If the statistics to be believed, then people are leaving the Church in their droves. We're bombarded with figures that suggest millennials in particular are more disinterested in organised religion than ever, and though in some places Christianity is soaring, there's no denying that it's struggling in the West. The thing is, it's often not that people have lost their faith, but that they want nothing to do with the messiness of Church. Many of us will have experienced it ourselves, or will have friends that have gone through it – and quite often we get so tongue-tied and awkward when the subject is broached that we end up putting our foot completely in it. That being said, here are three things not to do when someone you know is thinking about leaving the Church.
Don't make it about you
It's easy to immediately think you've failed a friend who admits that they're struggling, but don't take it personally – it isn't about you. It's not your responsibility to keep someone in church; their salvation isn't down to you and neither is their attendance on a Sunday. Your job is to be around, be available, and definitely don't cut them out completely. Just because they don't slot easily into your perfectly-packaged circle of 'church friends' anymore, it's not time to shut the door.
Don't try to argue them back in
The temptation can so often be to throw every apologetic argument you've ever heard at someone who expresses doubt, or desperately recall that one talk you heard five years ago that sounded vaguely convincing. There may be a time and a place for that, this probably isn't it. If someone really has been wrestling with their faith, the chances are that they've heard a thousand apologetic arguments and don't need another person to suggest that reading a Lee Strobel book will fix everything. Don't make your whole relationship about it, but if they want to talk about the big issues, don't argue with everything they say – listen. Again, this isn't about you and is not your opportunity to prove that you know all the right answers. No one falls in love with an argument, we fall in love with Jesus.
Don't be afraid to challenge
Sometimes, we try the opposite tack – well-meaning clichés like "We're all on a journey", "God is so much bigger than Church" and "You can let go, he'll still hold on" can fall out of our mouths before we've had time to stop and think. But if this is a close friend, don't be afraid to challenge their decision, as long as you've made it clear that you're not standing in judgement. Try to discern what the issue is; whether it's a specific situation with their church, its leadership or another member, or something bigger than that. Tell them you believe that Christian community is the best place for them to flourish, and don't just say "I'll pray for you", but actually do it – maybe even there and then, if they're up for it. And if they want to find another church, offer to help them research and try out some new places. Nowhere is perfect, but sometimes it might be best for someone to move on – and piling on the guilt will only drive them further away.