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Why People Leave Church

August 30, 2005 by

People leave church for the stupidest reasons. Nearly three-quarters of people left U.K. churches because of a “disagreement on a range of issues, from the way the organ is played to the content of the sermon.” It’s the little things like the choir robes or the building design or the flowers that cause silly arguments and people end up leaving.

I’m sure it’s a cumulative effect and it has more to do with our inability to solve conflict than anything, but it’s still sad.

And if silly things like that cause our own people to leave, what’s going to make visitors want to stay?

Update: I knew this story sounded familiar, and today I placed it: The Baptist Press recently covered the book Why Churches Die: Diagnosing Lethal Poisons in the Body of Christ. The book basically comes to the same sad conclusion: people leave church for stupid reasons. Only in this book it’s not just people leaving, it’s churches dying.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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13 Responses to “Why People Leave Church”

  • Peter Webber
    August 30, 2005

    Personal preference plays such a role in everything we do. I would be interested to see the numbers here in the U.S. — it seems they may be higher with the arrogance that is bred into our society these days (even those of us who know better can feel that the world owes us/things should be on our terms)
    interesting story to say the least


  • Mathias
    August 30, 2005

    Ah yes, but they may be asking the question the wrong way.
    Perhaps they should ask: Why do they stay?
    Even if people don’t agree with everything, they are more likely to stay if they have key relationships at their Church.
    What specific steps can a Church take to make sure it is actively enabling fellowship within its community?
    Without the community, you really just have a big revolving door with strangers coming in right before the service and leaving right after.
    Mathias


  • Brian Baute
    August 30, 2005

    Mathias-
    Yes, yes, yes! Without those deep and transformative relationships (with other people and with God), people will stay at church for stupid reasons just like people leave churches for stupid reasons.
    If I’m staying involved with a church due to the relationships but I don’t particularly like the music or the sermon or the choir (or lack of a choir), I’ll be ok with those minor things in favor of the relationships. If I stay at a church because I like the music or the decorations or the unchallenging and inoffensive sermons then when those things might change I’ll entrench and fight to keep things the way I like them (or threaten to leave and take my offerings or my service in the nursery or whatever with me). It makes us into selfish twits.


  • None Given
    August 30, 2005

    A singles ministry at a Baptist church I used to visit, and a Presbyterian church I used to attend, both folded not too long ago. Why?
    The singles ministry was mostly held together, promoted, and run by two people who made friends easily and loved deeply. But then one went on the mission field, and the other married. That strained the group. The one who married came back as leader, and the one who went on the mission field returned for a while. But after the missionary married and moved yet again, and the married one stepped down from leadership, the group broke up. No one wanted to become the new leader.
    Unforunately, I have heard through the grapevine some very vicious rumors were being spread in the singles group. I was astonished, because I tried to keep out of other people’s business, especially when it came to members’ romances; and it was just sad to hear that so many people may have been talking behind each other’s backs (and about me, I am sure). Not just in the singles group, but I began to suspect that I was being held in low esteem in the Baptist church proper. It has affected me, even though I have tried to roll with the punches. I am more gun shy about joining a new church or ministry now because I am less naive about how others may regard people around them despite having happy faces during services.
    As for the Presbyterian church, it split, in my opinion, because half of the church wanted to become an independent charismatic church. The other half wanted to become a full-fledged Presbyterian church, although with charismatic leanings. The pastor of my new church was an elder in the old, and I saw him and my old pastor in their last “discussion” about the direction of the old church. I saw the whole thing, in which my old pastor got quite heated while my new pastor remained calm. It was a while, though, before I left the old church and joined the new.
    I left because I disagreed with my old pastor about what kind of career I should have. I had gone back to college and dropped out (again), and I knew at that point he and I simply would not see eye to eye, and I could not keep butting heads with him. So I left.


