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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  • Interesting post today. # 2, 4, & 5 are on target!

    As someone who grew up in a traditional church background, I remember that women were the backbone of ministry – they historically were the Sunday school teachers, teachers for vacation Bible school, provided the meals and support for new mothers as well as meals for funerals…and the list goes on. How often do these acts of service and huge time commitments get truly appreciated or respected? With more women juggling careers and family, they simply do not have as much time for volunteer work at church or anywhere. I think churches are seeing this – not that women are necessarily leaving the church completely but they surely are not as heavily involved as I remember from my childhood…and I am one of those women who also juggles work and family. I am not nearly as involved in ministry as my mother was.

    Definitely providing good child care is a must for women (and dads) at church. Some churches see good quality child care as a ministry to parents, esp. moms, by giving parents the time to worship and be in Sunday school without the demands of teaching children, etc.

  • Christine says on

    In regards to #2–not valued and #3–Relationally hurt, I have another angle to mention regarding these. I’m seeing my church suffer and many women either leaving or contemplating leaving because of this. In our church, the women being asked to lead, speak, help, and serve in Women’s Ministry are the Pastor’s wives and female staff (Administrative Assistants, etc). Several lay members are gifted and desiring to serve, they offer assistance, and many are anointed & gifted in so many ways, yet offers to help are ignored or completely refused. Only those who are on staff or married to staff Pastors are allowed to work in Women’s Ministry. I am not critical of them because they do a great job and I focus my gifts on outreach–particularly with Millennial and Gen X women (who are leaving or turning their backs on the church in droves). However, I do see so many opportunities being missed. We have so many women who could be a part of the discipleship process. But, they are ignored and their gifts, experiences, talents, and calling is overlooked in regards to ministering to women in our church. I talk to and encourage many of them. But, it IS discouraging to see this trend. So many women feel like they’re not valued or that it’s all about the clique of Minister’s wives. Women at our church are missing out on hearing from women with completely different life positions and experiences. Everything in Women’s Ministry at my church is tailored to Married Moms–because that’s what all the leaders are. Women that don’t fit that mold feel left out and under valued. I’ve talked to our leaders, offered assistance & ideas, prayed about it, and continue encouraging women feeling left out, but this still continues.

    • From what you can determine, at e there other reasons that “Millennial and Gen X women (who are leaving or turning their backs on the church in droves)” are leaving?

    • She Laughs says on

      This situation exists in alot of churches. Some of it, I believe, stems from women who want to be large and in charge–in control–and be recognized…and unity of the Body where everyone contributes and is valued according to their gifts given by the Holy Spirit to edify the church suffers because of it.

  • I thought the insight in this article was timely. I would like to point out, however, that in most churches, Children’s Ministries are offered. Children’s Ministry is not the same as childcare. I realize that this is not the point of the article. More than likely, the churches referred to in this piece, had less than desirable nursery facilities-which is often a piece of the Children’s Ministry…different than childcare. Just wanted to get that off my chest. 🙂

    I love the work you do through this blog and your podcast. So much valuable information that makes me a better leader (who happens to be a Children’s Pastor). Thanks for your commitment to bettering the Church.

  • Apologies for my misspellings above.

  • How would you address these concerns?
    By going back to the biblical model of doing church God’s way, Deuteronomy 6 for starters.

    What is your church doing now?
    Where I ongregate is a family integrated church. There are no subcultures defined with dividing the memberships into groups or programs. We worship all together, from the suckling babe to the elderly. Titus 2 is is put in practice in a church make up that exemplifies Christ as one body.

    What more would you like your church to do?
    My church is doing wonderfully in taking how we do cheuch to the biblical model, where Moses and the Apostle Paul addressed all the ages in their sermons. It is necessary to understand that God has a model for how, but man usurps this power and ends up dividing its members further into oblivion and spiritual discouragement.

    This documentary does a fine job of explaining this very idea:

    • She Laughs says on

      I have wondered about this division myself. Women, men, teens, kids all separate. Seems to limit the opportunity for in-depth family discussion of Biblical concepts when everyone is “on a different page”.

