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:
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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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I am a single older woman and I am ready to leave church altogether. I don’t have family who I can spend holidays with. Every holiday except for Thanksgiving is hard on me. At holidays, church rarely includes singles. I told my pastor about this and suggested that he ask if there are families who would host singles during the holidays. His first response had been that I should ask for what I need. As if I want the humiliation of going family to family asking if I could come to their home. Every church I have been to has been the same, catering to marrieds. Singles are mainly worker bees. Some of the comments have been very hurtful. Years ago a friend who is married commented to me that she didn’t see why singles came to the congregation since it was just for married people. Where did she want us to go? Married women who take great pleasure in letting me know how glad they are that they have a husband. The woman at church who when I said I would take the dish towels home and wash them, asked “You have a washing machine?” To me that was condescending. Being shunned by people in the church when I have tried to talk about issues. I am so tired of being there and run out of there as soon as service is over. One of the women who is married and a friend feels that the devil is causing me to leave. No, it’s the people in the church causing me to escape from the hurts and wounding. Thanks for listening, Jewel
#2 and #6 are not issues that can be biblically addressed. The Bible openly disqualifies women from having any real weight in leadership decisions, from using their talents in teaching, or from from taking part in nearly half of the church’s internal affairs. With these restrictions, they are never given, in exchange, a special place in the church that men are artificially disqualified from. Both Torah and Epistles clearly show much, much less investment in women. Paul even relates women to men as men to God. Women who see themselves as dignified on men’s level can’t be blamed when this view butts heads with God.
The reason I left was due to the hypocritical idea of male headship. I was raised in a very traditional family where my mother was married at eighteen and had four children at the age of 19, 21, 22 and 24 (she was not pregnant when she married, she fell pregnant 6 months after marriage). She was a stay at home Mum who worked tirelessly to ensure we were well cared for. My youngest brother is severely disabled and required around the clock care to ensure he was nourished and comfortable. My father’s family were very strict in their beliefs and all responsibility for home and children was left to my mother. It did not matter if she fell ill or needed a rest. She did this job with the utmost grace and love. My father was a workaholic (and a very successful business man) and an abusive alcoholic who abused his wife with no compassion or mercy. The night she fell pregnant with my disabled brother, she was was brutally raped after my father got home from socialising with his male companions. She has always blamed herself for my brothers disability because in her own words “I did not want that baby, so God punished me….but my baby also suffered terribly.” I was the only daughter of 4 children. During our quiet alone times, my mother encouraged me in my schooling and made me promise to never rely on a man for money. I was the only one of my siblings to go to university. I have a wonderful career, and am also married with three children. I have a beautiful relationship with my husband and we work together to provide for and love our family (my father hated my husband due to my husband being a fair and compassionate man). We have an equal relationship. I do not dominate him and he does not dominate me. The Church teaches that what we are doing is sinful and against Gods plan. I cannot accept this. I do not believe that God would have an issue with the way we choose to care for and raise our children, and live our lives. The fact that (due to my Mothers guidance ) I am in a position to leave a toxic and violent relationship if I need to, IS A GOOD THING. Thankfully I’m not in that position, but I will teach my two daughters the same, and will ensure they have the skills and experience to work and provide for themselves should the need arise. My mother had no choice, she had to stay and endure the “male headship” as deemed as gospel by our Church. She did not have the education, or skills and experience to leave to protect herself or her children. I found that our Church does not support women, (who they insist do not need a career), when they find themselves in a relationship that is violent. According to the Church, my beautiful Mother must have done something to enrage my father. I can assure you, she did nothing wrong. She raised 4 children who absolutely adore her for her faith and love. I cannot say the same for the strict Christian father who provided the sperm. If only the Church supported my Mother in her quest to raise her children according to God’s law. As it happens, she has one severely disabled son who does not understand faith, two sons who despise the Church and everything it stands for, and one daughter who left behind any notion of organised religion and now calls herself agnostic. If you continue to peach this inequity, women will leave in droves. Male headship leads to the abuse of power, and Churches will not protect women who need help. If you expect women to give up all avenues to support themselves for the betterment of your society and your idea of family, you need to provide for them when things go wrong, and your so called “God Entrusted Head of the family” choses to abuse his authority.
My pastor made me cry so many times that I have now sworn to never attend a church again. He seems to think only men are to be saved and that all women are headed for hell where they belong. I believe the preaching is of Calvinism where men have been destined to be saved before the world was made. Women are the enemy. I know Jesus loves me and I have a personal relationship with Him whether men want to believe it or not. I don’t need a man to lead me anywhere.
Hey everyone. This is so true. Practically everyone in my church is married and they get asked to be in more ministries and in leadership in the church. Than me. I have a heart of gold, I am the kindest person you will ever meet, I care about everyone around me. But because I am not apart of the status quo, I just don’t feel accepted at my church. Physically I am also not very attractive and a lot of the married woman feel like your going to try to steal their husbands. You can’t steal something from somebody that’s already theirs. I can’t help it that I’m not attractive. Everybody can’t be drop dead Gorgeous.But then they ask well why aren’t you at church? Or at Bible study. Men use and abuse me like trash. And I hate it. At this rate I probably will never get married. And it’s sad because I am a loyal person and I love hard. I would make an awesome wife.
