Eight Reasons It’s Easier Not to Attend Church Today


I’m not certain it’s all bad news. Sure, the majority of congregations are experiencing declines in attendance. And many more churches are growing at a pace that is slower than the growth of the community in which they are located.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that attendance declines are good. Such trends mean fewer people are engaging with believers, and fewer people are being exposed to the gospel.

But our nation is no longer a “churchy” culture. More and more, to be involved with a local congregation means you are counter-cultural. It’s now easier to see where the home base for congregations ends and where the mission field begins. There are fewer and fewer persons who show up at church services because they simply want to be part of the crowd. To the contrary, active congregants are now the exception in our nation rather than the norm.

For now, I simply want to share eight common factors that are negatively impacting church attendance. Some of the reasons apply specifically to the unchurched, while others could be related to either the churched or unchurched person.

  1. In most areas, it is no longer culturally expected for persons to attend church. I live in the heart of the Bible belt in the Nashville area. But when I leave for church services on Sunday mornings, I see numerous families out playing with their children, walking the subdivision, or just enjoying the day outside. They don’t feel the cultural pressure to attend church. To the contrary, they are joining the majority who opt out.
  2. Congregational expectations of the attendance of members are lower. In the recent past, the absence of a frequently-attending church member was noticeable. He or she might get a call from another member to check on them. Today, if a church member attends three of four weeks, rarely does another member inquire about their absence. By the way, if every member, on the average, attends one less Sunday per month, the overall attendance of the church drops 25 percent.
  3. Unchurched persons are often very demanding about the perceived quality of worship services. Though some of us bemoan this reality, the entertainment culture is now pervasive. If an unchurched person attends a perceived low-quality service, he or she may not return.
  4. Many church members are less friendly to guests today. I understand that this statement is categorical and not statistically verified. But I can say, after over 25 years of doing surveys of church guests, I hear more and more about unfriendly church members. So either the expectations of friendliness are higher, or many church members are really not that friendly to guests.
  5. Churches do not emphasize involvement in groups as much as they did in the past. Simply stated, if a person is only involved in the worship services, he or she is likely to leave the church within a few years or even months. But those involved in groups, such as home groups or Sunday school classes, have natural accountability. They also have stronger relationships to other church members that engender more frequent attendance.
  6. Most churches have no clear purpose. An organization without a clear and poignant purpose will have members wandering aimlessly. And many of them will wander out the figurative door of regular attendance.
  7. Most churches have no clear plan of discipleship. This factor somewhat overlaps with the previous issue. Church members are more likely to be faithful attenders if they understand how they can become a better disciple for Christ through the ministries of the church.
  8. The typical church in America is a low-expectation church. I have written on this issue extensively. And the less you expect of members, the less you will get, including attendance.

Of course, it’s easier to write about problems than offer solutions. But I will be doing the latter rather extensively in the months ahead.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about these eight issues.

Posted on May 5, 2014

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.
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  • Thom ,I wonder sometimes at the mind of the unchurched as they walk into our services. In the church I attended yesterday for instance. I walked into an audortorium with a massive stage lighting package complete with dry ice smoke. I thought I was at a concert and the show was about to come on! The songs have more emotion than theological substance and they tend to be the highlight of the show. I long for more expositional preaching rather than five ways to a better marriage sermons.

    In short, we have lost our Gospel centeredness! Where is our passionate expository preaching? I sit and watch the faces of our people in Sunday School and the worship service and am convicted of our disservice to our church. They come looking to be feed…but get entertained. God for give us to call our church to do the work of our Lord but not equip them to do it.

    God bless you for your ministry and leadership Dr Rainer!

    • Nathan Payne says on

      Scott – I think your question actually loops in on itself. You say you wonder about what an unbeliever thinks when they come into a service…but you go on to describe how a more traditionalist believer looks at them.

      Let’s step back for a moment and truly consider what a young unbeliever would think about many church services in a more traditional church today. (1) This music is amazingly boring. (2) This music keeps using terms and words that don’t make sense to me. (church-ese) (3) This guy seems to just be talking through this book line by line…but I need to know what to do since I just lost my job. My wife just walked out on me. My child just told me she is pregnant. Or, I’m struggling with wrong thoughts or bad behavior.

      The irony is this…what an unbeliever will initially think about a service and a message is VERY different than what a believer of only a few years will think. So really, your concern seems to be more about whether long-term believers are having their personal tastes satisfied, along with their desire for a deeper study of scripture. Yet an unbeliever doesn’t connect with the hymns that you grew up on (they may, in fact, be completely unchurched), and they are not in a spiritual position to be “fed” by meat when they haven’t even gotten onto the milk yet.

      If you are wondering what an unbeliever thinks about a service like you described…invite a 20-30’s one to church with you, take them out to lunch afterward and ask them what they thought. It may really challenge your thought process.

  • Kim Farlow says on

    These need to be added to your list. This list is from the christian’s perspective why they do not have a home church. Liberal doctrine / Emergent movement / Hyper calvinism that demands christians to believe in the TULIP in order to be christian / Alienating music choices as in ONLY rock music / No discipleship / False doctrine and beliefs / Support of false teachers by church leadership. All of these and more are causing christians to NOT go to church. We have finally found a church after looking for 2 years.

    • You nailed it. My husband and I loved being members of a church that taught sound Biblical principles. We loved worship through classic as well as contemporary hymns. It is all lost to futuristic growth projections and loud rock music.

