Why People Leave Churches

I Quit!The question of why members are leaving churches is weighing heavy on my mind this morning. This is a discussion I have with church leaders on a regular basis.  I believe that there are four reasons why people leave churches. I also have four suggestions on how those of us in church leadership and as members of churches might combat this trend (I will post those tomorrow).

From my reading, from conversations, from my observations, and as a member of Generation X (a.k.a. The Baby Busters) who are part of the ones walking out and taking their children with them; I think there are at least four major reasons people leave:

    1. A Mis-Focus on Politics: Churches of all types began shifting their focus about 20 to 25 years ago away from Christ and toward Politics and the creation of an anti-cultural movement. I believe that this was an honest change in an attempt to “keep” the United States a “Christian” nation. Leaders in churches saw that culture was heading in an ungodly direction and began to shout warnings hoping to bring people to hold fast to Judeo-Christian morals. They took this approach out of the pulpit and church buildings to the steps of capitols and doors of legislators trying to beat the Devil at his game. The reasoning was that Christians could no longer be the silent majority letting the vocal minority influence local, state, and national policy. Those of my generation, even many of those who hold to high moral standards do not believe that churches should run government. The recent change in the national political environment may be evidence of this belief. When churches continue to promote candidates and try to push politics from the pulpits the younger sets begin to walk out the door. They are not wanting to be worldly, they want to be godly, and do not feel they are learning as much about God as they are about Washington D.C. Churches do need to teach morals and the truth about immorality, but not with a political tone. Paul, as far as we know, never wrote a letter condemning Caesar, but told the Romans to submit to governing authorities (Rom. 13).
    2. Failure to Teach Doctrine: At about the same time as the above shift in focus, so-called Mega Churches started appearing on the evangelical and fundamentalist landscape. These groups built large communities of adherents by reaching out to the “un-churched” with programs and ministries designed to fill their felt and desired needs. Again the idea was mostly from a pure motivation of trying to reach people for Christ. Many thought that if we reach the physical and emotional needs of the “un-churched” with love then we could reach their spiritual need for Christ. A mantra echoed in the halls of many churches, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The problem is that many have not shifted from this emotional and physical outreach to teaching their converts about doctrine. I suggest that the average church goer does not know the major doctrines of the congregation they attend. There is a time for a baby to have only milk, but a child must have solid food to grow to adulthood (1 Cor 3:2; Heb 5:12). Many are leaving churches because they need a change in diet to help them grow to maturity.
    3. Cultural Shift in the Churches: A result of not growing individuals to mature adulthood as a child of God is that they do not learn to avoid the pitfalls of the world. By not teaching doctrine, churches fail to equip their members to be faithful to each other and to God. There are telling statistics concerning high rates of broken homes within Christianity, higher than non-Christian cultures and even atheistic homes. Churches have let the world get a foothold on their members. A friend and fellow preacher wrote recently about doing an experiment with his sons. He had his boys time how long he could hold a finger in water as it began to boil (I did not say he was bright did I?). When he finally pulled it out he noticed it was pink and on the verge of blistering. He stuck another finger in and realized the water was quite hot. His first finger did not notice the gradual change in the water temperature as abruptly as a finger left outside of the water. What did he learn? When we allow worldly culture in our homes via mass media and we slowly incorporate that culture into our lives and churches we lose people to the world. When we use popular programming to “bring people in” we are not offering anything different from the world. Mankind is smart enough to see our inconsistency.
    4. We Cannot Out Entertain the World: Many churches are losing members to various genres of entertainment. One local church leader complained to me that since the “mud-track” opened up on Sunday, he cannot compete,attendance began to dwindle. The congregation he leads has a rock band, uses dramatic performances, etc. to draw people in and to supposedly keep them there. Again we cannot beat the Devil at his game. He has more money and more experience in the entertainment department. I once heard Dan Chambers in a lectureship series say “Entertainment, not religion, is now the opiate of the people.” He is correct. {For more from Dan Chambers read “Showtime: Worship in the Age of Show Business” (Nashville:21st Century Christian), 1997.} If people want entertainment, they will find the best available.

– Scott


4 thoughts on “Why People Leave Churches

  1. Spread the true word to all ages. The church as a whole rehashes how to be saved like it is the only thing in the bible. Always have a new Christians class, but the rest need meat from the entire bible, how it pertains to us today, and how to put it into practice. Give an assignment to practice what we learn and follow up. Uplift those who do the assignment. (Individual private assignments and acknowledgement should be given to those who are private/shy. They may be turned off by outward display) Get people involved by asking specifically. For example: “I love your smile, I really feel like you would be good at visiting people. I am going out to visit on Tuesday. I would love to meet you at the church building…..”
    Or, “I know you have your hands full with children.” Here are some fun ideas to play with them.” Give them some bible learning activities mom and dad can do with them. Mom and Dad will be learning. 🙂
    Give each parent a DVD with children’s bible class songs on it. An excellent web site is, http://www.missionbibleclass.org
    Another great source is Steve C. Singleton, The Greekinator. A wealth of information.
    Once a month so parents can have a date night. Even if that date night is only to rent a movie and eat popcorn at home. Parent bonding time and relaxation is important.
    You’ll then be able to get the parents involved. Even if it is just to cut things out at home for bible class materials.
    Have the young people to adopt a grandparent and/or vice/versa. There are so many things they can do together.
    One very important thing I see that needs to change is appreciating those that are there. When they miss someone needs to be appointed to call, send a card, anything. It doesn’t have to be the preacher. Elders especially need to be more involved in reaching out to the flock. They can rotate. Not just when the flock is attending.
    Elderly or disable people truly need to be visited regularly. Take them communion each week. Don’t wait until they ask. Many have ailments that we cannot see. Faith is the absence of seeing.
    When you announce a need in the pulpit and I know that is necessary you will not get as near a positive response as you will one on one. You can start by saying, “I am so happy to see you every week. I need you.” Have each active member reach out to a pew warmer in a positive way. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
    I could go on and on. First and most important, is our one on one relationship with God. If we do not have His blessings we are but a vapor. Then if we don’t reach each other within, reaching out is negated.

    • I think you are saying, make the lessons and activities relevant to where people live. That those of us who are Christians do not just “go to church” but we must be the “church.” We must be the compassion of Christ in the lives of people and be His disciples – that is following Him in all we say and do.

  2. Are you referring to why people leave “churches” (as in *all* churches), or are you thinking more about the “Church of Christ”? I’m asking because: 1) Some groups are growing, and 2) the reasons why people leave the CofC are different than why people leave other groups. For example, Catholics leave the Church because they want to live like Protestants, and Protestants tend to leave their groups, I believe, because they either want to become “more” Christian (become Catholic) or become “less” Christian (more secular).

    • I am speaking of churches in a general sense. These observations are, I suppose, mostly about non-Catholic, mainstream churches and would in many cases include churches of Christ.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.