Why Do People Leave the SDA Church? (Revisited)

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The following paragraphs are from an article featured in the latest edition of GLEANER. The article is a response to the article "Beyond Belief"  which deals with why people leave the SDA church. I am quoting the start of the article here and share some thoughts below.

Its Beyond Belief Revisited 
...His article, first published in the Adventist Review (March 21, 2013) and reprinted in the North Pacific Union Conference GLEANER(June 2013), is in large part predicated on a study conducted by Southern Adventist University’s School of Business and directed by Lisa Goolsby.
While the responses of those surveyed in their study are forthright and heartfelt about how they relate to Adventist theology, based on how this study was conducted,* it does not establish a new leading reason for why people leave the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Relational and personal issues are still the primary reasons why people leave the church according to every other North American Division (NAD) retention study conducted across Bermuda, Canada, Guam/Micronesia and the United States.
Through the years, leaving because of doctrinal reasons has hovered around 9 percent. Recent data shows an uptick to 14 percent. This is data we can rely on that represents the trends over more than three decades collected from stratified random samples of people identified by third parties (pastors, church clerks, etc.) as former or nonattending members. Read More
14 GLEANER • September 2013
*The “Former Seventh-day Adventist Perceptions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church” study used a nonprobability sampling method, which means one cannot scientifically make generalizations about the total NAD population from this sample because it would not be representative enough.
So here's the deal. Good article. Thought provoking. Balanced. Healing-based. Charitable. The whole schmear. However, the article does unintentionally present yet another thing to argue about - retention studies. This one is valid that one isn't. This one is scientifically sound, the other isn't. The one saying "A" is false, but the study that says "B" is true. Pretty soon someone will print an article about how this article got it all wrong and the first one was the one that had it right. Then some new guy or gal will pitch in with a "they are both wrong" article that presents yet another study which supposedly reveals the "truth." And so on and so forth. As far as I am concerned, we have enough things to debate. We don't need another.

Lets keep it simple. Do people leave church because they are changing beliefs or because they have had a bad experience? My answer is: Who cares? The point is they are leaving and those are the reasons why. Regardless of which is more prevalent people leave for one of three primary reasons: Bad experience, change of beliefs, or both and we need to respond appropriately especially when the issues are doctrinal. Richardson stated it well when he said that we should "not ignore their legitimate questions but accelerate our responses to them in reasoned and redemptive ways." 

Unfortunately, ignoring questions, giving cliche answers, quoting Ellen White, and proof texting has been the way in which we have historically approached honest questions. Perhaps the real problem is most Adventists don't really know their Bibles. What they know is the Bible according to Amazing Facts. Or they have purchased one of our wonderful Ellen White study Bibles and have built their faith on that.* Then when someone comes with a real question that requires real answers we're bankrupt. Feeling threatened we respond with a cultish "don't question the truth" and walk away with a renewed sense of self-righteousness (or with a nagging feeling of hopelessness that we choose to ignore). 

The solution? We need to get into our Bibles and dig deep. We need to get rid of the proof texts and build our faith on the rock Jesus Christ not on the ministry of a modern prophet. We need real answers that satisfy modern minds, not stuff from the 50's. We need to realize that no amount of "niceness" or "friendliness" is going to make up for unanswered questions. While we may never be able to convince and satisfy everyone we need to be intentional in being truthful and biblical. And ultimately we need to exercise charity toward everyone regardless of whether they agree with us or not. It is this conviction that has enabled me to form good relationships with many former Adventists. And by relationships I don't mean an inauthentic gimmick to get them back into our church but a relationship that embraces their spiritual journey and honors it even where it differs from our own.

One of the greatest experiences I have had on this blog is the opportunity to connect with and talk to former Adventists. Many are not apostates. They are not "rejecters of the Spirit" And no, they are not heretics who are lost unless they return to the "true remnant." Instead, I have found many of them to be honest, brilliant people who are wrestling with faith and truth. They love Jesus. They love the gospel. And we have failed them. Some have been hurt by our attitudes, yes. But many others have had real questions that we failed to answer or, as in the case of Eliana Matthews, have been raised with such a distorted and perverted version of Adventism that the only way to heal would be to start over from scratch.

But there is no need to despair. The reality is that people leaving a church because of bad experiences or changes in belief system is not unique to Adventism. Ask anyone who left the Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, or Presbyterian church and 9 out of 10 will most likely tell you they left because of a bad experience of a change in belief system. Books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan and The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley reveal that Adventism is far from alone in its legalism and lukewarmness. In addition, lost in this debate is the amazing work that Adventism is doing all over the world and gained is the misconception that all of Adventism is beset by these issues. The issues are real and need attention but the church, while in need of a spiritual reboot, is daily moving in the right direction. Of that I am truly happy.

___________

* Adventists should not be ashamed of Ellen White study Bibles. After all, there are C.S Lewis study Bibles so why not Ellen White? The problem is when we think Ellen White was an inspired commentary of scripture and that if we read her comments we have no further need of study. This is a misuse of the prophetic gift and breeds less, not more, biblical knowledge and spiritual growth. We must always remember Ellen Whites own words, quoted in the above article, which state:
“There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error... 
“[A]s real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men [and women] rest satisfied with the light already received from God’s word, and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative, and seek to avoid discussion. 
“When God’s people are at ease, and satisfied with their present enlightenment, we may be sure that God will not favor them. It is God’s will that they should be ever moving forward, to receive the increased and ever-increasing light which is shining for them” (Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 35, 38–41).

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