  • Mr. Rainer

    You are correct. When I went to Church as a kid, Church was somewhere you went to praise God with no pressure. It seems like now when I go it’s all about raising money, money for the four walls not the community. In my opinion, it’s no longer about saving souls. It’s all about how large (mega) can we make this church? “building fund” Seems like a competition with other Churches.

  • it is the committees that run people off.
    1. Idea has to get put on church board agenda sometime in the next few months
    2. board appoints idea to a committee to study it
    3. committee appoints subcommittee to report back in 6 months
    4. report to committee and vote in a few months to bring it to the board sometime (whenever it can get on agenda)
    5. Board reviews for vote to accept idea at the next meeting
    6. board appoints new committee to look at funding
    7. that committee reports back and cuts needs
    8 board assigns to new committee to study implementation
    9 Never mind – the person who had the idea left the church to one that just did it without committee politics.

  • Rick Powell says on

    Far from being a scheduling problem, there is, I believe, a theological problem at the heart of all of this. People today believe that God demands almost nothing from them. Our pulpits, constantly afraid of stepping on toes, reinforces this by never challenging anyone. Thus people think that God is pleased with twice a month attendance because others are only attending once a month. It is such a heart-breaking and anemic view of our God. I don’t believe that it will change until we return to preaching that we are saved by God’s grace, but then we are called to a fruitfulness for the glory of God that is not compatible with this half-hearted Christianity. Praying for my Master’s church…that it might awaken!

    • A Magngo says on

      I think you are right. I have read a book called “The Only Words Written By The Finger Of God” written by an Australian author that really gets to the heart of the problem. Amazingly, this is what the church needs, some serious reflection of what is right and wrong with world. Actually, the book is surprisingly in its depth and what it covers.

  • Increasingly the church is an exclusive social club with no relevance to the kingdom nor the world. for many congregations, their best bet is to hire a social director and forgo a pastor. That said, if 1955 ever returns, the church today is ready for it.

  • The US Tax Court defined a church as, “a coherent group of individuals and families that join together to accomplish the religious purposes of mutually held beliefs.” In other words, regular assembly for a religious purpose in common worship and faith are a requirement for tax exemption. Scary is the idea that “active congregants are now the exception in our nation rather than the norm.

  • Wes Brockway says on

    Very valid observations that we all must realize. I find a bit of conundrum in member’s continued in member’s church involvement.

    Southern Baptist churches have traditionally been a church of the people by that I mean that the church members are the final arbiters of what happens in a church by their involvement on committees, through lay leadership, and by business meeting votes. However, I’ve seen too many new to the church become dismayed at the politics and antics when they agree to get more involved and serve on a committee. This sometimes results in them finding another church where they become Sunday only members refusing to get involved again. I can relate!

    This results in more staff run churches by design or default. Churches should be staff led but staff run is another matter and is a change in our polity. Certainly many churches that are predominantly staff run do very well and some see this as the way to go, but it reduces our members to being spectators versus participants and some churches aren’t staff run effectively. In some situations I know the church has become comfortable leaving the decisions to the Pastor and all they want is a fun, comfortable church. Ministry and effective worship service is not a real concern.

    We certainly live in challenging times.

  • Today, commitment is seldom present unless convenient.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      True. Thus it is not true commitment.

      • So, what it is? Selfish gain? opportunistic response? A hobby? Or, is it simply just the Laodicean church in action? This question needs to be answered and humbly confronted among much of Christianity today.

        Awesome article, love the material you produce!

  • Dan Principe says on

    I think an increasingly busy personal schedule adds to declining attendance trends.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Dan: I agree to a point. In the agrarian period of our nation, farmers were working 70 to 80 hours a week, but most still chose to attend church services. It’s not so much the busy schedules as it is the choices available. Unfortunately, many are not making church their preferred choice.

      • Daniel says on


        I’m a deacon. While I wouldn’t want to deny that agrarianism and closer community ties had a lot to do with higher rates of church attendance, one thing we must account for is that the modern family has been atomised, and I’m talking about families with father, mother, and children (the question of broken families is another issue altogether). Almost all the young families in the churches I have served have both parents working in professional careers, and children engaged in increasingly competitive activities viewed as “essential” in order to pad college applications on gain admission to the “right” schools.

        The time pressures on families are far, far more intense than they once were 50 years ago, where Mom kept the home fires burning. Modern parents are increasingly harried, stressed out, rushing to get church clothes together for the kids, and pay the bills. Not to mention the damage all this does to the spiritual life of the family, with the temptation to neglect devotional time and Bible reading.

  • Thom, all valid. I would add one to the list: people seldom have an experience of God at church. The one distinctive about church is that it should be “other” than everyday life. Too often it’s not, in my opinion.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks Lawrence.

      • Cheryl Jamison says on

        I grew up in the church and overall it was a great experience. However, I lost my desire to attend church after a protestant minister of a “mainline denomination” abused my son. The minister was moved from church to church, and we were ostracized by the denomination. I’ve tried church off and on since then, but still have trouble trusting folks in the pulpit and the pews. A lot of the folks I know don’t attend church because experiencing God and growing in spiritual disciplines is easier and more effective outside the church. We can’t count on the church as a moral or ethical compass. A lot of churches seem to only publicize hatred and right wing dogma. Until churches deal with these issues, I believe attendance will continue to decline and some denominations will become extinct.

    • Andrew says on

      With all respect, I think this falls under the “perceived quality” item. God is always at church, in his Word, forgiveness, and fellowship. I think the only way God couldn’t be in church is if none of those are present.

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