When someone is deconstructing their faith, there are at least five ways your church can walk alongside them and help them.
By Lizzy Haseltine
It’s likely someone you know is struggling with their belief in God.
They may be one of the kindest people. They may have a well-worn Bible and know all the Sunday School answers.
And yet, they may be wrestling with their faith due to a significant life event or culture’s lies infiltrating their heart.
While there’s a chance they are still coming to church on Sundays, you may have noticed their absence in the pews.
At a crucial point in their relationship with God, they do not know what to think or believe. They’re searching for answers and eager to find the truth.
Depending on the person, they may still acknowledge their faith, or they may want nothing to do with God.
This behavior is known as deconstruction, which can be defined as an individual systematically dissecting and often rejecting Christian beliefs they grew up with.
According to a Lifeway Research study, over 1 in 4 (27%) U.S. Protestant pastors who are familiar with deconstruction say they’ve seen churchgoers methodically deconstructing their faith in the last two years. In addition, more than 1 in 3 church attendees who know about the term have witnessed it in their congregations (37%).
As someone who deconstructed her faith five years ago—and ultimately chose to stay rooted in Christ—I know of five ways your church can help those deconstructing their faith.
1. Be attentive
When someone is deconstructing their faith, they may pull back from friendships or seem more distant. In an effort to avoid feeling judged in their uncertainty, they may not openly share about their faith journey or readily enter deep conversations.
But if you’re attentive, you will probably notice these friends having a difficult time. Scripture says to, “Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12, CSB).
While still respecting a friend’s need for space, you can actively find ways to be a part of their life.
A check-in text or coffee meetup can mean the world to them, especially if they feel alone or isolated. Even if you don’t agree with their current decisions, consistently offer them a listening ear. Their hunt for truth has already rocked their inner world, and they need a support system. Ask questions and hear them out to gain a better understanding of their thought process.
2. Love them
It’s easy to love like-minded people, but it’s often challenging to love those who act and believe differently than you.“It’s easy to love like-minded people, but it’s often challenging to love those who act and believe differently than you.” — @LizzyHaseltine Click To Tweet
Just as Jesus loved and sacrificed Himself for those who didn’t believe in His identity, as Christians, we must also love others regardless of their beliefs. It is vital for the church to show love to those who are dismantling and questioning their beliefs. Let them know you care for them and are there for them.
When I wasn’t sure what to believe about God, I found myself desperate to feel loved by others but ashamed for them to possibly find out I wasn’t sure where I stood in my faith.
The love of my church, friends, and family helped me gain confidence in God’s love for me, too.
3. Point them to the truth
It can be tricky to gently guide someone to God’s Word without making them feel like you’re beating them over the head with a Bible. Don’t avoid or dance around the truth of Scripture in an effort to be a people pleaser or out of fear of pushing friends away. Truth is what they need most, and Scripture is the only way they will find truth.
God’s Word holds the only answers to their faith questions. In John 6:63-64a, Jesus said, “The Spirit is the one who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some among you who don’t believe” (CSB).“Don’t avoid or dance around the truth of Scripture in an effort to be a people pleaser or out of fear of pushing friends away. Truth is what they need most, and Scripture is the only way they will find truth.” — @LizzyHaseltine Click To Tweet
When I was deconstructing my faith, I questioned God’s character, specifically His kindness. I needed to be reminded of who God is instead of focusing on the depravity of a fallen world. At first, I shared my frustrations with God and stopped consistently reading the Word.
Attending a church Bible study helped me get back in Scripture and encouraged me to seek God once again. Through hearing others’ stories, I remembered faith is an ongoing, imperfect journey of choosing to believe in God.
If you know someone struggling in their faith, invite them to a Bible study or to read a book of Scripture with you. Psalms, Job, and James are especially helpful for those walking through hard times.
4. Pray for them
Prayer is not just a Christian cliché. The believer’s prayer is an integral part of God’s work to change others’ hearts. Go to God on your friend’s behalf. Get down on your knees. This is a fight for their soul.
When a person is deconstructing their faith, they desperately need prayer. Ask God to show up in their life and reveal Himself to them.
Although I have come through the other side of my deconstruction, I have a friend currently in the battle. When my mind drifts to wondering how she’s doing spiritually, I remind myself to pray for her—asking God to ignite her faith.“When a person is deconstructing their faith, they desperately need prayer. Ask God to show up in their life and reveal Himself to them.” — @LizzyHaseltine Click To Tweet
5. Don’t give up on them
Deconstruction is not an overnight process; it can be a yearslong journey. Don’t expect your friend to automatically jump back into church after one spirit-filled conversation with you.
It’s not your job to change their beliefs or your responsibility to rescue them from deconstruction. Let God do the work. In the meantime, be a faithful and patient friend. Continue to check on them and genuinely care for them, even if they never seem to come back to faith.
Remember, deconstruction does not always have a negative end result. Ultimately, deconstruction led me on a path to a deeper relationship with God. By diving into Scripture and crying out to God with my questions, I found solace in my Savior.
I hope and pray the same will occur for all those walking this difficult path. Deconstruction is not an easy road, but it can lead to a true understanding of who God is.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Lizzy is a content writer for non-profit ministries. For the past five years, she has traveled the world to tell stories of how God is moving.