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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

111 Comments

  • I support many Christian victims of domestic abuse and I can tell you that many of them have left church because the church mistreated them when they disclosed what their husbands were doing.

    The ways churches mistreat victims of domestic abuse are multitudinous. Many ‘say’ they support the victim, but when it comes down to it, they don’t stand with her 100% — and they get conned by the lies and manipulations of the abuser. They idolize marriage so they put preservation (or reconciliation) of the marriage as of higher priority than the safety and wellbeing of the victim and her children. They fail to tell victims that the it is legitimate to divorce on grounds fo abuse.

    I encourage anyone interested in learning more about how to justly and righteously respond to domestic abuse, to click on my name and come and learn more at A Cry For Justice, which is where I blog with Ps Jeff Crippen.

    • Yes indeed. And check out Twitter hashtag #churchtoo. This problem is deep, tall, wide and has a long and ugly history. It’s all coming out now.

    • Thank you. It’s a sad fact. Preservation of the marriage license is placed above the well-being of the people in the family. I have made a point to acquaint myself with resources in my community, from crisis hotlines to shelters to counseling to job placement services. In every area where I’ve ever lived, these have been far more helpful to women in situations of abuse than the male pastor.

      Even pastors you think have good intentions, you’re horrified to later find out they told your abused friend to go home and submit better (in tactful, churchy, guilt-inducing words). And you never refer a vulnerable woman to him again. Community resources are supportive and kind and will help a woman to save herself and her children and get on her feet.

  • I support many Christian victims of domestic abuse and I can tell you that many of them have left church because the church mistreated them when they disclosed what their husbands were doing.

    The ways churches mistreat victims of domestic abuse are multitudinous. Many ‘say’ they support the victim, but when it comes down to it, they don’t stand with her 100% and they believe the lies and manipulations of the abuser. They idolize marriage so they put preservation (or reconciliation) of the marriage as of higher priority than the safety and wellbeing of the victim and her children. They fail to tell victims that the it is legitimate to divorce on grounds fo abuse.

    I encourage anyone interested in learning more about how to justly and righteously respond to domestic abuse, to click on my name and come and learn more at A Cry For Justice, which is where I blog with Ps Jeff Crippen.

  • Jana Delibert says on

    I can attest to women who are married to an unsaved husband. My husband does attend church,with U.S. Most of the time. We attend a Calvary Chapel here in liberal upstate NY where there is rarely church membership and if there is there is no church discipline. Our church is 40 minutes away. It’s hard to be married enough to an un converted spouse and it seems as if the church does not know what or how to minister to someone in my position. I find that many women in the church are married to unsaved spouses and are too afraid to admit it to someone. I don’t understand this, these women need support. Just something to ponder. Maybe the Lord is leading me to start a ministry. God is always in control, praising him for that. Have not lost heart here in upstate NY.

  • The church is a very challenging environment for single women post-college. I am 35 years old, single, and work full-time at my church. I have long desired to be married and have children, but God hasn’t provided that yet. So, I decided, long ago, to make the most of my single years and to use them to serve the body. That being said, I’m weary. Although I serve in 3 different weekly mininstries outside of my work hours, I have a difficult time finding my “fit” to be served and cared for by others. In other words, we often become workhorses in the church, but I don’t have an older woman investing in me and providing accountability, or a group to belong to as a member. I need it! Who pastors pastors? (or, in my case, church workers?) Why do life groups/small groups group everyone according to “likeness”? (marrieds, seniors, women’s, men’s, etc.) I just want a mixed small group of marrieds, singles, men, and women to have a place of belonging, a family, but there isn’t one offered. We’re silos. And, although I’m single, I have FAR more in common with a 38-year-old married mother of two than a 22-year-old single college girl, but those groups aren’t “for me.” I love working in ministry Monday-Friday, and I love other things about my church, but Sundays are hard. I just know that if I’m lonely (despite being so involved), then the “older” single visitors walking through our doors probably don’t stick for very long. Singles are desperate for community because we have no built-in community, yet churches never know what to do with us (especially singles aged 30+). We can volunteer in lots of areas, but we don’t have a place to belong in our churches, because so much is marriage and family-centered. Although singles are now over 1/2 of the adult population (never-married singles, divorced, widowed), the church, in my opinion, hasn’t responded appropriately to the shift. I’ve discussed some of my experiences with our Family Life Pastor (interesting title, huh? Why not Adult Ministries Pastor?), and he is kind and receptive to my concerns, but nothing has changed. I’m considering moving to a bigger city, simply to be around more singles and hopefully find a church community, even if that means leaving the ministry work world (which would break my heart).

    • I was a single pastor for 11 years. Please note that I did not say “singles pastor”; I was pastor of a small rural church, but had never been married. Needless to say, that created some awkward moments. When I tried to talk to people about their marriage problems – some of which were quite trivial – they would say the same thing: “You’ve never been married, so you don’t know.” Worse yet, I had few people to talk to when I felt discouraged. Being a pastor is often a lonely job as it is, but it’s especially so when you’re single. People kept telling me I just hadn’t “met the right woman yet”, but after a while that began to get old.

