By Chuck Lawless
Most, if not all, of us know someone who attended church but then simply gave up on God’s people. Based on my work with churches and the unchurched over the last 20 years, here are some of the reasons I’ve heard:
- They see nothing different in Christians. They come looking for the difference the gospel makes, but they find only people who act like the rest of the world acts.
- They hear nothing but judgment. Presented lovingly, judgment is part of helping people see their need for Jesus. The problem is that they too seldom hear it presented lovingly.
- They hear only stories and humor. They came to church desperately wanting to hear something from God to help them with their chaotic lives, but they instead heard little or nothing from the Word.
- Nobody connects with them. They may have come with some desire to be anonymous, but most did not come with a hope of being ignored. When nobody talks to them, they see little reason to keep coming.
- They see no relevance in its message. Frankly, I lay this issue at the feet of preachers. If we don’t help folks know how to apply the Word in their lives, they leave with head knowledge rather than heart change.
- Somebody hurt them or their family. Sure, they need to forgive and press on – but some folks aren’t there yet. They carry their anger with them and depart the church.
- They have other options today. Via the Internet, they can “attend” church virtually and listen to sermons electronically. And, they can do that without putting on their best clothes.
- Everything is “over their head.” Nobody taught them the basics of Christianity. They struggle understanding what they hear – and they’re too embarrassed to ask for help.
- They’re tired of church drama. Some of the most ridiculous interpersonal fights I’ve ever seen have been among believers. It’s no wonder some people walk away from the silliness.
- Nobody answers their questions. “Just because the Bible says so” isn’t always the best answer for seekers who are asking honest questions in their spiritual quest.
- They feel unneeded. They’d love to get involved, but no one’s asked them. As far as they know, the church doesn’t need them.
- They’re not ready for the commitment. When they really do hear the gospel, they hear its call to give up self. Those who aren’t ready for that commitment avoid its call by leaving the church.
What other reasons have you heard?
Posted on April 1, 2020
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom
I don’t want to be, but I think I’m one of the “Dones”. Without going into specifics, I believe that Churches wants form-fitted Christians. My experiences are varied and interesting, and have formed me into a good husband and father, and hopefully a good Christian. What I have seen over and over again is that church culture often trumps individual worth and experience. Church culture has plenty of prejudices and preconceptions, and is often blind to potential in their members. At sixty-eight, I’ve run out of energy for it.
Hi I I’ve been scrolling online looking up scripture about going to church I was born and raised in apostolic Church I attended there for 19 years I am the oldest of seven children six girls one boy my whole family went to church my mom and my dad and that’s all we knew we were there 7 days a week because we went to school five days a week there private school Sunday school and we also sold candy cleaned the church visitation fellowship and the same routine all of my life and it never changed he eventually got more demanding making an example of me and my sisters such as I couldn’t wear a bow in my hair they made me go change it and 6 months later everyone else was wearing a bow in their hair because it was more danty they said we had to wear a A framed skirt not a V framed skirt as I got older they seem to get more and more controlling we would purchase the product for making Pecan candy make the Pecan candy and then go out and sell the pecan candy for $1.50each and then they say we went to school for free I do not understand how we went to school for free when we pretty much did everything like slaves for everything that we never got to enjoy but his family did built just like a taxpayer and as we got older I started getting in more and more trouble without even knowing what trouble really was because I like to think pure minded and usually see items or words different then others when I turned 17 I was put on which is called a back row which is meant for people who does the worst of the worst no one is allowed to talk to you while you’re sitting on the back row until you get off I was on that row for 6 months no one talked to me the reason I was put on that row was because I had taken some pictures and they had sunglasses in my mouth and in the picture the pastor said I was looking provocative I didn’t even know what the word provocative was and the other thing was because I had brought a boy to church because I didn’t like any of the boys in that church so I decided to bring the man that I liked and doing the right thing I brought him to church and for that I was put on the back row for 6 months after that nothing was better after that my dad started not coming to church hardly he would stay on the road all the time working and he was starting to get lots of bad attitudes because I watched the pastor always going before service n ask my dad if he would like to make candy on the weekdays and my dad did n wud get happy but whenever the end of the night came & time for the pastor to call out the names to make candy my dad’s name would never be on there and then one day after 25 years of being in that church My parents got kicked out had to go at a very very vulnerable age for children who don’t know anything but Church I don’t trust any church anymore I want to go to church but I’m trying to find a church where I can be myself like I was all my life just be able to pray and cry out to God pray like I always used to because God is not going to be there just to play he’s only going to be there for real and I want to go to a church where I can be myself and feel God like I used too.
