7.12.2013

Book Review: “Why They Left”

For quite some time I’ve wanted to read, “Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ,” by Flavil R. Yeakley Jr. This week I finally got around to doing so, and am glad that I did—it’s a great book.

The title is pretty self-explanatory, but basically, Dr. Yeakley (a long-time preacher, university professor, and statistician) conducted 325 surveys of people who had left the fellowship of Churches of Christ and then categorized and responded to the reasons they had for doing so.

The insights gleaned from those who left are helpful, but equally useful (if not more so) in the book are Yeakley’s brief but thoughtful responses to some of the issues which those who have left brought up. The book is an easy read, and I was surprised at how good of a writer Yeakley was (I don’t know why I was surprised; I guess I assumed that a statistician would produce a boring book, but it was an excellent read overall).

Here are some of my favorite quotations from the book (with random thoughts by me in brackets):
“When the average parents in the congregations attend regularly and have specific church work assignments, their children are much more likely to remain in Churches of Christ after they grow up and leave home. The retention rate in those churches was around 75 to 80 percent. In congregations where the average family has one parent who is an active and involved member but the other is not, the retention rate was around 50 percent. In churches where the typical family was one in which neither parent was active and involved, the retention rate was around 20 to 25 percent.” (40) [The youth ministers reading this are amen-ing out loud and trying to figure out the best way of sharing this quotation with all of their parents.] 
“…We should recognize that campus ministries are partners in Christian higher education. We should support the few campus ministries that Churches of Christ already operate, and we should establish many more.” (44) 
“The conclusion based on these positive and negative references to judging [in the New Testament] seems obvious to me. Christians should judge to distinguish between truth and error, right and wrong, or good and evil. It is acceptable for Christians to judge to settle disputes between or among brethren. Christians must judge the conduct of other Christians who sin and refuse to repent in spite of repeated admonitions. Christians must judge doctrines and practices. But we are not supposed to judge the heart, the motives or the eternal destiny of another person. We must leave it to God to pronounce the final judgment.” (62-63). [This is excellent. Yeakley’s discussion of NT passages on judging and his synthesis of them is almost an aside to the book, but the book would be worth reading just for this.] 
“Grace must never be used as an excuse for failing to correct known errors in our lives or in our understanding of God’s will.” (63) [I love this. It is almost worthy of a t-shirt or a bumper sticker.] 
“Churches of Christ reject…‘Once saved always saved’…but a doctrine of ‘If saved, barely saved’ is just as wrong.” (70) 
“My personal observation is that in far too many Churches of Christ, the elders are doing deacons’ work; the deacons have very little to do; and the church-supported ministers do most of the pastoral work. If strategic planning is done at all, it is done by ministers.” (141) [I think this is an accurate statement. I am thankful that the leaders of my congregation are working hard to get away from this mindset.] 
“Christ did not accept us on the basis of our perfect understanding or our perfect obedience. He accepted us because of our acceptance of Him.” (201) 
“The more friends new members make in the church the less likely they are to leave the church…the sooner new converts get involved in some area of ministry the more likely they are to stay in the church.” (208)
If you are a member of a church of Christ and are concerned about the future of Churches of Christ and are interested in doing what you can to help minister to the people in our churches, I highly recommend this book.

4 comments:

Lori T 7/12/13, 11:42 AM  

Thanks for updating me on his book. I had him for Ephesians and Colossians, and I really enjoyed his class. Your last quote made me think of this one I've heard before: If a new convert doesn't make at least 7 legitimate relationships after conversion, he will likely leave the church.

Luke Dockery 7/13/13, 12:44 PM  

Hey Lori!

I never got to have Dr. Yeakley at Harding, but I wish that I had. I did get to hear him present some statistics on church growth during the lectureship one year though.

The finding that you referred to is in the book, but in a section that I thought was too long to quote. Basically, if a new convert develops less than 3 legitimate relationships, he/she will almost certainly leave. If he/she develops at least 7, he/she will almost certainly stay. In the middle (4-6) it could go either way. It is an important point for all church leaders and members to know though: if we want people to stay around, we must befriend them!

Hope you guys are doing well!

Leslie 8/5/13, 4:29 PM  

Hi Luke. I happened across your blog from FB after reading your sweet post to your wife on your anniversary. :) Blessings on you two and your precious daughter!

This book sounds very interesting to me. I am curious as to how many of the 300 people left the church in general vs. how how many left the COC and went to other church fellowships? I'm one of the latter, and I would be interested to read others' stories.

You and Lori mention that the number of relationships made affects whether or not people will eventually leave church. I think this is why small groups work so well, and churches who have small groups tend to see a lot of growth. It's hard to develop legitimate relationships before/during/after a church service, but have a meal with someone or sit down and study the bible together in someone's home and you are much more likely to develop a real friendship.

Take care! Thanks for sharing about this book.

Luke Dockery 8/6/13, 12:18 PM  

Leslie,

Sorry your comment didn’t get posted immediately—comments on older posts have to be approved by me, otherwise I get hit with lots of spam.

Your question is a good one, but as far as I can tell, is one that isn’t answered directly by Yeakley’s book. His focus is more on specific reasons why those who left did rather than where they are now.

In another portion of the book, he does mention that, following high school graduation, 58% of young people remain members of Churches of Christ, while 20% abandon their faith altogether and 21% join other denominational groups.

So, at least among that segment of the population, it appears that about half who leave join a different group, while half quit altogether. Those statistics don’t speak for all of the 325 people surveyed, but at least indicate that many join other churches but many also leave their faith behind altogether (and this was confirmed, at least anecdotally, in the interviews with those who left).

Still, it seems crazy that there was no specific data (that I could find) on what seems like such an obvious question.

You are right about the importance of intentional fellowship time in building real relationships. I certainly believe that small groups can bring this about, and many churches have used them effectively. I don’t believe that small groups automatically fix this problem, and can be more harmful than beneficial if implemented poorly.

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