      But you know what? They were exactly right! I finally did get married at the age of 39. I won’t say my life has been perfect since then, but it definitely has been better. In other words, don’t give up! Whether you choose to move to another city, of course, is between you and God. However, if God wants you to get married, He’ll introduce you to the right person in His time, and it will be worth the wait. Hang in there!

      • Thanks for the encouragement, Ken. You know what’s interesting? When I google “singles in ministry,” there is NOTHING for actual single people in ministry. It automatically assumes “singles ministry” (of which there are many resources). It’s no wonder that singles in ministry can feel so alone. I’m glad that God brought you a wife in His own perfect timing and ways. I know He can provide for a husband for me, too. 🙂

      • christianpundit says on

        Ken, that was very sweet of you, but I’m heading into my mid 40s and still never married in spite of wanting to be married (though I was engaged once).

        I don’t think God provides people with spouses. I rather wish Christians would stop invoking this, as in in “just wait in God’s timing, he will send you the right one.”

        The older I get, I think you have to get a spouse yourself, via dating sites or whatever.

        It’s sheer dumb luck if you marry, not God’s providence.

        Also, I’ve done away with the “equally yoked” teaching as there are way more single Christian women than there are men. Not that I’m totally Christian anymore myself.

  • Concerned says on

    Another take on #6 is women who have lost their husbands, especially if they and their husband were especially active in the church. She, more than ever, is looking for a fit and for value. Some churches are better at helping these women through various avenues such as GriefShare and others have developed Phoebe groups. Not ministering to this group is a grievous error that hopefully can be corrected at least in the churches of those who read this comment.

  • Anonymous says on

    I have always attended church alone with children. What’s worse is that I am not ugly and from the beginning have been excluded from friendships in the church where all the couples and intact families get together outside the church and serve as families in the church. I have always felt I had to be careful not to look or speak too much to any men in case I seemed to be hunting for a man. And the women, especially the ones who are always heading up projects and ministries treat me like I am unable to serve because I don’t have a Leader in my home. the only personal conversation anyone would have with me would focus on reconcilliation with my husband and all attempts to be part of the church were subtly squashed “oh we have that handled” in every instance except nursery duty. They didn’t mind me in that position ever. Every greeting from all pastors were always questions on how my husband was even after years of being separated. I was never anything but a single mother whose marriage needed to prayed for. I stayed 11 yrs in one church and left when the leaders were always inviting my godly teen son to everything, even family oriented get togetherness but excluding me and the younger girls. It was heartbreaking to my girls to always be excluded. We left but found in the next 2 churches more of the same. If I was a woman alone in the pews then I was considered a second class citizen. Maybe if I were rich I would have been accepted. At least them I would have had something they wanted. My girls and I don’t go to church at all now. My 12 year old says that Christians are mean. My 15 yr old says they hypocrites so we study who Christ is through RB catechism and bible study. My son is away at graduate school and rarely attends church. He is studying Catholicism at this point to see if alre ritualistic and male church will be a better church. The Protestant one is too full of catty women who hide behind false faces and the men are too lazy to care. I guess I have to depend on God for my kids hearts because I cannot in good conscience put them in another church to be isolated again.

  • None Listed says on

    It is a great struggle to go to church without your husband. It is very hard to make friends, people do not have time for your invitation, you never get one of theirs and every church social event is a reminder that you are going it alone, yet you are not a single either. Changing churches won’t help because many pastors are trained that the most problematic people in the church are women who come without their husbands. Yes, pastors snub and ignore us as well at some churches. My church and pastors are very kind, but socially, I am pretty much an outcast.

  • Some people say women leave because of overwork, and I don’t doubt that’s true. Unfortunately, I recently had a woman leave my church because she thought we weren’t doing enough. Simply put, she was bit by the “big church bug”. Our church doesn’t have the resources to do the kind of things the bigger churches do, and if we tried, we’d only burn everyone out.

    It seems like we’re in a Catch-22.

  • Daughter of the King says on

    As a last note to my post above, the
    strategy ultimately was not to come right out and say it. I did that and got yelled at by the pastors wife. My strategy was to insert information and statistics as part of conversation in group settings. And follow God’s lead and watch God work.

  • Daughter of the King says on

    I would like to add an additional Major factor to the equation for which wholly relates to the subject matter of why women are leaving the church. That is, the growing number of Single Mothers and Single Parents, as well as the growing number of Single Women who are beyond the college age group. In the United States of America the real percentage of single parents is over 60%! The majority of the population, over 70%, do NOT attend church because of the real fear and actuality of how single moms particularly are perceived in the modern church the same way the Pharisees’ perceived the single woman and the single parent in the ancient religious system and in the ancient church!

