A Churchless Faith
Faith journeys beyond the Churches
by Alan Jamieson, SPCK 2002
There are many people who used to be regular church-attenders, but are no longer. Churches invest a lot of energy in bringing in new people, but little or no effort is put into encouraging people not to leave.
'A Churchless Faith' is, as Alan Jamieson says, a book in two halves: In the first half, he reports on a detailed study of people who have left Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.
Jamieson carried out a series of interviews with church leavers. These were not fringe people, but people who had been involved in the core of their churches - some of them as pastors, pastors' wives, or missionaries. They had been involved in their churches, as adults, for an average of about sixteen years before leaving. So they were, humanly speaking, people the churches could not afford to lose.
The most important of Jamieson's discoveries is that many or most of these leavers are not 'backsliders' as church leaders often think, and they have not 'lost their faith.' They continue to believe, and in many cases to pray, read the Bible, and be involved in Christian activities outside the churches. They just do not find their involvement in Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches helpful any more.
This is particularly relevant to our times, when people see life as a spiritual journey, and their church attendance as just a temporary lifestyle choice. For many, if the church does not help me at this stage in my personal pilgrimage, it is OK to leave.
Jamieson also found that Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic church leaders had a poor understanding of why people had left their churches.
He seeks to draw a map of different kinds of leavers, which he categorizes as 'disillusioned followers', 'reflective exiles', 'transitional explorers' and 'integrated wayfinders'. He tries to tie in these categories with James Fowler's model of stages in the faith journey. This is the part of the book that I found least convincing, because Jamieson himself admits that the process is really more complex than his four categories suggest.
Jamieson is both a sociologist and a pastor. He writes the first half of the book as a sociologist, and the second half as a pastor, discussing what churches could do to stem the flow of leavers and support the faith of those who have left; resources for those who leave; what churches can learn from the spiritual journeys of those who leave, and what those who leave can learn from Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.
The second area that I found problematic in this book was the uncritical acceptance of different theologies, such as liberation theology and feminist theology. Jamieson seems to regard all these as equally valid, as long as they help people along on their spiritual journey. This is a typical concession to postmodern thinking.
This is an important book, and every church leader should read it, although probably no-one will agree with all its conclusions.
Three excellent web articles from 'Reality' magazine by Alan Jamieson, based on the material in this book:
- Ten myths about church leavers
- A Churchless faith - describes Jamieson's four categories ('disillusioned followers', 'reflective exiles', 'transitional explorers' and 'integrated wayfinders').
- In search of Turangawaewae - what happens to the leavers. (Don't be put off by the strange title! This is a valuable article.)