Seven Reasons Very Active Church Members Drop Out

January 27, 2014

Perhaps the image many of us have of church dropouts is a person who was only marginally involved at the onset. He or she did not connect with people and ministries in the church, so that person became a dropout – a person who stopped attending church altogether.

But there are a number of persons who have been active in church life for years. They have had key leadership positions. They are considered some of the most faithful members. And then they are gone. Sometimes it’s sudden; on a few occasions it is more gradual.

During my 25 plus years of church consultations, I have interviewed a number of these active-to-inactive persons. Most of them shared freely and openly with me what took place in their lives, and how it impacted their ultimate decision to stop attending church.

Though there are certainly far more reasons, I am listing the top seven reasons I heard from these formerly active members. For now, I will not make qualitative or analytical comments about their decisions. These top seven reasons are listed in order by the frequency I heard them.

  1. Moral failure. The most common scenario is a sexual affair. The member who was once revered becomes intensely embarrassed and ashamed, so much so that he or she cannot face the members and friends at church.
  2. Dropping out of a group. The church member stops his or her regular attendance in a small group or Sunday school class. It is almost inevitable that, without the accountability and fellowship a small group brings, that person is headed to be a complete church dropout.
  3. Burnout. The church member is asked to do many things because he or she tackles them with such passion and faithfulness. But some of these very active members don’t know how to say no. They burnout and leave church completely.
  4. Traumatic event. A painful loss or some similar pain can cause many church members to lean on fellow Christians even more. But some react in an opposite fashion and leave the fellowship.
  5. Dropping out of a ministry. The church member’s primary point of reference and connection with the church is a particular ministry. If he or she leaves that ministry (or in a few cases was asked to leave), it is not unusual for them to see no reason to continue with the church at all.
  6. Major interpersonal conflict. Marginal church members tend to drop out at the first hint of even minor interpersonal conflict. Very active members are more resilient, recognizing that no church members are perfect. But if the conflict becomes severe, some of the very active church members will leave as well.
  7. Gradual withdrawal. Most of the time a very active church member will drop out rather suddenly. But, on a few occasions, they just gradually withdraw from involvement in the church. These dropouts had trouble articulating to me why they left, or why they slowly withdrew from involvement. As one lady told me, “It’s like I woke up one morning, and I was no longer involved in the church.”

Church dropouts sadly are all too common. But some of these dropouts were once among the most faithful in the church.

How do you react to these seven reasons? What would you add?

photo credit: Great Beyond via photopin cc

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  • Bev Myran says on

    My husband and I left the evangelical church we were raised in because we were so ready for more depth in our Christian walk than we were receiving. We started church shopping and we found a Pentecostal church we loved so much. That was about 40 years ago. Fellowship with the other believers was so amazing. They took us in and we made so many amazing Christian friends. The teaching was so great and we grew so much in our Christian walk. My husband became a deacon and then an elder and we both worked with the children’s ministries. We raised our children in this church and some of our grandchildren grew up in the same church. Over the years things began to change and at first we didn’t realize it because it was a slow process. When I think back, I believe one of the major mistakes that was made was when the pastor cut out all recreational activities. We no longer got together as a church just to fellowship with each other. Over the years, some of our friends left and new people moved in. We never really got to get to know the new people because there isn’t any opportunity to get to know them. We have lost the bond that we had with the older people that are still there when we came, because we don’t get to visit with them much anymore. For a long time we tried to stay involved but things and relationships just aren’t the same. My husband resigned from being an elder about 3 or 4 years ago. I don’t take part in anything. We lost interest and don’t attend the Wednesday service anymore. We go to church on Sunday and leave feeling sad. I write this with tears in my eyes. How can we leave the church where we have raised our kids and given so much of our time and energy? But there’s not much for us to stay there for anymore. We have the same minister that was there when we came 40 years ago. He’s a great teacher of the word and a great man of God. He’s 83 years old. People have talked to him about this, but he just doesn’t want to do anything about it.

  • This article and list is the exact reason that many people leave a church. Notice that every reason listed places the blame on the departing member. The major reason that people leave is because of the “you are always wrong, and I am always right” mentality of most churches. The legalism attitude and using the pulpit as a hammer to embarrass members will no longer be tolerated. These churches are doomed to failure.