Sometimes “church” is just a form of pop culture entertainment. Trying to imitate society around it to a large extent. If the focus is on music, charismatic pastor, “pep rally” vibe, why go? You can get all that by watching on tv. However, the Actual Presence in Holy Communion you cannot get outside the church, (if the particular church holds to that ancient belief). Still, life is difficult and complicated too many factors in play sometimes for not attending/belonging to a church. I guess we try to honestly live it the best we can and pray for His mercy and guidance. “Lord have mercy”.
Because the church acts no different than society, by picking who they want to help in everything they do including helping struggling families with food. The church is separated and mostly more bias than regular society. It’s not Gods fault, this stems from people’s desire to play God, sadly this is more evident in the supposed church.
Good one.i would
Like to e roll my self if this course is sponsored
I am so sorry and do not fault you for your experience. There is no doubt that too many have placed their version of things ahead of what the Bible says, like the separation of pastors/priests and laypeople I just posted. Despite your sad experience, it does not mean that God’s Word is false. I was a stubborn atheist who clung to his beliefs in evolution before I came to Christ. I was searching for truth but was so dogmatic that I said anything could be true except God. After 3-5 years of searching for truth and resisting the Holy Spirit, Jesus finally opened my eyes and revealed that “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
Please do not anybody who put themselves or culture ahead of the narrow road that the Lord teaches keep you from spending eternity with the Lord. I exhausted every other possibility in my search for truth, had my life spared numerous times as I was really stubborn, and He deserves credit for bringing me to my senses, and to my knees. If somebody were to tempt me by offering all the gold, money, or anything else in the entire world to go back to unbelief I turn them down 100%.
I know the Bible is true, and have found out much more about biblical Christianity in my dealings with the persecuted church. As Steve mentioned American pastors/priests are greatly out of touch, especially by prioritizing the culture’s aversion to suffering over what the New Testament states. Please know that Jesus loves you Larry.
I left the church — and my faith — 10 years ago, after being a very devoted Christian for 40 years. I appreciate the honesty of your list as well as how you urge the church to self-reflect. Too many Christians say of us former believers, “They were never ‘of us’ in the first place” or, “They are unwilling to submit to the rigors of a Christian life.” I can say with a clear conscience that those accusations do not apply to me.
Instead, the catalyst for my leaving was an item not on your list: I discovered that the people I had trusted most (conservative Christians) had been more interested in promoting their version of the Truth than in impartially seeking it, on various subjects. The first such subject was evolution. Once I read some books by actual evolutionists, rather than only reading Christian books about what evolutionists supposedly said, I learned that Christians had vastly misrepresented evolutionists’ arguments, sometimes twisting their words to mean the opposite of what they actually meant. In short, I learned that some of the Christian leaders I had trusted most had betrayed my trust. These were men whose books I had read to my small children and the sense of betrayal cut very deep.
After that experience, I could no longer take things on faith. I had to examine the evidence for myself. In the process of trying to find some evidence that would *support* my faith, I learned that evangelical Christian leaders had been cavalier with the evidence in other areas as well. The whole story is here and I invite people to read it before putting me in any of the boxes that the church has constructed to put people like me in: https://pathofthebeagle.com/2012/12/09/why-i-left-evangelical-christianity-part-1/
In the end, I was, quite simply, no longer convinced. Your Reason #10 pertains to that but I thought it was important to point out how it all started for me: by a betrayal of trust.
I have been reading your material, LifeWay’s material and many other sources as part of my research into the underlying causes for the shortage of discipleship formation in churches for my dissertation at Liberty. The 12 points Chuck Lawless gives are excellent, but I want to investigate the reasons behind these. Edwin Grozer gives the 3 reasons of Impenitent sin, heretical belief, and lack of faith. These are certainly correct, but my dissertation wants to dig even further to try to uncover deeper underlying reasons.
Pastors/priests have too much theology training and not enough human training. They’re out of touch with life and tend to wall themselves off in their offices, writing the next sermon, reading books, writing dissertations. That’s the underlying reason they have the congregations they have. Birds of feather. People disconnected from life.
Steve, you hit the bullseye in describing how pastors/priests are out of touch with life. The gap between clergy and laypeople is one of the primary reasons of lack of discipleship that my research is investigating. Martin Luther wanted to end this unbiblical practice during the Reformation, but it did not happen. You also mention that pastors/priests have too excessinve theological training. Jesus did not have the kindest of words for leaders like you are describing when he was on the earth. It is widely assumed that the way the Lord felt about the Pharisees has no applicatoin to 2020. Is this assumption true?
You are right that pastors/priests are out of touch with life Steve. It sounds like you are describing the separation of clergy and laity that Luther wanted to end during the Reformation since it is a practice that has no biblical support. I am investigating this area as one of the major underlying causes that impedes discipleship formation in churches, as the practice has continued until now. Is another Reformation needed to finally end this practice which has greatly weakened the church?
Too many hypocrites. To which I say, “would you rather go to church with some of them or Hell with all of them?