Why People Don’t Go To Church
I’m fed up not just with church, but about most of Christianity itself, with many Christians, and with American Christian culture.
I find myself relating to posts about why people have stopped going to church, or why they are reluctant to return, as well as posts by people who used to be Christians who are either considering leaving the faith or who already have.
Here is a selection of such posts.
Here are excerpts or comments from some of those pages:
- So, if people are leaving the church, perhaps we need to avoid defensiveness and ask some hard questions about family. Sometimes individuals leave families of origin because of abuse, because of dysfunction that threatens to overtake the entire family system.
Could it be that many of our friends and neighbors are leaving church because of dysfunction that needs deep introspection?
We can easily cite stories of people for whom the church is functioning.
We should celebrate those stories. But, the church is not functioning for others, to such an extent that they are leaving. Instead of being defensive, maybe what we should do for a while is merely listen.
The author of that also wrote this, and I disagree with this part:
- If departure is based on our personal likes and dislikes, personal lifestyle choices such as how to spend our weekends, the idol of busyness, conflict avoidance, or aversion to submission to authority, perhaps our culture is informing identity more than identity in Christ.
I don’t have an issue with people who leave a church for any of those reasons.
Comments by other people on that blog:
- by Al Cruise • 8 days ago
“If people are leaving” ” ask some hard questions” The bottom line is, whether it’s being said or not, is the implication that you need to call yourself a Christian and be attending Church in order to be saved, if not, you are going to hell or “Left Behind”.
People can see through this, especially young people. What about all the people born before Christian theology. Born in countries were Christian theology is not present.
According to american evangelicals over a billion Chinese and many other nationalities are consigned to hell simply by their location of birth. The Church doesn’t want to talk about this.
People are leaving, so their playing a new guilt trip card ” you can’t be spiritually healthy unless your in a community of “OUR” definition. People are seeing that this is false and are leaving and will continue to leave.
by Lori Michelle • 10 days ago
I appreciate the thoughts that maybe sometimes people leave church because the church family is abusive.
I appreciate the idea that instead of being defensive and placing blame on the people who leave…saying they are making excuses or being selfish or falling prey to our secular culture…they listen to what the people who are leaving are saying.
I didn’t want to leave [my] church…I feel that my church left me. I was an active member. I volunteered, I served, I participated, I worked. I felt that I was really connected to the “family” and I loved so many of the people. I knew that we weren’t perfect, but I was willing to forgive and continue.
But then I went through a divorce and all of the sudden my children and I were a pariah. We were ignored, gossiped about, and even called names. Even after each of my three children began refusing to go to church, I persevered faithfully.
Then, a couple of years later, a 17 yo girl in our youth group was raped by one of the youth group dads. She was called a liar, and worse, and eventually asked not to participate in youth group anymore. At the time in her life when she needed the most support and love, she was rejected and blamed. As was I…rejected and blamed during the worst time of my life.
So, this is what a family is??
I have no interest in ever submitting myself to that kind of abuse ever again. I won’t. I didn’t leave my church because I was too busy, or because I “fell away” or because I couldn’t deal with conflict. I left because I wasn’t safe, my daughters weren’t safe, and a 17 year old girl in the youth group was not safe in environment of control, and manipulation, and silence.
by Steve Johnson • 11 days ago
I absolutely believe that the church is a family. Unfortunately, we’ve lost that in so many local expressions of the church.
When our gospel, as Scot talks about often, is how to get into heaven, our church becomes a machine driving to draw people in so that they can be saved. Families are not machines. So much church energy is given to building a vision and conveying the purpose that the leaders chose to market so as to draw more people.
Instead, the church must be the context for the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a loving family that bears the message of the hope. The purpose come through the faith that grows out of this message of hope.
So, yes. People are leaving because the church is dysfunctional. A few years ago, the Willow Creek Leadership Conference featured an interview with Jack Welsh. In the interview he talked about how he turn GE around by, in part, making a habit of firing the bottom 10% of the companies employees.
