Regardless of your position on the role of women, the departure from Churches of Christ by Katie Hayes and her husband Lance Pape, is a sad one. It is, I think, a sign of something larger, a more deeply rooted problem that is facing our churches.
I can think of three instances where people who have been raised in, or been long-time members of, Churches of Christ have parted ways.
The first one is a man I know who didn't believe that we (I'll use this term to refer to "Churches of Christ" from now on) would ever be able to see past the "homosexual issue" and accept him as a fellow traveller on our mutual journey. Because of his perception of us (which, sadly, is probably accurate in too many places), he chose to leave us and begin worshipping with another faith family. Regardless of what we might believe about homosexuality, we should mourn his leaving.
The second one is a guy I knew in college, a pretty talented musician. He grew up being applauded for his musical gifts, putting them to use in various forms. He was encouraged to develop his abilities, but never for use in what he believed was their highest purpose: the praise and worship of our Creator and Savior. So, he took his musical ability and left our ranks, choosing instead to find a church home where his gifts and abilities were valued and used. No matter our personal beliefs about instrumental worship, we should be saddened by his departure.
Katie and Lance are the third instance that comes to mind. Because the majority of our churches refuse to accept Katie's speaking ability and giftedness, she and her husband are leaving us, trying to find a place where she can use her gifts. I know these are just three examples, and there are probably thousands of others like them; people who have chosen to split, rather than to stay and try to help us change, or at least learn from them.
In the case of the first guy, his departure has robbed us of his voice, calling us to be Jesus to people who need it. Calling us to accept people for who they are, and not expect a certain level of spiritual perfection before they dare darken our doorways. He has taken his ability to help us learn how to interact with gays and lesbians, to learn how to minister to them, to befriend them. His voice, once that of an insider, is now that of an outsider, which automatically decreases the volume of said voice, and the lowers the level of credibility attached to it.
The second guy, the music man, has stolen from us the conversation partner with which to discuss matters like tradition, the nature of worship, the use of gifts to build up the body. Whether or not he could have affected wide-spread change thoughout our fellowship, we'll never know . . . but now he's on the outside, speaking to us, asking us to look at his new ministry, and many will tune him out because he's an outsider.
And the third case, by shaking us from the soles of their shoes they have removed a large, powerful voice, one that might have influenced us greatly in the coming years and decades. Sure, the changes might not have been as numerous or as rapid as they had desired, but I predict their influence on us (as a whole) as outsiders will be much less than if they had remained.
So, there's the problem I see . . . over the past few generations there has been increased freedom to question traditions, or at least attempt to reinterpret them for today's context. This examination of our "sacred cows" has led some of our members to decide that there are some that are out-dated or just plain wrong. And so they have taken their leave.
Personally--and granted, this is the voice of a twenty-six-year-old semi-theologian--I think that it is impossible to bring about change from the "outside." Yes, there are many things I would love to see change about this fellowship I have been immersed in since I was ten days old. But the answer to the problem is not to run away, and yell loudly from the boundaries that "You people should change your ways!" (Not that any of the three examples I've mentioned are attempting that.) I think the quietest whisper from an insider ("We should think about this in a new way . . . ") is much louder than the loudest screams from outsiders.
I think I have laid out the problem, but I am a little stuck when it comes to offering solutions. Hopefully we can think up ways to creatively increase "member retention" (if we want to give it a nice modern label). One thing is clear, we need to realize that people are leaving, and that we as a body suffer because of this exodus.
One possible solution (and I am thinking of my family here), is for the church to act more like a family, and less like a country club. In my family we can disagree, we can argue, we can spit and scream and scratch . . . but leaving the family, breaking those bonds, is unthinkable. But in a country club, if I don't like the new members, or the greens are getting a little rough, I can always take my dues and find a better club that suits me more, or I can push members out or bar others from getting in.