"They haven’t been to church in years. They had a bad experience at a church a long time ago." Through the years, I’ve heard of far too many situations like this. I remember speaking with a man who had come to our church for a funeral. He had grown up in a church and then later as an adult became very involved in another church. He developed a friendship with one of the church leaders. He told me of witnessing this man being mistreated until finally this church leader and his family left the church and moved. His friend was angry at the way the man had been treated. He too left that church and never returned to any church. That had been many years ago.
I know that some people have had experiences with churches that have been painful and disillusioning. Yet, as Henri Nouwen suggests, rejecting the church may not be the answer:
When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, "I love Jesus, but I hate the Church," we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness. It is important to think about the Church not as "over there" but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.
I get angry when I think about what some professing Christians have done to some Christians in the body of Christ. Such sin should not be minimized or tolerated. Yet, I know that leaving the church is not the answer. It is not the answer for a grace-filled Christian who himself/herself is depending upon the grace of God.