By An Anonymous Christian
You may have wondered why you haven’t been seeing me around lately. Frankly, I won’t be back.
I wanted to stay, and I wish things could have worked out between us. Maybe you don’t realize how your church looked from my perspective.
Take a look and maybe you’ll understand why I’m not coming back to your church.
You held me hostage in my own home.
I’d been visiting for a couple of months when you started a capital campaign. Two members knocked on my door with a pledge card—and they wouldn’t leave until I signed it.
Did I bring this on myself by putting tithe checks in the offering plate without joining? Still, I was a visitor—certainly not ready for a long-term financial commitment to your church.
I wish I’d had the backbone to explain this to your determined solicitors. Instead, to get them out of my house, I signed the pledge card—and never set foot in your church again.
Lesson for the church: Be careful how you train your volunteers. I have little doubt they were urged to bring back completed pledge cards. Their zeal to comply overcame their common sense.
You didn’t reach out.
We filled out the pew card. We introduced ourselves after the worship service. You sent one email, and we responded: “We would love a chance to meet with you and learn more about the church.”
If you can’t bother to assertively follow up with someone who is showing active interest in your church, you clearly don’t care. We’re moving on.
Lesson for the church: We must have slipped through the cracks—but a foolproof follow-up system is non-negotiable. One misstep here can bring a quick end to a promising relationship.
You offered too much responsibility, too soon.
Maybe you thought we’d be flattered when you suggested we become Sunday school teachers on our first visit with you.
Instead, we questioned your judgment. If you’re willing to put strangers into leadership roles, who might be in charge of our children? Why are you so desperate for workers?
Lesson for the church: Leadership development is a good thing. Notice the word “development” in there.
You saw me as a number.
You loved it when I started visiting your Sunday school class. You added me to the roll and even assigned me a bar code so you could track when I was there.
That might not have felt so strange if you had showed equal interest in me as a person. But people turned right back to their conversations with the friends they’d known for years. No one suggested sitting together during worship or meeting for lunch after church. If not for the bar code, I doubt anyone noticed when I stopped coming.
Lesson for the church: Yes, data is useful—and increasingly important in a data-driven world. But personal connection is essential.
You made it all about fun.
Friendship and fellowship are important for believers, and your church clearly knows it. The youth group went skiing and built bonfires and traveled to out-of-state amusement parks.
They didn’t take meals to the sick. They didn’t help the elderly with home repairs. They didn’t visit the nursing home or take warm socks to the homeless.
I want my kids to grow up with a heart for serving others. They aren’t learning it here.
Lesson for the church: Remember your purpose. The kingdom of God is not a social club.
You hired all your family members.
We saw it happen gradually over the years. You hired your spouse. You hired your children. Salaries and benefits noticeably improved as they came on staff. Then you stopped sharing financial information with the church.
Your son didn’t have a heart for leading the youth group—but he needed the money. Your other relatives didn’t pull their weight, and you let them coast.
When a longtime associate pastor bid farewell in tears—making way for one more member of your family—we knew it was time for us to depart as well.
Lesson for the church: When everyone on the paid staff shares the same DNA, something is wrong. Genetic diversity will give you greater credibility, better checks and balances, and a stronger ministry.
You put your anger in writing.
When our family decided to leave your ministry, we knew you wouldn’t be overjoyed. We were heavily involved, and our departure would be a loss.
Still, we were surprised by your letter—blasting us for leaving, impugning our character, and casting doubt on everything we had done within your ministry. We had done our best to depart on good terms.
The letter—on church letterhead, bearing your signature—remains in our files as a reminder not to return.
Lesson for the church: You’re not immune to anger and hurt, but lashing out doesn’t serve you. I think there may be a few Bible verses about this. You might try searching for “tongue.”
Yes, these things really happened.
You may find it hard to believe these things could happen in the church today. But all of them did happen—not all at the same church, and not all at the same time, but all in the life of one believer.
If you have the uncomfortable feeling that, just maybe, the author of this article once attended your church, you may be right.
And if you think these events could never have happened in your church, think again. The senior pastor and other leaders probably weren’t aware of how that Sunday school class responded to a new member or how volunteers behaved in a visitor’s home.
I’m not identifying myself, because I don’t want to embarrass the churches involved. But if I encountered this many dismaying incidents, it’s a good bet people in your church have encountered some too.
You may have heard about the “dones”—active, committed people of faith who end up leaving the church, feeling alienated.
It’s a phenomenon I can understand.
After moving to a new city, I visited more than two dozen congregations in search of a church home. I had some wonderful experiences that I fondly remember—the church that gave each visitor a homemade pie, the Sunday school class that left a small gift on my doorstep, the barbecue for prospective members to meet one another.
One church in particular made an impression. I had visited only once, but a few weeks later, a member recognized me in the grocery store and greeted me with true warmth and enthusiasm. It was the friendliest church I’ve ever known.
At too many other churches, though, my experiences discouraged me from visiting again. And if I feel unwelcome as a committed Christian, how must an unsaved newcomer feel?
Yet none of these problems is difficult to fix.
If you aren’t sure how visitors feel about your church, try stepping into their shoes and taking a look around. What you see may surprise you.
Then make a greater commitment to biblical love and hospitality—and you may see those visitors start coming back.
ANONYMOUS CHRISTIAN is a real person who actually had these experiences visiting churches.