Six Reasons Why Women May Be Leaving Your Church

I have the opportunity to be in many churches. In that regard, I am observer of people. When I enter a worship service, I do a quick scan of those attending. And almost every time I look to the congregation, I notice one clear reality: the majority in attendance are women.

It is for that reason that volumes have been written the past couple of decades about getting more men to attend church. In this brief article, however, I want to look from a different perspective. I want to understand the motivations for women who leave the church. My process was simple; I quickly reviewed thousands of comments on my blog. Many times, I read a comment where a woman told me she had given up on a church. Here are the six most common themes:

  1. Overworked. “I had trouble saying no when I was asked to do something in the church. The leaders piled so much on me that the only way I could get relief was to leave the church.”
  2. Not valued. “I really don’t think the leaders in our church value women. Our roles and opportunities are very limited. I am frustrated. I hope I can find a church where my gifts are appreciated.”
  3. Relationally hurt. “There was a group of ladies in our church that did everything together. When I tried to join them, they paid me no attention. I don’t want to be in a church of cliques.”
  4. Lack of quality childcare. “The preaching was great and the people were friendly, but the childcare was a mess. It was both unclean and unsafe. I’m not taking my child there.”
  5. Busyness. “I work full-time. I have four kids at home. I have so many responsibilities. It’s tough to give even more of my time to the church.”
  6. Husband does not attend. “It’s tough coming to church without my husband. I am totally responsible to get our three kids to church. And I really feel out of place because the church has groups for married adults and single adults. I don’t know where I fit.”

Church leaders: see these comments as opportunities for ministry rather than problems that can’t be solved.

How would you address these concerns? What is your church doing now? What more would you like your church to do? Let me hear from you.

Posted on July 20, 2015


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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111 Comments

  • I enjoy reading Thom Rainer’s feedback. He has some interesting observation as it concerns women leaving the church, why active church members drop out and why so many young adults 18 to 22 leave the church. I believe reasons 1, 2, and 5 within the article are difficult to deal with in some church settings but become a blessing for everyone when alleviated. Embracing others (valuing individuals, engaging others, and making sure it’s not all on one person) will help alleviate. Reasons 3, and 4 are solved with appreciation and faithful women in church evaluating their ministry efforts together periodically. Relationships and care are areas we all (men and women) need to be intentional about. # 6 is a challenge but can be fixed by involving mothers in the church with the goal of being Titus 2 women (intentional in teaching younger women/children). Let me tell you that she is valued and 5 mothers like her with 3 kids involved in the church changes things. You now basically have a youth ministry with the ability to activate parents. Also, men need to be aware of and involving other men in the church. For example, other men should engage the first day her husband steps into the church. It should be automatic. Like when one greets a newcomer. Don’t just greet, but engage (involve). It could be to a fellowship gathering, class, activity, etc. I say basically having a focus of alleviating reasons 2-6 without living out or inflicting reasons #1 or #2. Just a thought.

  • Some women in some churches feel like second class Christians. This is because females can be prime ministers, senators, physicians, German chancellor, but in churches some feel like all they can do is teach kids and make cookies.

    In churches especially in university towns, younger females want to see female clergy. This is because they do not feel like they can talk to males about certain problems either for themselves or in behalf of someone else. Yes, it is impossible for men to understand some of these issues. Now, there is often a recommendation that they talk to elders’ or deacons’ wives but no one is certain if they are under confidentiality as well. There is always a fear that the parents find out somehow.

    There is also a problem with some church leaders and denominational home offices coming out with a hard line conservative stance on some issues. This makes women fearful that the church they are supporting is not on their side and some of these issues could lead to a slippery slope of the woman losing the ability to talk to and obtain treatment from her physician in confidence.

    • “some feel like all they can do is teach kids and make cookies.”

      This is exactly how I feel and why I stopped going. I now refer to it as “manchurch”. The women were not allowed to fully participate in church. The more I woke up to the fact that we were only encouraged to participate on potluck day, the more sick I felt going. When I finally stopped going, no one even asked why.

      • Yes! I am fine with men in ministry and deacons but completely ignoring our opinion/feedback/ideas on almosy everything…. is degrading. No worries tho, we wont leave church completely.. just the churches which fail to place us in more leadership roles or create them(committee style perhaps). I think deacons should certainly be found teaching young ones in ss!

    • Helen Schirmer says on

      Agree.

      Many Evangelical/conservative churches are against women in leadership. They believe only men can preach and present God’s message to a mixed congregation of men and women, even though the number of adult men of all ages has dwindled so severely. Women are told to remain quiet in church. They may allow women to instruct children or women, but that is it. They are afraid of women having leadership positions and men being subordinate to women in any way. They say that is God’s plan for women to not have authority, even though so many men won’t even attend church. There are many brilliant and capable women hiding there lights under a bushel. I am a member of a Society of Friends ( Quaker ) meeting. Our pastor’s wife went thru Seminary and is a recorded minister herself. Often enough she will give the message. Other women take leadership roles in the church and are very successful. If Jesus see them equal to men spiritually why not let them serve in all areas?

