'Lost' Christians Greatest Crisis in American Church, says Author

PORTLAND, Ore. - The inability of the church to discuss a topic that has become taboo among many Christians is one of the root causes why millions of Americans are leaving the church and never to return, says one author.

There are "Christians who have experientially lost their faith" but have no one to turn to since church culture shuns the topic, David Sanford said Thursday.

It's not that these Christians lost their salvation, but that they have lost their faith in the Bible, the church and Christian beliefs, said the author, who was addressing attendants at the annual convention of the Evangelical Press Association in Portland, Ore.

Over 31 million Americans are part of this exodus from the church, Sanford said, citing a Barna Group study.

"Any business that is losing 31 million customers is going out of business," he told a room of Christian journalists and editors. "[It] is the greatest crisis among Christians today in the U.S., Canada and some parts of Europe…We must break the silence in our publications."

In his upcoming book, If God Disappears: 9 Faith Wreckers and What to Do About Them, Sanford details nine reasons he uncovered through listening to stories of those who exited the church on why Christians abandon faith.

Most of the time, Christians leave because of a "wounded" experience. They either deliberately walk away due to questions and doubts that go unanswered or they feel that God has walked away or "disappeared," observed Sanford.

The author noted that he too "experientially" lost his faith a few years back when he encountered a series of unfortunate news, including his daughter being diagnosed with endometriosis – a condition that affects the womb.

"I felt God was pounding and pounding and pounding on me," he said.

Although Sanford at the time was serving in multiple Christian positions – vice president of Publishing and Internet Ministries for the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association and a member of Evangelical Press Association – he said his faith was discouraged to a point where he couldn't even say a prayer before a meal.

But looking back at his situation, Sanford said he realized that God used the crisis in his faith as a "hinge" to re-work his wrong theology and allowed his faith to be more vibrant than before.

He has since applied his experience to his ministry where he comes alongside those who have experientially lost their faith and walks beside them in their journey.

Speaking from experience, he believes Christians who return back to the faith can become a phenomenal force to revitalize churches.

"When you come back, you come back for good. You come back with a passion" and reach out to others who have left the church, he said.

In an effort to raise awareness on why many leave the Christian faith, Sanford called on the Christian media to help put this understated issue before churches.

"Otherwise at EPA in three or four more years, it's going to be 37 million."

If God Disappears  is slated for release in the fall.

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