Pastor Andy Stanley has met many people over the years who said they stopped believing in God, are on the edge of losing their faith, or are just lost.
It's not that a bad experience or circumstance pushed them away from God or caused them to doubt. And it's not that they're on some campaign against God and religion. But many of them just woke up one day and wondered if they really did believe.
It's as if they just put their faith away in a box somewhere.
His short but memorable conversations with such people have prompted Stanley to launch a series on "Losing Your Religion" at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.
According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 15 percent of Americans claim no religion and that statistic is apparently still rising. Also, a recent Grand Valley State University survey on the nonreligious found that most nonbelievers had a religious childhood.
It's common to everybody to question their beliefs at some point in their life, Stanley indicated during the sermon series kickoff on Aug. 16.
"All of us ... run the risk at some point of losing our religion," he said.
Most people, Stanley pointed out, don't even care much about religion, the rituals and the traditions. All they want is some assurance that God exists and that God knows their name and cares about them.
"One of the reasons that religion and faith often slip away has nothing to do with God as much as it does that there is a tendency on our part to look for God in all the wrong places, to look for God in all the wrong people, to look for God in all the wrong sets of circumstances ... and in systems that make big promises," he said.
And while looking in the wrong places, many have lost what Stanley called "the epicenter of enduring faith," which is the idea that they need forgiveness for sin.
"If that idea ever slides off front and center or if that idea was never front and center, then I'm telling you whatever religious system you've chosen, whatever religious system you bought into and whatever brand of Christianity that you've brought into eventually you will find unfulfilling because the point that God wanted to make to the world wasn't everything you believed up until this point is wrong. What God wanted ... and introduced in the New Testament is that every single person ... understand what it means to be forgiven of sins."
"God says I want everyone to experience my forgiveness," Stanley added. "What God wants ... is to restore the relationship."
The Alpharetta pastor called people back to "the starting point" of a relationship with God because at the end of the day it's not about a ritual, a routine, a church, a speaker or a book.
In fact, religion, oftentimes, is what gets in the way of the authenticity that people want with God, he noted. And what people need to do is strip all the "junk" – the superstitions, judgmental attitudes, legalism, and hypocrisy – that got loaded up with Christianity and focus on the person of Jesus, Stanley stressed.
"Religion's always asking 'who's right?' The better question is 'who is Jesus?'" he noted. "Religion asks 'what's true?' The better question is 'what happened?'"
So on one note, losing your religion can be good, the prominent megachurch pastor said in his most recent sermon.
Stanley received a letter from a church attendee who is a nonbeliever. The anonymous writer is convinced he'll never become a Christian but he stated that he's starting to doubt his doubts about God.
Encouraging attendees and listeners, Stanley said, "If you're on the edge ... if you have your doubts ... my challenge to you is to draw back in to the simple story and the teaching of Jesus."
Jesus, he said, is not religion 2.0 nor is he an option to add to other religious options. Jesus is the answer to the questions that religion had been asking for generations.