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Love and Companionship- Qualitative Study on Hong Kong Dechurched Christians and what They Long for

Ray Bakke Centre for Urban Transformation

In 2018, our Centre conducted the “Churched and Dechurched” survey and we found that Dechurched Protestant believers still maintain certain level of faith maturity and ways of expressing their faith even after leaving church. As we hope to further explore the stories and experience of the Dechurched brothers and sisters, we conducted the second stage qualitative research and below is our research report. The outcome of the interviews were coded into themes, illustrating their reasons for leaving church, their best memories in church and elements of the church that they long for.

We interviewed 17 brothers and sisters who are dechurched or have only recently returned to church. These interviewees are invited to join the research through the researchers' connections and also through contacts from the earlier quantitative survey of our research project. They are in the age ranging from 20 to 60. Most of them have been to church for many years and have been in key serving and leadership roles; and they still claim to be Protestant Christians even after leaving church. Amongst the interviewees, 6 of them have returned to church when we conducted the interview.

Each interview lasted about an hour and voice recording were made so the scripts can be transcribed into verbatim for coding and analysis. The key themes of the results are as follow (words in italic are direct quotes from the interviews):

Theme 1: Reasons for Leaving Church

Interviewees shared the process and reasons for how and why they left church. Many of them felt disappointed, angry and exhausted when they decided to leave. The reasons for leaving church that they mentioned include:

According to our previous survey research on “Churched and Dechurched”, the main reasons for leaving church include “I am disappointed by the way church handles certain matters” and “I don’t like the church culture”. This current qualitative study also points to issues of church systems, ways of handling matters and churches’ response to socio-political issue. Some respondents mentioned that churches are like community centres, lacking exchange on spiritual level; which they rather experience faith in their personal realm and not be affected by others. Other respondents illustrated the actual challenge including the burdens of work and life, of which since they can’t experience God in church, they rather spend time on other matters than church. Several respondents mentioned that they clearly understand church does not equal to God, and therefore would not leave God because of the issues in churches.

Theme 2: Maintaining Relationship with God after Leaving Church

Many respondents mentioned they have prayed and read the bible less, but they shared that God’s role in their lives have not changed. God remains to be in the firm and crucial position in their lives, and below are some of the respondents description of God’s role in their lives:

  • ”God is still so important to me, no matter I am a good girl or not. Whenever I need Him, He is always by my side. That’s very important.”

  • “I still deeply believe that Christ is my Saviour and He is good to me. He has lots of grace. Even I stopped going to church, I still feel like He is around me, in my life.”

Theme 3:Best memories from church

In the qualitative interviews, we asked our dechurched respondents to share their best memories from church. Many of them recalled their youthful times in church when they learn and experience life together with brothers and sisters, and church. Respondents also miss in-depth sermon messages and teaching on biblical truth.

  • “I recall the times when I went to church in high school, I experience growth every time, in my faith, biblical knowledge and how all these shaped my value system.”

  • “Pastors from before are very inspiring, they understand bible thoroughly and their teaching were very impactful.”

  • ​“First- the community, second- the teaching on biblical truth and values on what’s right or wrong. All these are very helpful to me even till today.”

  • ​“The love from very good counsellors and friends; and I gained much knowledge about our faith and then learn to practice it out.”

Theme 4: What do they long to see in churches?

“Actually I really want to go back to church.” Many respondents told us they really hope to go back to church and some have returned to church because they were invited by brothers and sisters whom they were close to. When we asked respondents to share what they long to see in churches, below are some of the elements they mentioned:

  • “They would listen to me while I talk, they won’t cut me off even when we go off topic. If I don’t understand and want to discuss further, they will still continue to listen and discuss with me. They treasure me as a person more than going along with the schedule or programme.”

  • ​“Companionship, that every brother or sister who come to church can support one another. This is very important. I also hope to renew myself, absorb different spiritual nutrients that allow me to gain new perspective in different things in life - the spiritual perspective that can be applied to everyday life.”

  • ​“Be more open-minded, and less human factors that can affect the faith experience.”

  • ​“I hope to see God in church, and that relationships can bring missional hearts together to serve the church and community.”

Respondents are indeed all longing for love and communities that can share their walks in life, in-depth biblical teaching and sermon messages. It is worth noting that the above research results only reflect the experience and feelings of some dechurched brothers and sisters. We understand that not every dechurched brother or sister experience the above situations. We just hope to use different research methods to further understand the need of our dechurched body of Christ.

Indeed, after every interview of this study, our respondents thanked us for interviewing them and asking how they felt because no one has ever asked about why they left church and how they felt. We hope to thank each one of them for sharing their life stories with us, and may God bless you all with His love and fruitfulness.

In the recent few months of political turmoil, many pastors devoted lots of effort in front line ministry and care towards believers and the wider community. These actions have made church relevant and in touch with the world. We pray that churches can witness God’s truth, love and companionship in the society and bring peace to people who wish to come to Christ and also our dechurched brothers and sisters.

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