Christ grieves when people leave church and become alienated from His body. But no matter what causes people to leave, you can help them return if you reach out to them with patience and love.
Here are some ways you can help people who have left church:

  • Listen fully and compassionately to their reasons for leaving. Perhaps life's sufferings have damaged their faith. Maybe their desire for something conflicted with God's will for their lives, so they decided to stop following God and go their own way. Possibly, other people at their former church hurt them somehow. Even if their stories don't make sense to you, respect their experiences and their right to express how they feel. Acknowledge their pain.
  • Ask questions to discover why they've left church, and give them an opportunity to answer honestly without fear of you judging them. But if they don't want to discuss church, don't insist that they do.
  • Offer your friendship to them, whether or not they're attending church. Pray for Christ's light to shine through your life as you interact with them, so you can bear witness to the reality and strength of faith without having to use words.
  • Assure them of Christ's unconditional love for them. Help them understand that Christ intends the church to be a place that blesses people and helps them bless others, but that unfortunately, churches sometimes don't function as they should because they're made up of imperfect people who may not always follow Christ as He would like. Encourage them to turn to Christ Himself in prayer about the crises they're undergoing.
  • Don't offer pat solutions to their struggles in an attempt to make them feel better. Instead, simply be available to them as they struggle, listening to them and praying for them.
  • Give them permission to fully think, feel, talk and try to trust as they deal with their issues regarding church. If they're hostile when they express themselves, set appropriate boundaries to protect yourself, but strive to maintain your relationships with them. Remember that Christ never gives up on anyone.
  • Help your congregation address social issues in your community, such as striving for racial equality and providing economic opportunities for the poor. If people don't see the gospel move beyond church walls to the surrounding community - as Christ intends - they may become disillusioned.
  • Focus on the gospel rather than on trivial issues such as the color of the church's carpet or the style of music at a special service. Show unity with your brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than arguing over issues that aren't significant.
  • Welcome all people to your church - especially those who live on the margins of society. Show your belief that all people are made in God's image and are therefore inherently valuable.
  • Clarify theological issues with people who are confused, using the Bible to back up what you say. For example, some people might join a church with the expectation that Christians won't have to suffer, then become disappointed when they do. You might point out passages that say everyone suffers in this fallen world, but explain how a relationship with Christ makes a significant difference in how people experience suffering. Help people understand who Christ is and what He has revealed about Himself. Once they truly encounter Him, they'll likely be motivated to reconnect with Him.
  • Realize that there are no guarantees that people who have left the church will return, but as long as you shine Christ's light to them, you've done your part. Often the process of regaining faith takes a while, and people's ultimate decisions are between them and God. In prayer, entrust people to God.


By Whitney Von Lake Hopler, Live It Channel editor

Adapted from The Church and the Dechurched: Mending a Damaged Faith, copyright 2001 by Mary Tuomi Hammond. Published by Chalice Press, St. Louis, Mo., 1-800-366-3383.

Mary Tuomi Hammond is co-pastor of Peace Community Church in Oberlin, Ohio.

How have you tried to help people who have left church, and what have you found to be effective? Visit Live It's forum to respond, or read what others have to say. Just click on the link below.