      • It isn’t the churches that are “against women” in leadership. It is holding to the instructions laid out in God’s Word. 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 instruct that women are not to preach or hold authority over men. The passages reference this being a teaching that originated in the Garden. If this command of God had not changed from Genesis through the New Testament, we have no reason to think that it has changed in the last 2,000 years. All the passages that instruct us how to organize the leadership of the church always say “the husband of one wife” indicating that this role is always to go to a man.

        This should not be looked at as being “against women” but rather God showing great honor and mercy to women. Leaders and preachers are held to a much higher level of judgment. They are responsible for the spiritual health of the flock. To be restricted from that role is not something to feel restricted from but rather freed from. We, as women, are free from the responsibility of the whole flock, we are free to worship God with our gifts in other areas. We are not weighted down by the burden of responsibility and judgment that men in the role of leadership are. We are also able to benefit from learning from the wisdom of both men and women while men are only to learn from other men.

        To argue that we should allow women into authoritative and preaching roles because of a lack of men is to not trust God with the arrangement He has created. To argue we should allow women to preach and lead a church because it has been successful or has worked is to argue for pragmatism which has always been warned about throughout the Bible.

      • Yep. Exactly. My (now Ex) husband attempted to hide this from me, as he made the decision “for us” and our family to get involved in ministry. I loved playing on the music team, but eventually when I expressed interest in earning my degree , I was discouraged and even harassed by leadership and older females in the church. I had given up a full scholarship, moved our family, given and given and “supported my husband” through ‘his calling” since the age of 18 – I couldn’t take modern day slavery (in the name of GOD no less) anymore. 11 years after marrying, and three children, I divorced my ex, (he remarried 1 year after our divorce). I’m now struggling still to acquire my education while working full time and supporting my kiddos. I am so incredibly tired of the falsity of “male leadership”. There are so many more equipped female leaders whose gifts can be utilized, but the patriarchal systems of many denominations seeks to misinterpret scripture and crush the hearts, skills, wisdom, and knowledge of an entire gender — you tell me if that’s what Christ stands for. And most often, I find it is out of fear. Fear is the exact opposite of love. I have not lost faith in my Savior, but am incredibly reluctant to be involved at any church beyond Sunday mornings.

  • Dorothy Crace says on

    I am finding once we left ” Training Union” out of our church schedules or programs we have lost a generation of knowing what being a member of a local church is all about. It is my opinion that both men and women have responsibilities in the growth of a church. It can not be left up to the pastor or men in the church to function in certain areas of growth. I firmly believe that men are called to be pastors and deacons but oh my how many other areas of service women are so qualified . Women support your husbands in his calling and he will honor you in his doing it as well as honor God. When you leave your church and the church family this country will and is going to see things we could never imagine. Not knowing God in our daily life is saying no to God in our church life. It is a 100% effort on our part to make our churches realize all have a place of service and we had better get busy doing it or time is running out fast. Praying for all and their churches.

  • All of these are ligitimate concerns. I would add that those of us who are as qualified, or sometimes more educationally qualified, are not paid for our service. We honestly don’t mind volunteering in ministry because we want to honor the Lord, but it would be nice to have more opportunities that compensate.

    • She Laughs says on

      @ Torie: I had a vision of Jesus washing the disciples feet as I read your comment…

    • True Torie. If men are paid for their service, it’s their due and no one thinks twice about it. If women are paid or ask to be paid, we get responses like that. Whether churches like it or not, two things are true: Church pay practices reflect the world’s practices–we pay who and what we value most. And if churches can get it from women for free through guilt, they will. These may not be churches’ intentions, but sadly, these are their practices.

  • Mary Ellen says on

    As culturally old-fashioned as this comment may seem, part of this problem is that the men of the church are not doing their part. As a kids pastor, I am always asking men to become involved in teaching kids church. I can find women to do it, but kids need godly men in their lives. (off the subject a little) Women will volunteer, but it’s hard to find a man who will. If men would step up to the plate and be the priests of their homes, women would not have to bear a burden in their families or the church to be something that God has not called them to be just because an open need is present in the church. Another observation is that women are often not allowed to say no. There is subtle pressure often to say yes. As for me personally, I’d much rather hear a sincere and firm no than a wishy-washy, guilt-ridden yes any day.

    As far as caring for women in the church, a mentoring system would be helpful. In my fellowship, there has been something called 10-10-10, which basically is a way of encouraging every woman to find someone ten years older to learn from and also find someone 10 years younger to invest in.

    Thanks so much for addressing this subject!

    • May I suggest getting a (male) minister to go first. If men see him do it, they might as well. I grew up in a church with one minister but never saw him teach anyone but the adult class and wondered if he could teach the younger.

    • I can remember when it was standard for men to teach boys’ Sunday School classes, particularly during the junior high and high school years. It’s a shame we’ve gotten away from that.

      • Debbie Curle says on

        I think there is unfortunate fall out from the secular world regarding men teaching younger kids — that many men are afraid of actually being close to other people’s kids in case some gesture or word gets taken the wrong way.

