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.