If you’ve stopped going to church, the decision to return can be a challenging one. There are many factors to consider and over the next week or so, I’ll be addressing some of the issue you’ll face during this time.
The first step is to remember why you left in the first place. Unless you address those issues, it’s likely your return won’t “stick.” There are a number of reasons that commonly cause people to stop going to church.
One reason is hurt feelings. Sometimes someone was criticized by a member for something church-related or even for a personal reason. The member wants to avoid the person who hurt her, so she stops coming to church. If this happened to you, you’ll need to decide how to handle the hurt feeling. You may want to talk it over with the person who hurt you. Often when we do this, we discover the other person really had no idea you’d been hurt, or that their intentions weren’t what they seemed. If you’re not comfortable talking about it, work to forgive the other person and to move on. We’ve all spoken insensitively at times and hurt another. It isn’t right, but it happens.
Some people leave because a church leader upset them. A bishop gave advice they disliked, or made them uncomfortable in some way. While we know our leaders are chosen by God, we also know they’re human. Sometimes they make a mistake. On the other hand, it might also be that we were not accepting advice that truly came from God. Only you can decide which case is true for you. Examine your heart, and again, be prepared to forgive and to move on.
Others leave the church over doctrinal issues or worthiness issues. These can be overcome through prayer and study. Once you make an honest determination to gain a testimony, you can ask for help in going through the process of finding a strong testimony that will get you through any challenge. Your home and visiting teachers can be good resources for this. Worthiness issues can be taken up with your bishop.
Many people never made a formal decision to leave. They simply never really got into the habit of attending church and over time, they gradually came less and less, until they weren’t coming at all. For some, the gospel hadn’t become a habit yet. This takes practice and commitment. When I found it hard, as an investigator, to get into the habit of Sabbath attendance, the missionaries gave me some wise advice: to attend church every Sunday. Then when you get up on Sunday morning, you won’t need to debate with yourself, and you won’t risk talking yourself out of attending. Do this with each new commandment you decide to start keeping.
The further into the church you get, the easier it will be to stay active once you start going.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.