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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  • Barb S. says on

    Just found this and read all comments – very true to our experience. Very telling that, according to a Joni & Friends Disability Ministry leader, most churches do not want to have disability ministries (of course, there are exceptions). A rep from Voice of the Martyrs told me they have trouble finding pastors willing to host their conferences, and have trouble filling venues that are offered. These facts signal failed priorities of church leadership. Participation in such para-church ministries should be natural outgrowths of true faith nurtured by the Word preached faithfully and the indwelling love of Christ lived out among the brethren. This reveals the proliferation of the Sunday Morning Social Club this post is about. God will not be mocked: we reap what we sow.

  • Wenonah Chapman says on

    I was born unable to walk, in 1941. My family did not attend Church, but my grandmother read the Bible to me. She came to our house every Wed and her reading from the Bible was the focus of my week. When my grandfather became sick, I simply began reading on my own. When her visits had resumed, I had read most of the New Testament on my own. She was dumbfounded. When asked “Why?”, I responded that I needed to hear more about Jesus.

    Thus began a lifetime of love, devotion, worship, gratitude to Our Lord and Survivor, Jesus Christ.

    Just before my 4th Birthday my sister and brother ignored my demands for the next volume in a series I was reading. I got angry, arose and stormed over to the bookshelf, retrieved the book and sat in my mother’s chair to read. I am still walking although I have been told repeatedly that I can’t walk.

    A month later I announced that I was going to go to Sunday School with the neighbors. My parents agreed and I went. Since then I have been a SS Teacher, a Jr. Deacon, a lay reader, a DRE for the USAF Chaplaincy, a Lay Minister, a Commissioned Lay Minister and–after graduating from Lancaster Theological Seminary–an ordained Minister.

    What is wrong in today’s Church has been addressed well here, with no criticism of a society of joiners and followers who have chosen to follow other ways, who have chosen to see themselves as “religious, spiritual”, rather than as followers/adherents of and to Christ. Society has become recipients of entitlements and benefits, rather than individuals who work toward goals and achievements. They are not people who “join” an organization looking to do something, they are people who join looking to have something provided for them. In this case? Salvation, to not be amongst the “left behind”, We (the Church) must not ask or expect anything from them, we must give it to them and keep it up-to the minute and on par with the best of the best.

    No work, no suffering, no temptations to resist, no sacrifice, no “wither thou goest”, no portents on Christmas, just gifts and joy only. Easter Eggs, pretty clothes, fabulous dinner. No Lenten attention to sacrifice and death, just lilies and nicely draped Crosses.

    No REALITY, No TRUTH and it will not change until WE change it. Perhaps we need to become more like the Amish??

    Rev. Wenona E. K. Chapman

  • Ken Jerome says on

    I finished an interim about one month back, since then we have “visited” 5 churches, looking for a “home”.
    All of the reasons you stated for not attending church are evident. We (SBC) have lost the art of making people feel welcome.

  • Another good list! Telling and Timely. I would like to know the basis for a few statements, but I’m sure Ed S. can get you the stats to support them.
    Like, “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.” Experience tells me this is true, but wondering about the basis for this statement.

  • Reason # 8: Church leaders and followers who have forsaken the truth, but not their own assembling together; apostasy.

    • Reason # 9: Church leaders and followers who have forsaken the truth, but not their own assembling together; apostasy.

  • Salvatore R LaRosa says on

    I just resigned from my church because of the lack of leadership and lise, gossip and other things I experienced.

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