Book Review: Why They Left

YeakleyWhy They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley Jr.

We all know people who have left our fellowship. Some have left for various denominations; some have abandoned the faith altogether. It is a trend that is at its worst among college aged and twenty-something members. It’s not a unique problem to our fellowship. Others have written about the general disconnect we’ve had with this particular age group. (I recommend You Lost Me by Kinnamon.)

Yeakley writes from many backgrounds. He’s effectively a combination of sociologist/psychologist/stats guy/minister. You can tell that he is a messenger who has been shot plenty of times. I’d guess a full 15% of the book is spent in caveats. I’m pretty sure he says “I’m not advocating doing theology by vote…” at least three times in the book.

We tend to get defensive when we’re faced with unpleasant facts. Doctor, are you calling me fat? Minister, are you saying that I’m failing to reach the young people? How dare you!

I wish that Yeakley would have spent less time trying to convince people that won’t listen that he’s telling the truth. The people who want the disclaimers are seldom satisfied with disclaimers…so don’t feed the trolls! This is really a minor gripe, though. Ignore me and move on…

Yeakley is even-handed when dealing with the issues raised. He recognizes that the individual and the congregation can share blame when someone falls away. He’s not interested in playing a blame game. He is interested in helping you and me make our congregations better places. How can we take away excuses? He helps us to be aware of any stumbling blocks we might be putting in the path for others.

There were two broad categories of reasons people left: the first was neglect, conflict, or misunderstandings. The second was doctrinal disagreements and misunderstandings.

Yeakleys chapters on neglect and fellowship are excellent. He tells some funny stories that hit close to home—one of a church that is ready to disfellowship everyone who hasn’t been around in a few years. The deacon finally asks, “How will they notice?” The elders reverse course—attempt to actually engage in fellowship with these people—and surprise, surprise, they restore almost everyone. It’s a great reminder about the solution to many of our problems.

The doctrinal chapters are well handled, too. He outlines the objections that many have to some of our positions (divorce, evangelism, women, music, etc.). In each chapter, he looks at the complaints about the issue (your church hates women!), looks at the range of teaching in churches of Christ (women can do anything to women can’t do anything), and then usually suggests that most congregations he knows of are doing a better job than his survey would indicate. Unfortunately, my experience has been that many of the churches I’m familiar with have held some of the extreme positions. I hope that’s changing.

Yeakley’s book is worth your time. I’d give it 4 stars. If you’re church leader, it will help you understand what’s going on in the congregation and in the community. It might even make you aware of some ways that you’ve been hurting people even while acting with good intentions. It would be nice if the survey pool were larger and if he spent more time was spent with the data. Yeakley spent a little too much time explaining his doctrinal positions and neglecting the overarching question of “why.”