  • Phillip Ross
    September 4, 2005

    The right question has yet to be asked. The right question is not why people leave a church or why people remain in a church. Rather, the right question is why people come in the first place. Anyone who comes of his or her own will sets himself or herself up to leave when he or she is offended. And people will always of necessity be offended by the churches of Jesus Christ. The gospel is a stumbling block to the Geeks and an offense to the self-concerned.
    The trick to faithfulness is being offended by the right things. And the right things to be offended by have nothing to do with personal preference.
    Christians should only be offended by the things that offend Jesus Christ. If the Lord is not offended by something, then neither should His people be. But when something offends the Lord, His people should also be offended. Righteous anger is an appropriate response to unrepentant sin in the house of the the Lord.
    The Lord is not offended by our personal preferences unless such preferences lead to or are driven by unfaithfulness and/or sin.
    Thus, church marketing plays a key role what drives people to and away from churches. People who are attracted to a church because it provides free ice cream delivered to their neighborhood will be easily offended when their personal preferences cease to be met. The same thing is true about people who are attracted to a church because it gives free gasoline away to visitors.
    Such evangelism tactics are shallow and misguided at best. They attempt to lure people to church, and a lure is fake food by definition. Such tactics are based on deceit, the central function of a lure.
    Such tactics will always attract the wrong people (people who do not love Christ more than they love themselves, people who are seeking ice cream or free gas rather than salvation). Such people will come to church, take what they can, make their demands, and leave when their personal needs cease to be met.
    Nor are personal relationships (otherwise known as friendships) a proper motivation for church attendance or membership. I’m not dismissing Christian fellowship, only pointing out that Christian fellowship is not a function of personal friendships. Rather, fellowship is a function of obedience and sanctification. The people who are most able to bring us to greater sanctification and maturity are not the ones we like — but the ones we dislike. We don’t need to be called to love our friends, but we are in fact called to love our enemies.
    Phil


  • Agent B
    September 4, 2005

    People leave for plenty of reasons, and I’m sure some reasons are ‘stupid’.
    Some people leave because they discover their church was subtly cult-like and abusive. When they’re gone the church blackballs them as “offended” and/or “rebellious”.
    Being offended or rebellious is in the eye of the beholder.


  • Matt
    January 29, 2006

    We’re about to leave our church. I’ve been attending there for 20 years- since I was five, my wife for the last 4 years.
    We’ve always struggled to “fit in”, and now with a child, it seems even harder. I’m leaving my church because it is under “deacon assisted suicide.”
    We arn’t wanted, we’re too young, our baby too loud, our interest too contemporary…
    We arn’t asking for inappropreate change, just an open minded willingness to adjust as the Holy Spirit leads.
    The local body of believers isn’t living as Christ lived- or wants us to live. As I strive to live rightly, I want to be surrounded by others who wish the same.
    ~Matt


  • Nate
    May 15, 2006

    I’m not sure how helpful (or loving, for that matter) it is to just label people’s reasons for leaving the church as “stupid.” How are we supposed to encourage people to gather together in Christ’s name if the only thing keeping them from leaving is a “silly” disagreement?


  • Morpheus
    May 21, 2006

    We’ve seen our church in the UK go from 50 strong to about 10. I’m in the congregation. I’ve just found out another is leaving today. I think what Phil said is right. We need to be content to know that people come to Church because they want to know Jesus. Gimmicky ideas are cool but the bottom line has to be to confront newcomers with the Gospel.
    Also, people leave for practical reasons such as distance, change of life circumstances like marriage that means they have to choose somewhere to live; it’s not all internal dissagreement or being dissolutioned with the local body. My point is that Church life is a bit like a river, or any other natural structure. It grows when fed properly and nurtured, but it will also die because it is not nutured properly. Change, input and output are inevitable. It may also shrink because it’s being pruned for greater growth and also, perhaps the most hard to take in, simply becuase it’s time has come. Everything that has a beginning, must also have an end. :o) As long as Jesus and good doctrine is upheld, there is no need for a lack of peace.
    Morpheus.


