There is a growing body of research revealing that many long-time Christian people are deciding not to attend church services any longer.
We are familiar with the term the “nones” in reference to people with no religious affiliation. However, there is a growing number of “dones,” committed Christians who have given up on church.
Some suggest that people who quit church are not true Christians or they are not being faithful to God. That may or may not be true. Certainly, there are those whom (for whatever reason) have walked away from God and have, therefore, left the Church.
However, many genuine believers are shifting their church attendance patterns. The purpose of this article is to address 15 common reasons committed Christians provide for why they do not attend church services.
15 Reasons Why Committed Christians Do Not Attend Church
1. I can get better preaching from a podcast.
There is a solid chance that this objection is valid. Do not take this personally. You might be an effective preacher, but like every other profession or skill–there is always someone better. As leaders, when we make our preaching the centerpiece of church engagement, we set ourselves up for failure. We have to build communities that prioritize relational disciple-making above dynamic preaching. A celebrity pastor’s podcast cannot challenge real-life relationships.
2. I can worship on my own.
Just like there will always be better preaching found on a podcast, there will always be better worship music found on Spotify. However, the sad truth is that a lot of church worship services are lazy and poorly executed. I once worked with a church, and one of the members said, “Old and tired; that describes our church service.”
If your weekend services have stopped being laser-focused on launching people into a week of living in awe and obedience of God, it might be time to take a fresh look at what’s happening on Sundays. For many, Sunday may be their only day off. If your church has been doing the “same old routine” and there is nothing fresh, new, or inviting–do not be surprised if people stop coming.
3. I can study the Bible on my own.
Barna Research suggests that the majority of adults do not believe that active participation in church is necessary for their spiritual life. For this reason, The Malphurs Group works with churches in our Strategic Envisioning Process to clearly define a Discipleship Pathway, which helps your congregation see how engagement in the church helps them gain momentum in their spiritual growth.
Churches have (rightly) focused on personal Bible study and prayer. However, an emphasis on communal study and prayer must remain. There is no Christianity in the Bible that exists apart from the Christian community.
4. I have Christian friends that are my “church.”
An increasing number of Christians feel like their need for a “church” is being satisfied by having a few close Christian friends. These Christians often feel like this close-knit group is closer to the early church in Acts than anything that is happening in a building.
Unfortunately, these believers miss vast swathes of essential elements to church, things that were true even in the earliest days. There are no called leaders–this existed from day one. These small groups of friends have no regular teaching of the word, or dedicated time for worship. These groups likely are not serving their neighbors. Ironically, these small groups are even less likely than churches to be evangelistic. People should not deceive themselves; a handful of Christian friends is not a substitute for a church family.
5. I have to work on Sundays.
Unfortunately, an increasing number of people have to work on Sundays. As a result, churches need to find ways to engage Christians with unconventional work schedules rather than shame them. Consider, how can a person be a fully engaged member of your church if they have to work many or most Sunday mornings? Blue laws are gone, and many people can’t control their work schedule. Be gracious, and thoughtfully consider how to navigate this new dynamic.
6. I have family obligations on the weekends.
The world has changed. In the last decade, youth sports have risen to new popularity. In days past, leagues never scheduled games on Sundays. Today, Sundays are a popular choice for tournaments, games, and competitions. As a result, families find themselves having to choose between church attendance and sports. Even for “faithful” Christian families, parents have a difficult time making this choice.
For the spiritually immature or ambivalent, the choice is simple: sports. Youth sports are not the only new claim on Sunday mornings. It is safe to say, though, that family rhythms are shifting. If this is true, how is your church intentionally addressing this issue? How can you engage a family in spiritual growth that is committed to youth sports? Have you written them off as a “lost cause”?
7. I feel like church is boring.
What initially attracted a person to the church may no longer connect with them. Sunday morning is not about entertaining the masses, but neither should it be boring.
Evaluate who is sitting in the congregation and make sure leadership is planning a service that is engaging their attention. For long-time members and attenders, make sure they don’t get lost in the familiarity of the crowd. For newcomers, ensure that your service keeps them in mind and engages them in a way that they want to come back.
8. I don’t feel like there is a place for my child or teenager.
Youth and children are the future of the church (and the present!). Many families base their attendance on whether or not a church has a good children’s or student ministry.
If a parent feels like their kid is bored and doesn’t want to come back, parents are unlikely to return. We can judge these parents as spiritually immature. But the reality is that they are spiritually immature. They are acting their spiritual age! We can resent that, or we can embrace and engage with them where they are.
How are you doing with serving your children? Evaluate your children’s ministry, not only looking at your content, but also your environments, volunteers, and safety.