I witness more than one case where church leader returned home and tried to apply this principle. Staff members lost jobs, church leaders were asked to step down, congregants weren’t fired, but were told if you don’t agree with the leaders’ vision, it would be OK for them to leave.
If that’s the kind of commitment that churches have to one another, no wonder Don Miller and others are leaving.
(Link): The Other Side of the Donald Miller Post: Church PTSD, written by a female friend of Scot McKnight’s
…. Something that doesn’t seem to be getting addressed at all is this: what if I KNOW I need it, but it has become such a painful, scary, uncomfortable place that I am no longer able to even attempt to participate? What if I WANT the community and the bumping up against different people with different opinions, but I CAN’T, I mean physically CAN’T go? I have usually discovered in life that if I have a feeling, I’m not the only one. So it makes me think there must be others out there like me.
What do I mean by “physically unable”? I shake, I cry uncontrollably, my skin crawls, I am unable to speak. It’s pretty difficult to be a part of a community, broken or not, with all of that going on.
…. A number of years into our time at our third church my husband was diagnosed with depression. After carefully letting the elders know, we were pleasantly surprised at their compassion and understanding.
But the church was in the process of hiring a new senior pastor, and a few months later when he was brought on, I witnessed an unbelievable turn of events that still makes me cringe today.
Two years later, I am left with the memory of so many people I thought were friends telling me to “let it go” since this is “what’s best for the church” and all part of “God’s will”.
….What I think I’m looking for and not finding is something that will give me hope.
At this point, I won’t be persuaded by guilt or by empty platitudes. “You just need to do it because it’s what we all need to do” just isn’t cutting it. Having people tell me that it’s a broken place and I shouldn’t expect anything else from a group of flawed human beings doesn’t make me want to run for the entrance of the nearest church. What happened to me, what happens to a lot of people, shouldn’t happen.
What I’m trying to say is that there is a culture of acceptance in the church today that allows for people to be treated terribly under the umbrella of it being what is “best for the church”.
I would imagine that if a teacher was abusing children in the toddler department or if there were drunken parties going on at youth group there would be some type of outrage, as there should be.
But somehow just plain being “mean” doesn’t garner any type of outrage. “It’s not ideal, but we are fallen people, after all, so you can’t expect anything better.”
Church people have half jokingly admitted to “shooting their wounded” for years. What would it take for people to think there is actually a problem? It will never be any better if we keep justifying the way it is now.
Comments from that page:
- by Map Forward • 21 hours ago
In the past week, I read two other sort-of-related posts. One, about politics, talked about just how very mean-spoken politically partisan Christians can be.
The other, about a devoted Christian woman who had gone through a divorce had comments to it that to me were so presumptuous and cruel I could not believe someone could type the words, much less post them publicly. (Some of these people had Facebook profiles attached to their comments, and they work in churches and Christian schools.)
And then I wrapped up the weekend reading this. As a disaffected Evangelical who is still involved with a mainline church (which has its own issues), I will never understand why Christians behave badly and think they can get away with it.
I live and work in a very secular part of the nation.
The church is dying not only because the world is becoming more secular, but because they watch (and read) us and they don’t like what they see.
We need to step back and mix some mercy in with our justice and simply be kinder people.
by Jazmin • 21 hours ago
I completely understand where the author is coming from.
It’s been over four years since my husband and I left and I’ve realized that I still haven’t healed. Basically no one in the Evangelical world whom I’ve tried to explain it to gets it.
I stopped trying. We would love community but we just can’t stomach the b.s.
You know the way your ears hurt when someone scratches a chalkboard. We’ll that’s how we feel when we sit in a church; we just can’t take it.
When we hear Christians using church speak, more nails on the chalkboard. We’ve had two children since we’ve left and I wish they where growing up in a church like we did, but we simply don’t trust – can’t trust any church with our children.
