They’re fed up with the unchurched and the dechurched. They’re sick and tired of their lame excuses for avoiding church.

Whenever anyone reports on the growing majority of people who choose to stay away from church, many church leaders put the blame on the lost sheep. For example, after my article, “4 Reasons the Majority Stay Away from Church” appeared, I heard from numerous leaders who reacted with contempt:

  • “People prefer to hear what they want to hear and will turn away from truth.”
  • “People love the darkness more than the light. People stay away from church because that means their sin, their selfishness, their shame all have to be dealt with.”
  • “People avoid church because they are – in their own way – avoiding Christ.”
  • “I believe that most people avoid church because they are trying to avoid being told – or found out – what they really are: sinners in need of redemption.”
  • “Three of the four reasons people don’t want to be in church are completely self centered.”
  • “Those not attending are often looking for excuses to not go rather than reasons to go.”
  • “Well, too bad, you need to be lectured.”
  • “Get over yourself.”

It’s not uncommon to feel attacked when others reject the structures in which we’ve invested our lives. The knee-jerk reaction is to attack back. Is it any wonder that 87 percent of the unchurched view Christians as judgmental?

After spending the last few years talking with and befriending hundreds of people who don’t go to church, these church leaders’ judgmental responses just hurt my soul. And they prompt me to ask some questions:

1. Do you know any unchurched people? Do you spend time listening to them? Are they your friends? Do you like them? Do you love them?

2. How is the condemnation thing working for you to bring in the condemned multitudes?

3. How would it work if businesses and other organizations took a similar approach? In the face of a downturn, would they gain ground by blaming and deriding their customers and prospects?

4. How will you ever improve and increase your effectiveness if you automatically blame others and find no room for self-improvement?

Condemning the lost sheep tends to convince leaders that they bear no responsibility for negative trends. And slamming the sheep–even if some of the accusations are valid–accomplishes nothing. It only wastes time, drives the sheep further away, and prevents the church from improving.

Please understand. I’m not suggesting we alter the message. I’m not suggesting that church outsiders (or insiders) are guiltless. I’m not denying that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I’m simply suggesting we muster the humility to re-evaluate our methodology and old habits.

In our new book, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, we suggest some practical ways to pursue lost sheep: Radical Hospitality, Fearless Conversation, Genuine Humility, and Divine Anticipation. Each of these solutions focuses on what any church can do, proactively, to follow Jesus’ examples of effective ministry.

When faced with growing numbers of people who reject the church, it’s easy to get frustrated. It’s tempting to bite back. But that won’t help. What will help is this:

  • Don’t blame others. Refrain from finding the speck in the other’s eye. Take responsibility for the work God has given you.
  • Curb the defensiveness. Rather than bunkering in with the status quo, ask, “What can I learn? How can I improve?”
  • Lead with love. As Jesus did.

We will never retrieve lost sheep by attacking them, calling them ugly names, and blaming them for sagging ministry effectiveness.