  • Aunt Bootsie says on

    Number 6 –Husband does not attend; “the church has groups for married adults and single adults. I don’t know where I fit”–is a tough one.

    It might help to have a gathering just for mothers that meets regularly, once per month or so. It would be good if the more mature (yes, probably older) women in the church would look out for these lone mothers and come alongside them to offer prayer and other support. In larger churches especially, women’s ministry leaders could present this woman’s problem as a mentoring/supportive opportunity to mature women. There are may be a widow who’s gradually taken a passive role in church life but still has much wisdom to offer. She could start by just inviting the lone mother to sit beside her in church, and not display even the slightest annoyance to restless children. What a gift that would be to a struggling mother who feels conspicuous, out of place. What an opportunity to show the love of Christ.

      • Our church offers Sunday school classes for couples, as well as all men and all women classes. It is wonderful! I am single but many of the ladies in my class are married, and their husbands either don’t attend or they go to the men’s classes. I love the women’s classes because we can discuss the lessons as it pertains to us as women. And we support the other ladies in the class thru conversation and prayer.

  • Great post and very timely. I have often wondered if other denominations mirror the Pentecostal church where women make up the majority. Thanks for confirming what I suspected.
    Having been involved in ministry for so long I was one of those that foolishly sacrificed nearly everything for the church,including my family.
    I now council people to just say no if it even appears that it will cost them excessive time away from their families.
    If God is in the works He will not require us to sacrifice our loved ones,but will work it out so that the ministry work is in harmony with our family life.
    Such is the wisdom one gains with age I suppose.I only wish I would have had someone explain it to me over 40 years ago.

    • Thanks for the wisdom, Ron.

    • A lot of denominations have more women than men because the women are often widowed or the men don’t come. Now I know a few churches where men do attend in large numbers. One is episcopal and the priest says whatever needs to be said and preaches on action and doing or not doing, not on feeling. At times I thought the cross might fall down with what was said from the pulpit but it didn’t. (It was no worse than what is written in the Law in Leviticus.)

  • I can relate to #1:Overworked & #5: Busyness at my last church. I didn’t leave because of it. But I was becoming so unhappy that I started thinking about it.

    I was a leader in the youth and our youth pastor pretty much wanted us to pour all that we had into the youth ministry. He wanted us to be at every event, which was alot. He wanted us to call, take students out, be their facebook friends, attend their school events, and everything. I couldn’t do it. I have a job and family to tend to during the week. I really enjoyed teaching every Sunday, but I would feel so guilty if I couldn’t make an event or keep up with the students during the week.

    I ended up leaving the ministry with a heavy heart but I just couldn’t find the extra time to fulfill the role that the pastor laid out for us. I thought it was unfair to the youth ministry and my family that I couldn’t give all that I have to each. This experience makes me not want to get so involved in church outside of lifegroups and worship because they ask so much from volunteers. It really makes you feel bad, because you want to serve.

    We also served in the resource center, which was my favorite because you could help everyone, members and visitors. There wasn’t alot to prepare for during the week before Sunday, but the problem became getting others to volunteer during the other two services. There were times where we served all three services because there was no one to stay in there. We were missing class and worship. Finally, we just served the first service and went on to worship. We felt that we were depended on so much that no one was trying to help find other volunteers. We finally talked to the staff member in charge about it. Told her that we had to stop volunteering so we could join our lifegroup class again, and go to worship. It was so sad but seemed necessary.

    • Wow. You are a case study of both items. I pray you are recovering and doing well, Phoebe.

      • Thank you! Yes we are doing well since moving from FL to TN. We have been visiting churches in Spring Hill. Love Station-Hill. Have been visiting for weeks. So welcoming, and the sermons are great!

      • That’s great! I love the folks at Station Hill. My son, Jess, is starting the Church at Spring Hill the second week in January. They will be meeting where the Bridge is now. The Bridge is moving to another location. All of them are great churches.

  • “Directors of Womens Ministry” or whatever a church might call them, rarely have a seminary degree (in spite of the many women who attend seminary) are usually volunteers and if they are paid it’s an admin’s salary. We are low priority. Of course it hurts. Thanks for bringing it up. It deserves attention.

  • Mark Dance says on

    Pastors can help the overworked women by encouraging members to only say “yes” to ministries that both match their spiritual gifts and season of life. Pastors can help make sure that mommy-guilt is not compounded with member-guilt by giving them permission to say “no.”

  • Aunt Bootsie says on

    Of that list, child care is an area that could be immediately addressed by most congregations/church staff. Take a fresh look. Have a nursery-area work day. Stock disinfectants. Establish protocols for quickly cleaning toys, equipment & rooms after use (don’t leave that task for a janitor or custodian). Put a plan in place for identifying parents who will pick up their children during or after worship services. Put a responsible adult leader in charge of training volunteer staff in hygiene and safety. Follow up. Meet with them regularly to thank them, to review health/safety procedures and continue training. To do less opens your church to huge liability.

  • Nice observations and challenge for the church to address.

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