Why People Leave the Church

Kent Shaffer —  October 23, 2006

The Christian Post has published the results of a recent study by LifeWay Research that investigated the reasons why some people stopped attending church. The discoveries include:

  • 59% of those who left the church did so because of “changes in life situation.”
    19% “simply got too busy to attend church.”
    17% said “family/home responsibilities prevented church attendance.”
    — Other reasons explained were moving too far from the church, work situation and divorce or separation.
  • 37% leave because of “disenchantment with pastor/church.”
    17% said church members “seemed hypocritical” and “were judgmental of others.”
    12% said “the church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement.”
  • 80% of the formerly churched do not have a strong belief in God, which the study indicated may account for their higher priorities of work and family over church.
  • 42% said they are “Christian, but not particularly devout.” 
  • 24% consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.”
  • 19% said they are “a devout Christian with a strong belief in God.” 
  • 16% of those who left the church said nobody contacted them after they left.
  • 16% said nobody seemed to care that they left. 
  • 14% said the church was not helping them develop spiritually.
  • 14% said they stopped believing in organized religion.
  • 10% confessed to wavering on Christianity.
  • 6% said they were wavering on belief in God.

Every church has people who come and go. You can’t keep every person, and you can’t possibly appeal to every person in your community.

However, you can be sure to offer a relevant and spiritually challenging message that will help keep members solid spiritually and help keep church a priority in their lives. You can keep your church from forming cliques that dissuade or prevent members from getting involved. And you can show that you do care when someone leaves your church.

Following-up with people who leave your church can be difficult especially if you are a megachurch. But it is not impossible. Church on the Move (Tulsa, OK) has over 10,000 members but uses children’s ministry attendance records to follow-up with families whose children haven’t been to church in a month. It is just a little way to show people that your church does care. No matter how big your church gets, never lose the ability to make your members feel loved and cared for.

Kent Shaffer

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I live in an RV with my wife and 2 kids and work with OpenChurch.com to help Christians collaborate and build a global Church library of free, open content.

9 responses to Why People Leave the Church

  1. “80% of the formerly churched do not have a strong belief in God, which the study indicated may account for their higher priorities of work and family over church.”

    Um, isn’t our family supposed to be a higher priority than church attendance and duties? I mean, unless you are saying that church is a metaphor for our commitment to God in general…

  2. Robyn,

    Excellent point! Their poor wording makes it sound as though church is more important than family. I imagine that they meant to say that the lack of a strong belief in God most likely contributes to church not being a priority over Sunday soccer games and sleeping in.

    Maintaining a healthy family relationship that follows after God is more important than attending church. However, attending church helps keep families. focused on God and learning and practicing what the Bible says keeps families healthy.


  3. Surveys like this can be so misleading. People seldom leave church for a single reason. They “behave” their way out and then in time come up with a “reason” that shifts the blame to someone other than themselves. Since this survey sample was adults who previously attended church but no longer attend ANYWHERE, that probably accounts for the 80% who admit that they lack a strong belief in God. Finding a Bible-teaching church where you and your family can serve and grow is much easier after you have made the decision to put aside all of the issues of self and focus on Him.

  4. I’ve struggled with church ever since I became a christian 22 years ago. Bain of my life but I persevered, couldn’t understand why people gave up going but now, I can see. I just can’t continue with it anymore and I must say that since I’ve decided to be thro with it I have felt a lot happier in myself and a lot closer to God.

  5. Patrick Campbell January 13, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    While most pastors and religious analysts have written off this event as a pertaining an element of a culturally shallow/self-centered church hopper…as a layman, I thought I would try to explain it from a personal perspective experienced first-hand over the years and through close friends. Perhaps a more “professional” analysis would suffice, but sometimes it’s just simple thoughts that give a matter better clarity.

    Why “core” families leave the church:
    • Families lose their “personal touch” and relationship they had once enjoyed with their leaders
    • Families feel less important than they used to be
    • Families feel used and or “used up”
    • When the church “business” becomes a “church business”
    • When church takes on “successful” business practices and becomes a successful church business
    • When I’m no longer your “brother” or “sister” but a human resource for your organization
    • When “BIG “ breeds bureaucracy and politics – getting things done becomes just too frustrating
    • When what once was a joy is now another “job”
    • When processes begin to replace relationships
    • When committees replace relationships
    • When leaders become less and less accessible
    • When leadership communication goes “down” but little comes back up
    • When a new leader emails you and says “Thanks for your help, but I’m taking over”
    • When church (corporate) “branding” supersedes church (corporate) “loving”
    • When more effort is spent on marketing the brand than disciplining
    • When that begins to sound like “It’s our way or the highway”- not God’s way
    • When church becomes a “stage production”
    • When I don’t fit your “economic” status anymore, and feel “less valuable”
    • When I can’t “perform” right now because my life is under sedge and I’m no longer valuable
    • When Leaders are asked to lead outside of their gifting and fail/or are “fired”
    • When I am wondering, “Where are you when I really needed you?”
    • When families need a “barn-raising” they get a band aid or “told you so”
    • When I needed you to “cover” me…. you exposed me
    • When you can’t really say what you mean anymore since it doesn’t fit the “theme” of the church
    • When your wife no longer is interested in going to church she once loved
    • When your daughter is no longer interested in going to church she once loved
    • When the man’s best friends start leaving for the same reasons
    • When families feel like church is another job, and they want to be part of a family
    • When families that should never fail, collapse in the midst of the “protective camp”

    I never really have fit into a “corporation” but I’ve always felt right at home in a family. That’s because healthy families aren’t “professional” they are “touchable.” People come/go from corporations every day, but healthy families are very difficult to leave.

    Go ye therefore into the entire world and preach the gospel making disciples…not building successful church organizations.

  6. What Patrick Campbell has mentioned seems right. I go to this one church and I thought everything was going to turn out great by me volunteering and such, but everything just changed after that.
    With the pastor, I have always tried to get in contact with her but every time I do she says “I’m busy”. She doesn’t seem to busy when I go to her office to have a little chat.

    I have a feeling of leaving, cause the ministries I’m in like communication and IT is just breaking apart.
    No one is taking ideas I give to the table, and the person that creates the website (and they set him as chairmen of the IT Ministry, which is just a joke.) hasn’t done anything for the website.
    This church is mostly about money. Cause they’re so into getting that building next door.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Why Do People Leave The Church? « Question Everything - October 23, 2006

    [...] A recent survey suggested several reasons why people leave the church.  Some, including time constraints and ‘hypocritical members’ shouldn’t surprise you.  What surprised me was that ChristianPost.com seemed to suggest something I can agree with… Still, 80 percent of the formerly churched do not have a strong belief in God, which the study indicated may account for their higher priorities of work and family over church. (emphasis mine)  More on the study here [...]

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