9. I don’t feel like going to church makes a difference in my life.
Our faith is ultimately about transformation–from death to life, from glory to glory. People want to be engaged in a church where issues in their everyday life are addressed. Issues such as raising a family, marriage, parenting, illness, financial needs, and job stress are top-of-mind for many individuals.
If your church isn’t speaking into the ways that a relationship with Jesus can transform everyday life, people will eventually leave.
10. I don’t know of any “good” churches near me.
Depending on where a person lives, this could be a reality; however, churches vary in their delivery, style, and leadership. No one will find a “perfect church” that has everything that they prefer.
You can’t control your visitor’s perceived expectations; however, you can remain steadfast in your teaching, committed to the gospel, and ministering in a style that fits your community, experience, and strengths of your leadership.
11. I’m not sure I believe the same things anymore.
In our post-Christian society, many views have become more nuanced. A long-time Christian may have doubts about a literal seven-day creation, or a literal world-wide flood.
If you have created an environment in your church (intentionally or unintentionally) where people cannot ask questions, doubt, or hold varying positions on non-salvation issues, people will leave your church. I know this is a tricky subject. Many churches fear the “slippery slope.” I’m certainly not suggesting that you compromise Biblical authority in any way.
However, I am encouraging you to consider where you draw your lines. Have you decided to “make your stand” on a trivial issue like wearing suits on Sundays, or only reading the KJV? The impact of your positions on important things is hazarded by the force of your opposition to trivial matters.
Every church has to make their own decisions on what’s important and what is not. All I’m asking you to do is be mindful of the lines you draw, and decide if it’s worth a person’s eternity because you won’t let them in the door unless they believe in the historicity of Noah.
12. I’m offended by the church’s position on sexuality.
Many people view the church as the morality police. Being a godly person has nothing to do with a list of rules, but a relationship with God. Yet obsession over rules is one of the reasons why committed Christians do not attend church. If your visitors feel like you can only be a part of the church if you follow a rigid set of rules, you are walking a line of legalism (or have already crossed it).
The challenge for churches is that they must hold fast to the Bible’s sexual standards while embracing people regardless of their past. It’s cliché to say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” But it’s true, yet most churches don’t live this out. Many congregations judge the sinner and hate the sin.
Don’t compromise Biblical standards on sexuality. At the same time, don’t compromise on God’s unrelenting love, care, and kindness for even the most wicked sinner.
13. I’ve been hurt by church members.
Not many people enjoy conflict. But no one likes it when conflict keeps brewing and never comes to a resolution. Many pastors and other church leaders fail at conflict resolution in the church.
Unfortunately, many Christians get so wounded in church conflicts that they leave the church altogether. In fact, I would guess that this might be the biggest reason why committed Christians leave the church. Truthfully, I have my own “battle scars.” When church people wound you deeply, it’s easy to want to throw in the towel.
To overcome this objection, we must consistently reinforce that Christians are fallible. We are on a journey of becoming more like Jesus, but we aren’t there yet. We are going to hurt people, and others will hurt us. Leaders can mitigate these challenges by stepping into conflicts and engaging in the ministry of reconciliation. Far too often, leaders let church members “duke it out” and ignore the casualties.
14. I don’t trust church leadership.
Churches, like any other organization or business, have a set of processes and systems. Individuals from the congregation will sometimes disagree with facets of this system; however, many times, the church is at fault for running improperly. Conflict, poor leadership from the pulpit, and personal agendas trumping the church’s vision and mission are vital reasons for faulty administration.
Moreover, committed Christians will sometimes leave the church because they view the leaders as hypocritical. Moral failures, narcissistic or abusive leadership, and low accountability are all reasons why a person might distrust leaders. Unfortunately, their lack of trust is well-deserved.
The best way to overcome this challenge is to prevent it in the first place, and always seek to earn trust. Be a high-accountability church. Lead with integrity.
15. I don’t feel like there is a place for me to lead.
If the same ol’ people hold the same positions every year, this criticism may be legitimate. Young Christians don’t care about having a title, but they do want to have influence.
Be intentional about inviting new and young leaders into positions of responsibility. Build a leadership pipeline so that you can have a growing number of more and better leaders in the church. When people are engaged in serving, they are the least likely to leave. If you want committed Christians to stay in the church, you must move as many people in your congregation as possible from sitting to serving.
Indeed, the world has changed. But is your church adapting to the ever-changing issues? How healthy is your church?
As you evaluate these 15 reasons why committed Christians do not attend church, consider which reasons you contribute to. Take a good look at your church and see whether you are an encouragement for church attendance or a hindrance, then allow the Spirit to guide you and your church leaders to make adjustments where necessary.
Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott)