’s the thing about church…

I read an article recently about the Top 10 Reasons our Kids Leave Church.

As one of those “20-somethings raised in church”, I resonated with almost every word and have been struggling with a lot of these same issues in my own heart. I haven’t left the church like many of my peers, but I’ve had my doubts about it.

I had a conversation a while back with a friend of mine (roughly my age) about how little biblical knowledge we have and how ashamed we feel. Not in a legalistic “I must know the Bible from cover to cover to earn God’s grace”, but in a “I can’t answer someone who asks a simple question about our Christian beliefs” kind of way. We grew up in youth groups where we did awesome stuff, went on sweet mission trips, ate lots of pizza…but have little real knowledge of the Bible unless it was a) a key memory verse or b) made into a Veggie Tales episode. The pendulum swung from our parents’ generation of sitting through sermon after sermon with little to no extracurricular activities, to all extracurricular activities with little to no sermon. (Or anything longer than a 3 minute devo.) I feel intellectually and theologically ill-equipped.

I remember one summer on a mission trip when our youth intern asked me to read a chapter of the New Testament and report back to him the next day with my thoughts. I was all, “Uh…just, like, read it? Like, the whole chapter, or, like, just certain verses?” But I did it (partly because I thought he and I were destined to be together forever), and it rocked my world. We talked about the Bible, straight up. It was the first time I distinctly remember that “I.MUST.READ.THIS.ENTIRE.BOOK.RIGHT.NOW” feeling about the Bible. It suddenly changed in my mind from “a super fun summer trip with all my BFFs” to an actual craving to know God and his word. I’m pretty positive that wasn’t my first opportunity to experience such a revelation, but it stuck with me forever. And I was well into high school at that point.

The thing is – the article is probably pretty accurate. Many of the friends I grew up in youth group with are long gone, and the church may have done a poor job in certain areas. Where my parents’ generation of church was lacking in love and grace and missional living, ours was lacking in the explicit gospel* message. Where their church leaned towards formal and sometimes stuffy, ours leaned toward informal and maybe even a little irreverent of a holy and sovereign Father. For the record: I’m very thankful for the churches I grew up in, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. It’s not about a specific church branch, it’s about a movement church is making. With the statistics the way they are, each body has to ask itself what the middle ground is we’re missing. Where exactly is the disconnect with our youth?

Let me just stop a minute and say – church is not about you or me. It’s not about what we get out of it. It’s not about how it makes us feel or if there is an exact right class for our age group and life stage. It’s not about whether we like every song or feel warm fuzzies after every sermon. We aren’t consumers. We are a body of believers who come together to worship a powerful, gracious God. We go to church to encourage one another so we can go back out and live for Jesus the rest of the week – a recharge of sorts. It’s not about us; it’s about Jesus and the cross. Aside from the community of believers, we each also have responsibility over our own personal walks. My relationship and communication with Jesus falls solely on my shoulders.

That said, part of the church’s job is to foster an environment for the above. The fact still remains that because of this, that, or the other, my peers have left the building. And over the years I’ve considered joining them.

I’m at a different church now than the ones I grew up in, but even at my current church:

Sometimes the band is entirely too loud. Sometimes there is way too much fog/light show/rave action. Sometimes the “mega church” feel is obvious when people get lost in the massive building. Sometimes our members aren’t as welcoming as they should be. Sometimes classes don’t work well. Sometimes we spend too much time on “fun stuff” and not as much on the gospel. Sometimes our lives don’t look that different than non-Christians’. Sometimes people slip through the cracks. Sometimes we miss the point. Sometimes it feels fake.

But that’s just sometimes.

Most, if not all of the time, at our church, the gospel is preached. Lives are changed. Walls are broken down. Sins are confessed. People are connected. Communities are formed. The body is recharged. The Holy Spirit is at work. Jesus is glorified.

It’s easy to hate on the church. It will never be perfect, because it’s made up of imperfect people. It’s easy to be critical when it seems like “church people” are not any different than our non-churched friends. But when it comes down to it, in spite of my doubts and skepticism, I still believe in the church.

I believe in our branch of God’s church at The Hills. It isn’t perfect, but I believe in it.

It transforms lives of people who were hesitant to walk through the doors because of a past hurt by “God’s people”. It transforms lives of first time visitors who know nothing about Jesus. It transforms lives of people who have been sitting in a pew their entire life (*raises her hand*). It transforms because the gospel is preached, and the gospel opens hearts. It leads people to the feet of Jesus.

I wish I could take you by the hand and lead you through the halls of our church.

I’d introduce you to my friend Suzanne who gave her car to a perfect stranger working at a fast food restaurant. This same friend is an advocate for the orphan like you wouldn’t believe. And don’t even get me started on her spiritual gift of making cinnamon rolls.

We’d stop by the children’s wing to locate my friend Allison who has anywhere from 4-7 kids in her care at all times, but still spends her free time mentoring younger moms and wives, among the bazillion other things she does for others. Her husband would probably be hanging around nearby, and I’d have him give you a quick overview of the non-profit he works for that helps and counsels at-risk/troubled teens and teen moms.

I’d bring you to my women’s Bible study on Wednesday mornings where you’d meet Aimee and Jamie and Amanda and Shannon…a cast of all-star women whose entire purpose in life is to serve others. Women that I could not speak more highly of, whose day to day lives show Jesus to others, whose yearning to know and live by God’s word is completely contagious, and whose friendship I am eternally grateful for.

I’d make sure to grab Amy and Rick, and let you meet their two precious girls. They could give you a quick recap of God’s faithfulness in their lives through health issues and the journey to financial freedom. I would chime in when they were too modest to tell you just how generous and servant-hearted they are.

We’d stop in the youth area to see my peeps – my 6th grade friends, my 8th grade bestie…the kids I truly believe in, whose joy for life and love for Jesus should excite us for the next generation of church.

We’d check Twitter to find our preacher tweeting about/from one of two places: a local pizza place or the pulpit. If it’s the latter, we’d go sit at his feet and learn from his incredible teachings. God has truly gifted him to preach the gospel without abandon. If it’s the former, we’d ask to join because that family knows their pizza places. Mmm.

If you had something you wanted to pray with someone about, I would grab Rick and Donna. I’d watch your face as you saw genuine tears fall from Rick’s face as he opened his mouth to speak to his Father. Every time.

We’d find the Stones and the Barrows and the…

Well, really, I’d just like to introduce you to everybody.

So many faces of people who have changed my life and the lives of so many others. These people live like they believe what they say – like all of this Jesus business is real. They don’t just talk about God and sing songs about Jesus, but have really chosen to follow him. Their lives reflect their love and gratitude for a risen savior. It’s lives like these that squelch my skepticism and doubt, leaving Jesus a lot more room to work with in my own life.

These people are specific to the branch of the church that our family is invested in, but I guarantee that you will meet people like this at every church where Jesus is invited in and actively pursued.

To my friends who have given up on the church: I get it. I really do. I still struggle with different aspects. It isn’t doing enough. It’s doing too much. It’s weird. It’s stagnant. It’s always changing. It’s…

It’s a lot of things and not all of them are good, but it’s so beautiful. It is made up of imperfect people doing their best to follow in the footsteps of a perfect savior. We’re a body of believers who want nothing more than to reflect God’s glory to a broken and dark world. We come together one, two, three times a week to learn and grow and worship our God together.

Not everyone sitting on a pew is really into it. But so, so many are. And, awesomely enough, church is the kind of place where you can start your journey with Jesus from any point and always have company along the way. We’re a mess, but we’re in it together.

So, come back and give it a second chance. It takes some responsibility and commitment on your part, but it’s worth it in the end.

*The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler – read it. Now.

16 thoughts on “Here’s the thing about church…

  1. Charli Shelby

    So I totally needed this today. Morgan sent it to me in an email and told me to read it… because yes, we read your blog 🙂 We have been looking for a church home in Memphis and have struggled with a lot of the things you are talking about in this piece. I am so abundantly grateful that you can put into words the thoughts that have been swarming in my head for months! I am grateful that you reminded me of the sense of home you get when you invest in a church, not just for the good but also through the bad. I am grateful I got to do church with you for so many years at Sycamore View, and I got to look up to you and learn how to be a daughter of the King from you. Thank you for continuing to be someone who leads me back to our God. Thank you for speaking truth into my life from miles away. Man, if that isn’t the beauty of the Holy Spirit rolled into this messy thing called a church body I don’t know what is.
    Love you sister!

    1. Sarah Brooks

      I think the real question here is: how far are you willing to commute? If I cover half of the traveling expenses…would you consider joining my church in Fort Worth?! Just think about it.

      I love you, Charli Shelby. (And you, Morgan, even though we’ve really only had that one conversation about calling someone “boo”. But it really spoke to me.) I hope you can find a place with people to do life and follow Jesus with. Any church there would be blessed to have you as part of it! That is major cheese-factor, but it is so true. I.Love.You.

    2. Leslee

      My brother in law preaches at highland church in Memphis. They have a new worship service you might like. I would encourage you to check it out.

    3. Crystal Henry

      We just moved to Memphis from Oklahoma to be a part of Grace Church Memphis. They have sermons posted online. The most biblical gospel preaching we’ve been able to attend. And I can’t say enough about the grace and love displayed by the members. Def check it out!

  2. Speaker Nightlight

    I think the Hills has a purpose too. I believe in it as well- but…I think it has self-examination to do. I felt replacement theology there. I felt alone and unsupported there. I felt ignored there. I was ashamed to be at a church that cannot speak out on the major issues of our day in a clear way- homosexuality, abortion, education, Israel. It is not a time to be a haven to pat each other on the back. It is a time in the last days to speak out. The church will learn this or die.