  • Vernon
    September 16, 2006

    Hey nate,
    Church is a place to equip you to serve God and witness to a lost people. Confront Sinners outside the church, they will come in, wrinse, wash, repete.
    The sad part lots of people are going to church to be social, and feel good for a day. People leave for many reasons. what i havent seen on here is Bible. “When the word of God increases Disciples multiply.” Its true or it isnt Folks. Teach people to serve God, not thier pocket books youll see people being saved, then God will handle thier finances. Just my 2cents worth.
    “` Vern


  • Chi-Town
    September 26, 2006

    My church is a dead church. Flaky leadership doesn’t help. Ripe with cliques and favoritism.
    Leader is unapologetic about being head-strong.
    Very discouraging.


  • Living Faith
    August 27, 2008

    Methias said:

    Even if people don’t agree with everything, they are more likely to stay if they have key relationships at their Church…Without the community, you really just have a big revolving door with strangers coming in right before the service and leaving right after.

    Many church leaders are aware of this, so they attempt to hide what they really believe until newcomers establish tight relationships. It’s like getting them HOOKED then realing them in. The naive will then overlook things they disagree with, or even compromise their own faith in order to retain their relationships.
    Brian wrote:

    If I’m staying involved with a church due to the relationships but I don’t particularly like the music or the sermon or the choir (or lack of a choir), I’ll be ok with those minor things in favor of the relationships. If I stay at a church because I like the music or the decorations or the unchallenging and inoffensive sermons then when those things might change I’ll entrench and fight to keep things the way I like them (or threaten to leave and take my offerings or my service in the nursery or whatever with me).

    So true of many. Both reasons are selfish.
    Phil said a mouthful:

    when something offends the Lord, His people should also be offended. Righteous anger is an appropriate response to unrepentant sin in the house of the the Lord.
    People who are attracted to a church because it provides free ice cream delivered to their neighborhood will be easily offended when their personal preferences cease to be met. The same thing is true about people who are attracted to a church because it gives free gasoline away to visitors.
    Such tactics are based on deceit, the central function of a lure. Such evangelism tactics are shallow and misguided at best.
    Such tactics will always attract the wrong people (people who do not love Christ more than they love themselves, people who are seeking ice cream or free gas rather than salvation). Such people will come to church, take what they can, make their demands, and leave when their personal needs cease to be met.
    Nor are personal relationships (otherwise known as friendships) a proper motivation for church attendance or membership. …Christian fellowship is not a function of personal friendships. Rather, fellowship is a function of obedience and sanctification.

    I couldn’t agree more. No man can serve two masters; either he will love the one and hate the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (the things in this world; friendships or any other flesh-pleasing element).
    Agent B said:

    Some people leave because they discover their church was subtly cult-like and abusive. When they’re gone the church blackballs them as “offended” and/or “rebellious”.

    Yes they do, and that’s no “silly” reason to leave, either; it’s a good reason. Many churches are guilty of this. Paul said that after his departure, greivous wolves would enter into the churches and devour the flock. He warned that even among themselves men would rise up and be speaking perverse things to draw away disciples from the truth of the gospel to themselves. They don’t serve Jesus, but their own lusts. (Acts 20:29,30; Romans 16:17,18). Jesus said “Let them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch”. Proverbs says “a whore is a deep ditch”, and Rev 17 and 18 speaks of a whore named Babylon the Great Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the earth”. God’s angel tells God’s people to “come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, that ye receive not of her plagues”. Paul says that if anyone doesn’t consent to the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, who get into perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth, who even equate godliness with being rich in this world, and warns “from such withdraw thyself”. Proverbs says “Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.” Pro 14:7 and “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” Pro 19:27
    There is indeed a famine in the land for hearing the word of the Lord. Most churches have gone far from the simplicity of the gospel to teach a “feel good” sermon that can’t offend any but the most hardened against God…a bland mixture of sentimental personal stories with a false sense of security which has crept in and superceded any warning or “if” given by the prophets, Christ, or the apostles. There is a market for such lukewarmness as the time has come when most will not tolerate sound teaching. Most would rather pay a hireling pastor to tell them smooth things than to hear that they need to repent of anything.


  • Jonathan Castro
    October 29, 2008

    There are lots of reasons why people leave church, especially single men. Check out the following site:
    http://www.menleavechurch.com



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