  • I started my first paid position in a church ministry at the age of 17. I eventually married my pastor husband and became a pastors wife, though through our 33 years together I have served in church staff positions in various staff roles with and without him on staff as well.
    That background to say that the protector of the woman’s role in the church must come from the men.
    As a driven, capable leader I often found myself frustrated with a lack of opportunities to use my gifts. Baking cookies, serving the potluck, working in the nursery, planning tea parties, though not bad things, don’t tap into my interests or gifts. I eventually found where to fit in, but unfortunately it’s not the church that recognized it, but the Para church.
    I believe that the evangelical church loses out when they regulate women who are gifted by God in leadership to traditional roles, because they are uncomfortable with them. Those women end up moving onto other ministries where there is freedom to be visionaries and speakers and develop ministries, without expectations that they stay where they are expected to.
    I believe also that a portion of these women move to more liberal churches so that they can fully use their gifts, which has helped evangelize these churches. (I personally know several).
    I’m not sure what the answer is. But I do believe this is an issue that evangelical men need to take up and consider carefully. They are losing a portion of their brightest and most innovative because they will not recognize, support and endorse their giftedness.

    • Jennifer Coward says on

      I couldn’t agree more! The church is so concerned with titles and gender that they miss out on God given talents. When we are asked to work outside of our gifts we will eventually burn out and leave. Thanks for your thoughts, I can really relate.

  • I have agree in all of them but mostly the one re cliques. Lovely ppl, nice, friendly, but fail to be inclusive re outings. One ends up feeling like its a Sunday family only…church family shouldnt interact w each other at church ONLY its a relationship that should be carried beyond the 4 walls of church and into our lives. At least thats my point of view. Thx for this insight!

  • Two of the points mentioned being over worked and busyness. I couldn’t agree more.
    Ours is one of those churches that does not seem to feel they are doing God’s work unless every single day of the monthly calendar is filled with some kind of activity.
    And these activities never seem to take the road of simplicity….everything must be a huge Broadway production involving as close to everybody and their brother as possible in the church. Try declining when asked to participate and they act as if you just crucified Crist all over again. The guilt is then piled on in an attempt to wear you down and give in.
    My wife and I are just inches from walking away.

    • Hillary says on

      Hi Hal, I am so very sorry to hear that. My husband and I seriously struggled with the demands of being a deacon and deaconess at our church at one point for at least 2 years or more. This may not be your experience, but after feeling similarly to you, we took a step back for a time considering our future involvement in the church; and we realized that we had never told anyone in leadership how we were feeling. I think that we were surprised how humbly and lovingly our leadership took it. They were surprised I think because they had not had anyone speak up about it and they are full-time staff. They appreciated us sharing our hearts and minds with them. (It was tough bring so honest.) We were counseled by them to possibly take a break from volunteering to refresh and heal emotionally because we were hurt and extremely busy with other things at the time. In that time, we were also shown how to form healthy boundaries inside and outside the church with our time and talents.

      I encourage you and your wife to consider and share with your leadership in a respectful, loving, and truthful way how you are feeling before leaving. They may have no idea the effect this is having on you. I also humbly and highly suggest a book that was pivotal to me that may be helpful to you and your wife called “When people are big, and God is small.”

  • I have done literally years worth of church work over my life, giving it my all when involved, and have learned how to say no when I needed to. But in recent years, these have been my frustrations: 1. Women have a cattiness that is not as common in men. We’ve watched both of our hard-working daughters be treated horrendously, primarily in two different churches, by other women, including on one daughter’s first foreign missions trip and in another daughter’s church employment. When women decide they don’t like another, they can become the worst, most hateful back-stabbers and evil doers around, including in churches (including paid female church employees, including pastor’s wives). This kind of attitude can incubate in churches, even dominate, depending on which female leadership therein might have any authority–or which male leadership is afraid of the women. Interestingly, we had the opposite problem with our sons, who both were sort of pursued by a married church woman (mother of a guy friend) taking them to lunch individually as teens and young 20’s, meeting them for coffee (again, individually), because she said she was so interested in their spiritual growth. Some nasty or odd things women/people do in churches can be taken to leadership for correction (if it’s not the pastor’s wife or secretary). But some of it is more subtle, yet no less hurtful or confusing or devastating. 2. Too often, women’s Bible studies are little more than emotional support groups. When Bible study is actually done, it might be great. But group time too easily deviates into the women’s personal issues of the day or week. In one group, I was the only woman who had no “issues,” no marital/child/work issues that were ruining my life. Consequently, I spent most of the group time listening to others talk about their lives and problems and lousy husbands (they always had negative things to say about their husbands, including the pastor’s wife). This was considered “supporting” each other. I finally found a valid reason not to attend anymore. (Everything in church is always done in groups btw, which has its own problems.) All that to say, I have fewer “people” problems in my workplace and family than we’ve had in churches. Church leadership across the country needs to get rid of this “hospital” attitude (wherein too often the inmates are running the asylum), and start putting more emphasis on Scriptural teaching and the maturing of their members, female and male.