    I am a single parent in the church and have been personally treated abominably by women who are in senior positions of influence such as pastor’s wife and her closed circle of friends and female staff. I have even received an anonymous letter in the mail from a church member that was hate-filled and had me in tears for a long time! The egregious (shocking) sin of Exclusive and or Country Club Christianity is where ironically Sinners close the door on sinners seeking Jesus! For me personally, I struggled with God for a long time about whether to stay or go to a different church. I have never told anyone about this, but God gave me a dream showing Jesus Standing outside the door of our church looking in and KNOCKING saying, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. ” Rev 3:20 In my dream, Jesus was saying He who has ears let him hear! He who has eyes let him see! And there was our Savior outside the doors of our church. This was not a happy dream for me. I sobbed and grieved inconsolably. There are a lot of good people in my church as well. God let me know to stay at this church and try to influence and institute His mission in our church which basically did not exist.

    Now, the Preacher’s wife and family have left our church and moved on, and now we have evangelistic training being done by SBC, and we are hosting Block parties and other events within the community. God is always in control and knows exactly what He is doing! My mission and work from God as a single parent was to allow God to use me in any way He chooses according to His purpose for my life! Yes, it was very uncomfortable, unpleasant, and very painful at first. But, our God is Faithful! Seeing Him shift the paradigms in our local congregation including opening the eyes and ears of the vast majority of the members is absolutely exhilarating! Let me just add that my mission wasn’t to just provide insight into single parent realities, but to introduce Matthew 25:31-46 as exactly what Jesus has called us to be which are servants and Matthew 28:16-20 The Great Commission. I regularly interjected topics of homelessness, hungry impoverished children permeating the neighborhood that the church is located in, high unemployment in our country, how school buses now make stops at weekly motels to bring children to school, and of course single parents and the lonely children whose single parent is overworked, overwhelmed, and utterly always exhausted, etc etc etc. Just read Matthew 25.

    However, due to God’s calling for me, I did not leave this church and allowed Him to lead me where He wanted me. He led me to one of the Senior Adults Classes! And all those years trying to fit in with those my age and married! Ends up that I fit in perfectly with this Senior group who has provided more emotional support to me and my children than anyone ever has! They actually show us Love — God’s Love! For all of you single, working women whether you have children are not, I would encourage you to start thinking way outside that churchy box and seek your place out in the Lord until you find it…you will probably find it in the most unlikely places 🙂 And to everyone else, picture in your own mind that Jesus is standing outside your closed church door knocking and waiting to be invited in, while people walk right by without even seeing Him. According to Matthew 25:31-46, when we walk by that homeless person across the street and walk by without seeing him, it is the SAME as walking by Jesus! There is a place for everyone in the kingdom, and God has given YOU His Mission to complete, especially for the least of these. Do NOT forget, when you help and/or talk to one of the least of these — Remember to let them know about Who it is that helps them — JESUS!

    Also, God has actually moved several of these women and their families out of this church and to different cities and/or other churches. Instead of moving me from this church, He moved them. God has plans for us and knows the future. All we have to do is follow Him.

    Thom,

    I really wish you would do an article on single moms and the church.

  • Connie L. says on

    I relate to #6. Granted when our kids where at home he went; was involved as much as me. The worst thing that happened was he got burned out and burned by a church; then we moved to another state. Without kids to help us connect we picked the church closest to us and after the other issue at the previous church he wanted to just attend, not be involved. This church was not the right choice for that because is was a small neighborhood church that knew every move you made. Needless to say we don’t attend there any more and he feels it’s up to me to chose a church. We have different needs/wants in a church and any one I pick he doesn’t like. Any time I do attend unless it’s where someone knows me I’m assumed to be divorced or not married. I don’t feel I fit in any where. I don’t know how to change this situation and I hate it.

  • Dave Reed says on

    What I hear from several women in our church is similar to this, “At work I am a vice president of marketing and manage a dept of 15 people. When I go to church the staff continually ask me to work in the children’s ministry. I know that this is not my gifted area. I love my own children but do not have a passion for other people’s children. My passion is building structures in business organizations to help them accomplish their mission. I know I could make an impact on our church in this area but the staff seems to push me away from using my God given talents.”

    Dave Reed
    Elder in the Christian Church

    • Some single men say the same thing. I have lots of expertise in finance, money management and investing but never have I figured out how to get on the finance committee or even if there is one.

      Why is there such a fear of allowing people to use their talents?

      • I believe there are two fears there…
        loss of control and fear of change.

      • I would add that if we would look for a church ministry not by the programs that have for me as the criteria but rather ask ourselves the question, Is there room for me to serve? regardless of the size of the church or style of worship etc., the church as a whole would be better off. We would find churches growing rapidly. Our small church would give our right arm for individuals with strong leadership skills. But because we don’t have the bells and whistles, they head for the church that does. Those things come when individuals commit to the church because they can use their gifts and do so. Then our community is reached.