  3. Joel Swedlund

    Beautiful words on a beautiful day! Thank you for speaking encouragement and truth to those struggling with “church”.
    Personally, I believe the Church should be a haven. The devil attempts to beat down followers of Jesus in every way possible. The gathering of believers should be a place to heal and be healed. The fact that the 2nd commenter felt alone, unsupported and ignored is an example of your very words… “It will never be perfect, because it’s made up of imperfect people. It’s easy to be critical when it seems like “church people” are not any different than our non-churched friends. But when it comes down to it, among my doubts and skepticism, I still believe in the church.”…So does Jesus!

    You’re a precious soul speaking encouragement and love! Speak on!

  4. Walter Surdacki

    Good words. Important words. Thank you!
    As a teacher of youth ministers and a former youth minister myself I feel partially responsible for your feelings of being “intellectually and theologically ill-equipped.” Fortunately the world of youth ministry is starting to realize that this pendulum has swung to far to the fun and games and we have lost touch with the substance of faith. We are working hard to incorporate adolescents into the body of Christ more, rather than keeping them segregated in the far reaches of the church building. I believe that if we do this than at least two things might happen: 1. Adults will be forced to be more honest with who they are and their faith since teens will expose the thin veneers that many adults try to put forward on a Sunday morning. 2. Teens will inherit a deeper, more intellectual and theological language for their faith by being around others who are older. I fear that if 15 year olds only hear a 15 year olds perspective of faith, then growth is far more difficult. BUT Adults will also hear a 15 year olds perspective on faith and be reminded of some of the fundamental of faith that we often forget and be blessed by that as well.

    Keep up your blog…it is great!

    1. Sarah Brooks

      Yes! I love it. I’ve learned an incredible amount since being in a multigenerational bible study and small group. Age-specific is great, too, but a combination of both is awesome.

      So the question I’ve been having is a) how do we get my friends back and b) what do we do with those who’ve stayed in the church but feel lost and incompetent in the “adult world” of church?

  5. David Vick, MA

    My daughter, Rachel V, told me about your blog. Great job! I appreciate your seeing the good in our church as well as the challenges we may face. I love that old CS Lewis quote, “Much of what we see depends upon where we are standing; it also depends upon the sort of people we are.” God bless you. Peace.

  6. Don Box

    Thanks Sarah, for sharing your heartfelt thoughts about your spiritual journey as a Christian youth. Your memories and reflections on the pros and cons of “church” issues during that time are fresh and insightful. Now that you and Taylor are beginning your family together, it is important for you to plan for your own children’s spiritual welfare. It is also important for your church leaders to learn from your experiences so that our church will remain faithful to mission of growing followers of Jesus Christ, and provide the spiritual teaching and foundation for our youth during their journey.

  7. Momma Beth

    I found you because of your instagram post, but I’m staying because of this one. 🙂
    I am 27. I stayed. I believe in church. I believe in the Gospel. I also believe in having my children sing next to me in church and wiggle and squirm through the sermon because they need to hear real theology before they are old enough to grasp it. I pray we don’t distract others, but I believe God is more sovereign than my noisy kiddos. If someone needs to be in church, they’ll hear what they need to while I try to train my children to love theology.
    I ache for those who have left. For they have lost the family of the Gospel. You were so right, we are NOT consumers.
    I pray everyday for my children to be called and respond to Christ’s calling. And I love that my 3-year-old knows what it took me ’til my 20
    ‘s to understand. We are here to glorify God. Period. Purpose of Life. My 3 year-old knows his “biggest job” is to Glorify God, his “big job” is to obey Daddy and Mommy, and his “smaller jobs” are to protect his sister, be kind to friends, take care of the dog, etc…
    I wish I had known that great theology from the start.

    1. Sarah Brooks

      I LOVE this. And what a cool way to teach your kids how to understand their purpose.

      And, yes. I ache for them, too. My life has been changed dramatically the past few years by Christ but his primary method of communication was through his church. So, so important.

  8. Talina

    I loved this article. I, too, found this page after reading the instagram post.
    I loved your thoughts on church, and they so closely fit my own. I am also a 20-something year old who was raised in a certain church and am still a member, but I’ve seen many friends leave our church for a variety of reasons.
    I LOVE church. I love feeling like a part of something bigger. I love meeting together with other people who are also trying to live good lives, raise good families, and be good people. It’s nice to step out of the world for a few hours each week and focus on spiritual things, eternal things. It helps me bring things into perspective.
    I know that my church isn’t perfect, because it is made up of imperfect people. And I mourn for those who leave because they don’t feel welcome, loved, or comfortable. I hope that my actions only draw people in and make them feel at home.
    Thank you for the many examples of the great members of your church. I love how church can provide a common-ground for people to truly love and serve one another, whatever religion they may be.


    Really diggin’ a lot of this post. Thanks for sharing it with the world!

    For anyone looking for some great, down-to-earth, challenging, engaging, oftentimes very funny knock-your-socks-off Jesusy talks, please check out Fr. Mike Schmitz on iTunes. He has a free podcast of all of his homilies/sermons which he gives to college kids on a weekly basis and it’s almost becoming annoying how many people say, “Listening to his homilies” changed my life. For anyone interested, please check out this linky:

    Greg Aitchison


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