    • Your experience is due to the organization’s culture, and the kind of women it attracts. I have had diverse jobs working with both sexes, and can say without prejudice that women are no more intrinsically “catty” than men. It makes me sad to hear women not only buy into, but actively perpetuate such myths. It reminds me of history class, reading about some members of ethnic minorities buying into the lies that they were inferior to whites. Maybe you need to meet some different people.

      Perhaps there is an unspoken understanding in your church that women aren’t quite as gifted intellectually as men, or that women are to blame for the fall of humanity (both untrue). This would breed insecurity in anyone. And insecure people are more “catty” than the rest. Food for thought.

      • Thank you T for that great clarification. Men and women can both equally contribute to inhospitable, gossip mongering churches. I appreciate the comment about the “unspoken understanding” about women, which I’ve observed over the decades. I remember watching a music ministry in which a spiritually minded mature female with an extensive education and musical experience was passed over as worship leader because “we want a man” and “women are easily deceived”. I suppose the fact we all stayed there and put up with it demonstrated the fact we bought into it.

        The man in charge of worship had no music background, and no skill except to goad people. But maleness made him qualified. In our church visiting males were welcomed like the king had arrived whereas older unattached females were pretty much ignored. Someone posted an online review of my former church noting that she attempted to converse with people for 4 weeks as a visitor until she realized as an older female don’t bother. The pastor wrote a response “you are welcome to go elsewhere”

        It is a culture of exclusion which contributes to cattiness. After all, the bigotry of low expectations towards women is tolerated by so many of us, we must have bought into it. I did, for a long time

  • Very well thought out points in this, and true. One thing I kept experiencing as a mother who had a husband who didn’t attend, was that women and their church-involved husbands were favored, the carefully-tended “ideals”. Women who attended alone were the (less-important) work horses. I am thankful to be appreciated as a valued Christian, at the church I attend now.

  • As an unequally yoked woman I’ve found among the many denominations I’ve attended people are nice enough to reach out for a meal or church activity when you are new.

    As a wife and spiritual leader of the home the Sunday School options are married or single which provide little choice… I attended married since I am. But being alone week after week gets old when you don’t have a spouse learning the same lessons. The absence of the father wears on the kids too. Something always overlooked.

    The pressure for volunteering is not good either in these situations. I left a church because they required you serve in the nursery if you had children that age. I could not guarantee which Sundays I can attend due to my husband. I always have served when I can, meals, VBS, etc.

    The church I settled on had a great group of serving men but even after ten years none showed interest in knowing my husband who would attend Sunday school dinners to make me happy.

    I did have a few mentors and they were wonderful and several women did befriend me, but not once were we invited to socialize outside of church as a couple. The insular nature of Christian families within the church are a core issue in my opinion.

    From an unequally yoked perspective all above apply. My husband doesn’t attend. I do and it would be easy not to. I’m not responsible for his salvation, I’m to be the wife and mother God wants me to be and the church/membership doesn’t always get that.

  • Matt Lawrence says on

    When I notice a wife at church alone I try to meet the husband for lunch or invite the couple out for dinner. Making a connection outside the church often helps. It’s rewarding when the guy starts to come with his wife.

    • That is great idea, Matt. We need more church members like you.

      • Matt Lawrence says on

        The church=people. A Godly man has two spiritual views of others just like his biological vision with two eyes. The first is to admire the good in others and is imbued with love, joy, peace and goodness. People receive this as affirmation, respect and admiration. The second is to see where your love helps another grow and is imbued with patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control and is received as understanding, compassion, encouragement, nurturing and enablement. As men we call this carrying the load, as we were given stewardship for our wives and all other life on this earth (Gen 2:19ff). We were designed for this and it is a rewarding and joyful way of life.