  • Timothy Hart says on

    I would add a number 8 to the list… hindered from involvement in the work of the church.

  • Timothy Hart says on

    My pastor wont allow me to do anything unless someone in a position gets sick and cant perform anymore. I came to this church as a seasoned minister. I welcome opportunities to serve but have never been given the opportunity. I look at the list of ministry needs and there are a plethora of things that are needed, but when I ask the pastor he literally looks the other way. Its been three years and I’m tired of asking. I have a great relationship with nearly the entire congregation and am very well respected by all I encounter. I heard recently that another minister left and started his own church as a result to being treated the same way. I feel useless to the church and my presence now is like the elephant in the room with people asking every Sunday when will I get the opportunity, of course I will not throw the pastor under the bus but its clear in their minds that he does not want me as a minister. I stopped praying about it cause my prayers are selfish and I will not compromise my relationship with God praying carnally. he just wont hear how serious I am about serving the people under his leadership and at this point I don’t believe he will ever.

  • My husband and I who are now in our senior years are considering leaving the church we’ve belonged to all our lives because we have slowly come to see things differently over the years. We can no longer believe the creation story as presented. We no longer believe that God set the man above the woman. We no longer judge those with a different sexual orientation. We no longer see the bible as the infallible word of God but as the foundation and inspiriration of our faith. Many of our doctrines no longer make any sense to us.
    We’ve stayed active and faithful members over the years but now feel we can not stay with integrity.

  • Angela Ditchburn says on

    After reading the article & comments, I started to re analyse why my husband and I decided to leave a thriving church which we attended since its foundation years. We never relish just being pew warmers so we got stucked in & became one of the Connect Group hosts. After sticking around for over 7 years, we became more and more uncomfortable with the government, style and culture of the church. It became more and more focused on young people. Being a family person, I longed for a more family orientated church. Sadly by leaving, it divided our family. Our daughter & her husband are in leadership roles too. When we left, we wanted some time out & not go anywhere. However not long after, we got connected with a leader who has left the same church and he encouraged us to visit his new church of which he is the pastor. We did for about 2 years then left as they became more and more like the previous church. Now we are happy just to serve in a cafe ministry to university students together with other local churches. Church membership is not too much a concern for us. We are still walking with God, fellowshipping and serving alongside His people. We occasionally visit other churches. So watch this space…

  • Someone who lost their job and is ashamed to not be able to put anything in the plate on Sunday might be embarrassed. Especially if the pastor NEVER calls them to do anything even though they have made it clear that they want to many many times (and being out of work they have WAYY too much time on their hands!)

  • Siցuiendo esas fáciles instrucciones se pueden conseguir vidas ilimitadas en el juego en cսestión de pocos segundos sin preϲisar aguardar larɡas horas.

  • No. 8 Failure of leadership to respond to today’s issues
    No. 9 Regulatory ambiguities
    No.10 Failure to communicate effectively
    No.11 Training of Clergy (using age old arguments)
    No.12 Losing trust in Clergy due to incompetent decisions by leaders
    I’m sure I can come up with some more . . .
    Your 1 – 7 shows only parishioner related issues. The church or churches however have to take a hard look at their own imperfections and re-establish a new value and training system.

  • Louise says on

    We dropped out of church about a year and a half ago and have been church free since then, in our 33rd-34th years of church-going marriage. We left out of exhaustion, partly with an issue we were dealing with in our extended family at the time, partly with a member of the pastor’s family whose personality was a struggle to deal with. We were the most active, “doing” people in the church, and are still firm believers. Ironically, nobody has pursued us, much less shown any interest in why we left. We have known too many pastors’ families over the years that had internal issues, including attention-getting psychosomatic illnesses, ill behaved kids, and even mental illness. This scares me, as our oldest is now a pastoral spouse with children. I wish someone would write a thorough book about the pervasiveness of problems in pastoral families these days, including the number of pastors’ spouses who have psychological issues, and how those families can deal effectively with their situations. Around here anyway, it is a too-common issue, and as those families tend to circle the wagons, to the point of sacrificing church members falsely to protect the difficult/ill pastoral family members, it makes church involvement very difficult. All that to say–we left due to exhaustion. Maybe you’d call that #3, but there’s more to it than your explanation. And we’re frankly, a year and a half later, still afraid to go back into church life . Hopefully things are different in other parts of the country….

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