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The Loneliness of Those Who Leave the Church


Originally posted in 2015

From your earliest recollection, you remember the church.

You remember the preacher, the piano player, the deacons, and your Sunday School teacher.

You remember the youth group and all the fun activities.

You remember getting saved and baptized.

You remember being in church every time the doors were open.

You remember everything in your life revolving around the church.

You remember praying and reading your Bible.

You remember the missionaries and the stories they told about heathens on the other side of the world.

You remember revival meetings and getting right with God.

You remember . . .

Most of all you remember the people.

These were the people who loved you. You thought to yourself, my church family loves me almost as much as God does.

You remember hearing sermons about God’s love and the love Christians were supposed to have for one another.

Like your blood family, your church family loves you no matter what.

But then IT happened.

You know, IT.

You got older. You grew up. With adult eyes, you began to see the church, God, Jesus, and the Bible differently.

You had questions, questions that no one had answers for.

Perhaps you began to see that your church family wasn’t perfect.

Perhaps the things Mom and Dad whispered about in the bedroom became known to you.

Perhaps you found out that things were not as they seemed.

Uncertainty and doubt crept in.

Perhaps you decided to try the world for a while. Lots of church kids did, you told yourself.

Perhaps you came to the place where you no longer believed what you had believed your entire life.

And so you left.

You had an IT moment — that moment in time when things changed forever.

You thought, surely, Mom and Dad will still love me.

You thought, surely, Sissy and Bubby and Granny will still love me.

And above all, you thought your church family would love you no matter what.

But they didn’t.

For all their talk of love, their love was conditioned on you being one of them, believing the right things.

Once you left, the love stopped.

Now they are praying for you.

Now you are a sermon illustration trotted out as a warning to people who question and doubt.

Now they plead with you to return to Jesus.

Now they question if you were ever really saved.

They say they still love you, but deep down you know they don’t.

You know their love for you requires you to be like them.

You can’t be like them anymore. . .

Such loss.

Time marches on.

The church is still where it has always been.

The same families are there, loving Jesus and speaking of their great love for others.

But you are forgotten.

A sheep gone astray.

Every once in a while, someone asks your mom and dad how you are doing.

They sigh, perhaps tears well up in their eyes . . .

Oh, how they wish you would come home.

To be a family sitting together in the church again.

You can’t go back.

You no longer believe.

All that you really want now is their love.

You want them to love you just as you are.

Can they do this?

Will they do this?

Or is Jesus more important to them than you?

Does the church come first?

Is chapter and verse more important than flesh and blood?

You want to be told they love you.

You want to be held and told it is going to be all right.

But here you sit tonight . . .

Alone . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    I know many feel alone after deconversion, I guess I was just lucky to find new social contacts, friends whose company I love to be in. There’s also the fact that, when we meet I’m not tying myself in knots trying to ‘witness’ to them as I would have been previously, our friendship is open now, no ulterior motives.
    ‘…..Perhaps you found out that things were not as they seemed….’ In the last 3 years, in my small circle, in my small corner of the world, I’ve been told by 2 women of sexual abuse they suffered in x-tian settings, one from 6yo by her brother and one by her vicar when she was a trainee curate!!!!!! Tip of the iceberg? I think it most likely.

  2. Avatar
    Missi Montana

    I was fortunate that I never was close to anyone in my church, so leaving was actually a relief. I never had that loneliness or that rejection. I don’t miss church at all.

    • Avatar
      Yulya Sevelova

      For me and my family ( mother and half- brother) the loneliness was actually IN church, because we were discriminated against for being poor, with no husband and father in the home, so we weren’t what ” they ” wanted for church members. It turns out, this kind of attitude is more common than people know – it’s part of the whole Americanism thing, and it comes with lots of pressure. You see this example in the many Korean churches in Los Angeles. The missionaries did quite a number on them, as chasing money and conformity blunted love, and care for the community . And no, I’m not lonely regarding church, because I don’t trust American Christianity anyway. Once I found out what was going on, that particular lonely feeling was gone. The only loneliness I have now, is that all my loved ones aren’t alive anymore. And the churches bear a responsibility for that ! A story for another day.

  3. Avatar

    About a year ago, my husband and I visited our daughter who is now living in Nashville, just a few miles from where I grew up. My aunt and uncle still live a couple of miles from my childhood house. One morning, I drove my husband around the area to see the little restaurant that had the Pac-Man machine, the lake where my grandfather took me fishing, the long-closed elementary school I attended for 4 years, the church where we spent so many hours. I told him lots of stories. He said that he knew there were lots of problematic issues about the Southern Baptist doctrines, but he also heard me talk about friends, kind adult teachers and parents, fun hours exploring the church buildings, learning how the baptistry worked, different types of banana pudding at church pot-lucks. He heard stories of community. And I miss that.

    Now I am the evil atheist. If those nice church people knew, they’d pray for me, but stay the hell away in case the devil hops out of me and contaminates someone. My aunt and uncle now know that we’re atheists because my daughter inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. To her, a lifelong secular person, it’s no big deal. But now my aunt and uncle think we’re all going to hell. As progress and affirming as my aunt and uncle are, they still believe you have to get saved to avoid eternity in hell. I know they mean well – I doubt if they’ll bring it up again – I think my uncle felt a duty to say something because he loves us. But I WAS saved, at least as far as our doctrine taught. I WAS. And now I don’t believe in any of it. Sometimes it feels lonely for my husband and me because so many relatives on both sides are God-believers. They don’t get us, and we don’t get why they hang onto fairy tales. I mean, we understand wanting a sky-daddy, or wanting to feel that death isn’t the end, or hoping for miracles. But facing reality gives us a certain freedom, and we can’t go back.

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