The Exvangelicals: If You’re Curious About Why They’re Leaving the Evangelical Church

Statistics consistently show that more and more people in the U.S. are leaving their churches. Some change religions, some change denominations, and some leave faith behind altogether.

But do you know why?

It may not be why you think.

This is what Sarah McCammon writes about in her new book, The Exvangelicals: Loving, Living, and Leaving the White Evangelical Church.

McCammon was once all-in among the evangelical culture. She grew up with a sincere Christian faith in a deeply evangelical family. But bit by bit, the questions and doubts she had about her own beliefs as well as about the Christian world around her grew too loud to ignore.

She discovered she was not alone. She writes that people leaving conservative religious communities (“exvangelicals” emerged as a common hashtag in 2016) are “finding ample resources, a widening array of spaces for dialogue around deconstruction, and new opportunities for building communities around this shared experience.”

But why are they leaving?

There’s no single, simple answer. McCammon writes:

“For many of the exvangelicals I’ve met, those Christian spaces feel less and less like home, and Jesus seems harder to find in them. And for some, following Jesus, or, at least the truth as they see it, means stepping out of those spaces—out of that ‘parallel universe’—and onto a new and unfamiliar path.”

As she points out in her book, everybody has their own story.

So if you really want to know why someone you know has left the church (or if you are that person yourself), have a conversation about it with them.

Don’t assume you know. Don’t buy into rumors floating around. Don’t read one article on a blog and think now you understand.

It’s often more complicated and nuanced than you’d imagine, including this explanation often used about them: that they leave the church so they can just please themselves and have a good time.

McCammon writes:

“The idea that people leave evangelicalism out of nothing more than a desire to ‘sin’ is frustrating to many of the people I interviewed—and to me.”

The Exvangelicals is full of first-hand stories as well as data from multiple research studies. McCammon, a national political correspondent for NPR, writes with clarity and grace, using her in-depth journalism skills to tell a complex story in an easily digestible way.

Instead of judging those who leave, listen to them talk about it. And if you can’t talk with someone in person about it, at least read books like McCammon’s to hear from the exvangelicals themselves.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

my thanks to NetGalley for
the review copy of this book

15 thoughts on “The Exvangelicals: If You’re Curious About Why They’re Leaving the Evangelical Church

  1. Linda Stoll

    I’ve heard about this book and so I really appreciate your review, Lisa. As a born and bred evangelical, I am both horrified and saddened that in recent years, the term ‘evangelical’ has become a political hashtag and bears no resemblance to it’s roots – the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ.

    The watching world has come to believe that ‘evangelical’ represents a political voting bloc filled with vitriol. No wonder the next generation is heading out the door. Jesus weeps.

    I fear I’m getting on my soapbox again …

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I understand what you’re saying, Linda. It is quite an unexpected twist the past few years to see how evangelicalism–definitely in social perception but also sometimes in actuality–has lost its foundation of the love of Jesus. I hope it will face its blind spots soon and make a course correction.

  2. Jean Wise

    Interesting insights. I just listened with a friend for several hours this week as she lamented leaving her United Methodist church due to all its political turmoils lately. Not an easy decision and more traumatic that we realize.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Leaving a church is definitely a difficult decision. It can take quite a toll on a person. I’m glad you were an open ear for your friend, Jean. We definitely need people to talk to about spiritual matters.

  3. Donna

    Thank you, Lisa, for sharing this book, I have had several conversations with “exvangelicals” and truly feel the pain of their decisions. The very fact that they are often unfairly judged for their decision demonstrates why they feel the need to leave.
    I think it is important to have these conversations because when the church no longer feels like a safe place, something is wrong, and just maybe we need to initiate meaningful change.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I so appreciate these insights, Donna. I totally agree with you. I love knowing that you are out there having these kinds of conversations. Can we clone you? 🙂

      1. Donna

        Ha, ha, please don’t clone me, one of this train wreck is enough!
        But seriously, I think it’s important to hold space for these people, not alienate or label them. We can learn much from listening, even if what we hear is hard to receive.
        Isn’t this the same issue Jesus encountered during his time on earth created by the Pharisees and the ultra-religious sects?

  4. Joanne Viola

    I haven’t heard much about the book although I have seen the title, so I appreciated reading your thoughts. It has saddened me how many are struggling with their faith. I pray often that they would return to reading God’s Word and that He would guide them back to His truth.

  5. Maree Dee

    So, if you really want to know why someone you know has left the Church (or if you are that person yourself), have a conversation about it with them. It’s such a simple question, yet one we tend to avoid. I’m going to have to pick up this book and read it. So many of our good friends have left, a few who not only left the Church but abandoned Jesus altogether—which breaks my heart.

    I have proudly featured your article on our Pinterest board for Grace & Truth Featured Posts. You can see your article here—

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