12 Reasons People Give up on Church

April 1, 2020

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: 

  1. 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.
  2.  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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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. 
  11. 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.
  12. 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? 

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26 Comments

  • Speaking from personal experience, when you’ve been burned by one church (or pastor), it’s hard to commit to another.

    It’s also quite difficult to find a church where the pastor comes across as authentic, the worship service is uplifting and contemporary without being a loud stage show, and the preacher knows when to stop.

    To those blaming lack of faith, let me attest to the personal and biblical fact that faith can actually survive and grow quite well in the wilderness, and there are other ways and places to be with God’s children.

  • Since I don’t know how to edit, I’d like to add to my previous post.

    Little or no grace orientation
    Legalism
    Churchianity
    Little milk, no meat

  • cotton mathis says on

    On the subject of unwanted: People have to belong before they will believe.

    When I was a little boy, a person had to attend Sunday School 3 Sundays in a row before he could be enrolled.

    People could not sing in the choir or participate in any other church activity unless they had joined the church.

    Today is the opposite. If people feel wanted and needed (share the territory) they are more likely to become “members”, but if they are not reached toward, they will likely fade away.

    A friend of mine in a county seat town created a “revival” in his church by finding one couple who were not members and assigning them to 4 other couple-families to get involved with them – invite them over for a hamburger or to meet at a fast food place and the four share the 5th couple’s costs. It drew in quite a few new members over a period of time.

    In the smaller churches, being wanted is a big factor. Our denomination is not made up of mega-churches; it is predominately smaller churches. So, making folks “belong and then asking them to believe” is a key.

  • Churchianity

  • People will leave when they don’t feel that church is physically or spiritually safe, the white elephant in the room is out of control behavior that’s unchecked and the person who is on the receiving end is blamed, OR the Pastor talks about people behind their back.
    Why go?

  • Thanks! One of the best discussions on the topic — I like short statements! Where this can be particularly helpful is when listening to people both the unchurched, and those ‘drifting away’. It’s like a doctor listening to your symptoms. Of course, for many clergy, listening is not a spiritual gift we have!

  • Wayne Alumbaugh says on

    I’am with Edwin, he’s right on.

  • Harold Jewell says on

    G.K Chesterson once said this; “it isn’t that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, it’s that it has been tried and found difficult.”

    • It is not that difficult of a faith unless someone made it out to be. When Jesus talked to people, he knew their background and explained in ways simple people could understand, e.g. an ox falls into the ditch, while being able to discuss fine points of law with the rabbis and lawyers.

  • Ray Russell says on

    Simply and Biblically put Most people who do actually “give up on church” do it because they were never of the church.

    The role of the church is to disciple people – so if people don’t want to be disciples but see the church as an organization that is there for them then they have not been regenerated.
    If they have been born again and leave it is probably that they are seeking the truth as led by the Spirit.
    We live in an age of consumerism not commitment or sacrifice, we see that all the time in how people jump from one church to the next and instead of calling them on it many churches cater to it.

    • Wayne Alumbaugh says on

      I also agree with Russell

    • The buildings with the word “church” on them are NOT the biblical church. People are the church and we are the temple. A lot of people I know, myself included, never left the real church. We are being the church. We came out of places not teaching scriptural truths. We now have a real relationship with Jesus Christ and are free to gather together and read the bible instead of hearing doctrines of demons,half truths, 1 Verse and then an hour of fuzzy emotions and opinions. If you do not teach the doctrine of Christ you are destitute of truth.
      As fortold, shepherds are fleecing the flock and with broken cisterns. I am going straight yo the source and cleansing with the water of the word. The world is lost stop trying to market according to the world. The way is narrow and FEW it be that find it so ask yourself this: why do you believe millions found it or mega churches are right? Broad us the way that leads to destruction.

  • I have experienced being unwanted and my experience was not as bad as that of some. Sadly, while Jesus brought in tax collectors for Rome and sinners, most churches don’t want anyone other than traditional (conservative) families with children or older conservative people with grown children. Some even go so far as to pray G-d bring the former group into their church. This desire for one particular group goes against what Jesus did. I seem to remember that Dr. Rainer even had a blog post a while back on undesirables.

  • Anonymous says on

    Thanks, Thom. #3 has been on my mind a lot. I like to think I have a good sense of humor, and I do like to laugh, but long drawn out stories to get a laugh from the pulpit turn me off. I’ve heard enough preachers who think they are Jerry Clower to last a lifetime.
    Preach the Word. Use the time wisely.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Thanks for your thoughts!

    • duane dunham says on

      Right! As an old timer, what I want the young preachers to ask themselves after the service is: do the listeners now know more about God, His word, or the preacher?

    • Humor has its place in a sermon. Jesus used humor, as did the apostle Paul. Still, I agree that it can be overdone. In my opinion, humor should serve one of two purposes: (1) to illustrate a point, or (2) to get people’s attention. A lot of it depends on the personality of the preacher (John MacArthur rarely uses humor, while Chuck Swindoll’s sermons are loaded with it). Still, I think even Swindoll would agree that a pastor should not try to be a comedian. If getting laughs is a pastor’s primary concern, then he’s in the wrong line of work.

  • I appreciate these. We as church leaders and members need to remember these possibilities.

    However, we also need to be aware that some people give up on church because of:

    1. Impenitent sin. They know they are doing wrong and don’t want to change.

    2. Heretical belief: They hear truth, but want to believe something else.

    3. Lack of faith: For one reason or another, they have decided they don’t believe in God or the gospel.

    Granted, when you ask people why they leave, they don’t give these reasons. They give the reasons that put themselves in the best light and the congregation in the worst.

    • Geoff Bond says on

      Hi Edwin.

      I’m sure that’s true sometimes, but my experience and research tells me that most church folk are some of the most loyal anywhere and tend to stay at a particular church considerably longer than they really should or is good for them. The reasons in the article match up with what I know of many hundreds of folk in the hundreds of churches I’m associated with and can be hard for church leaders and congregations to accept.
      But.. tell me more of your experience and observations..

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