At some point it has to be more than just physical attraction that makes a man attracted to a woman. Because when you both are old and gray and are not beautiful and handsome a anymore none of that will
matter. Love a woman for her heart not her body. Love a man for his strength not his six pack.
Oh Dacia, I have met lots of women who are not pretty or beautiful and they are married. If God has someone for you He will bring him into your life. It’s a painful world to live in, believe me I know. But God is in control and He loves us single women in a special way. Be encouraged, sister. Jewel
Many times a single woman is treated as if she is a threat to married women. In a church I went to, if a single woman happened to say hi or just even look in the direction of a man she was accused of being after that man.
I had couple men in my church that when I walked by them without even saying anything to them would automatically say that they were married.
Please folks single women just want to go to church in peace.
I’m single with no children and many women look at me as though I want their husbands. Whenever I need something fixed at home it is a problem to source help from church brothers. Their wives view me suspiciously even when I asked them directly not their husbands. I’ve decided to ask none churchgoers for help while blocking my mind from the unfruitful talk from brethren whenever they see or hear that I had a man at home attending to things only men can do around the house.
It’s that pathetic!
A common denominator I have found with many women who leave is that they are “easily offended.” Once offended, they can not move beyond – sort of myopic. There is a lot of spiritual immaturity with the women I am around and it is just plain wearying. Yes, they need to have good teaching which they receive at our church, but they also need to get over themselves. No, I am not bitter but yes, weary of dealing with this one.
You can’t seriously read through this heart-rending thread and dismiss it as “They’re just easily offended” without a real insensitivity to the abuse and suffering described here. But perhaps you are just specifically describing your own church situation.
There are people and churches out there who aren’t full of women leaving the church because they’re easily offended. If this is wearying to you, there are other churches out there. (And then you see why people leave churches.)
Even meeting a good woman at church for many of us single guys seriously looking for a relationship has really become very difficult now for us unfortunately, thanks to Feminism.
Thanks to feminism? Really? The women who go to Church are not feminists. This is just your excuse for what you lack.
Have been part of a big church for 21 years . 18 years of that married with kids and the four divorced and left to fend for your self. Most people do not know what to say so they avoid you and after that I just feel so a lone you stop going. Would reach out to people and they would not call back. We are to be the body of God but we are letting some people fall through the cracks. Now I work all weekend so i do not have to deal with the looks and feeling that you have done something bad just because you are divorced.
For some reason I came across this article and unfortunately it is very true. I’ve lived it & continue to experience this in churches. I have been in ministry for 23 years and as a young 33 year old woman I have found myself relating to :
1. Overworked: It seems like in order to be in ministry, one must give their entire schedule and life to the church.
2. Not valued: I’ve had to continually face my pastor in love after hearing him telling my campus pastor behind my back that he needs to make me my “b!%ch,” in order to keep me from outgrowing his worship ministry. I don’t feel safe to be a single woman in a high leadership position at this church.
3. Busyness: After telling them my schedule, that I cannot commit to a full time volunteer position with a full time job that pays my bills, they have outcast me and made me feel like I’m not fully committed. However , my relationship with the Lord is greater than the offense and the lack of spiritual maturity.
It’s almost easier to be a married woman in ministry, than a single woman in a high leadership position & have to continually trust that God is solely over shadowing & leading my life.
Why do Sunday church families have to ‘tuck’ their children away to daycare during services. Children should be welcome in church to hear the Word of God. Children should be instructed as to their actions and ultimately the parent(s) guide and lead this family unit. Private viewing and “crying rooms” should be available for anyone who cannot refrain from interrupting the service. But, to dismiss young folks, children, babies from the Blessings is unkind and an interruption in their training/learning experience.
My husband died a couple years ago, and I’m still young enough that while I’ve cut down to part time, I’m still working. For years prior to that, he and I were “heavily” involved in providing music for our worship services. Since his death, I’ve had to practically “force” people to let me continue to, occasionally, use my God-given gifts to be involved in and add to our worship. Several months ago, a Family Christian catalog (which I’ve since misplaced) included some stats on # of widows who are no longer involved in their congregations. I showed that page to my pastor (granted, right before a service when there wasn’t really time to discuss it), and his comment was that we have a card-playing group where single women/widows can come (on a weekday morning) to play cards…. and as far as worship, I guess the idea is that people are supposed to just show up, stand up & sit down on cue, but not really be involved in worshiping.
Great observations that needed to be made. Even in groups where women have opportunities for ministry outside of the typical “women’s ministry” mold, this type of ministry can pose a challenge to healthy growth if it’s too shortsighted.
All may, some should, none must is a good rule of thumb. Too much pressure to be involved in a ministry that simply doesn’t utilize people’s gifts and talents is going to scare some off. Women with careers and caregiving responsibilities often don’t have time to be involved in kitchen or decorating for a luncheon duties for the umpteenth time.
Hospitality and a welcoming environment for coffee hours and social events is important, but should not be the entire focus of a women’s ministry. Women, particularly younger women, need opportunities for spiritual growth.