I recently read (Link): a post on Kathy Escobar’s blog titled “Leaving Church to Save Our Souls”. Well that’s exactly what we did. We had to leave church to save our souls
by Amanda B. • a day ago
I have been through a couple of really nasty church situations (we’re talking unironic usage of “You shall not touch the Lord’s anointed” and labeling people–mostly women–as Jezebels).
I can relate to this author’s piece more than I’d like to. PTSD is a real thing and it can’t just be “gotten over”. It is a very valid reason to not attend church, at least until/unless you’ve healed up from it.
My only thought is to suggest a bit of disagreement to the idea (mostly in the comments) that non-Christians are better at conflict, healthy leadership, etc., than Christians are.
I can totally agree that it *hurts* worse when it comes from the church–these are people we love and have been vulnerable with, and they abused that trust.
That is awful on all kinds of levels that cannot rightly be minimized. I totally agree that there are times when bad leaders in the church get a free pass, due to everyone feeling too guilty to leave–whereas in the business world, for instance, the company would simply crumble under the CEO’s incompetence.
But while I have indeed known unbelievers who navigate interpersonal struggles better than church situations I’ve been in, I have also known unbelievers who handle it just as badly.
Insults, manipulation, backstabbing, gossip, even intentional, brazen attempts to sabotage the other person’s work and reputation.
Yes, there is a unique pain as a Christian when you get burned by your church leaders or members. I don’t seek to diminish that.
But I do think it’s a bit of a fantasy to say that the world is so much nicer about this kind of stuff. People are people, and people are pretty equally prone to treat each other like dirt. I think we *feel* it less from the world, because we do not generally have the same kind of expectations and vulnerability there.
by Kathrine Spoor Gosselin • 2 days ago
I have also experienced mistreatment by “the “church”. However my experience was teaching in a Christian school.
The attitude there seemed to be if you are treated like trash, well you forgive and move on because that’s what Christians do. The whole “this is not our home”and “life is hard, get used to it” got really old!
Now I teach in a public school where my coworkers take up collections for people going through hard times and who may say something mean but are quick to say, “I’m sorry. ”
I find the public school to be a much humbler, forgiving and caring place to work. How sad.
Remember the old camp song, They will know we are Christians by our love? Really?
by Candice Gage reply to myfullemptynest • 2 days ago
I’ve often said the same thing. The meanest people I’ve ever known were “Christians.” It is a really sad truth.
by Katie • 2 days ago
Yes. This. Thank you so much for this post. I have been churchless for a year because of some crazy shit that happened to my husband and I. Despite wanting to go back to church, I cannot stomach the thought of it. The last two churches I have attended have wounded me incredibly deeply. Thank you so very much for this post.
by Candice Gage Adam Turner • 2 days ago
In my experience, the problem isn’t always the leadership themselves. It’s that they have an unrealistic understanding of their flock’s maturity.
The leaders often become the flattered “rich,” offered the best seats in the hearts of the people.
The leadership has no idea that when the “poor” in spirit come to church, they may be tolerated, but they are often only given standing room in church-wide activities and never invited into true intimacy with the body of Christ.
These poor may be mistreated and seek help, but the biased leadership can’t imagine their pet parishioners really being so unkind.
by Candice Gage • 2 days ago
Thank you so much for sharing this post! I’ve been appalled by the lack of understanding from Christians on this issue. I blogged about it myself, stating that I could relate to Miller. I was rather shocked by the response I received from friends who were clearly offended.
It seems like everyone sees the issue through their own personal experience — if they haven’t experienced the real ugly in church, they don’t believe it exists. How prideful we are to assume our reality is the only one.
Yes, the church can offer beautiful things you can find no where else, but it can also hurt you like nothing else can. “Shoot outs” are terrible, but so are years of small, condescending remarks, snide looks, and cliquey exclusion.
There are few things that hurt as much as having crisis enter your life, only to have your Christian “family” pull away.
There is deep feelings of betrayal, especially when you pour a lot of time and love into various “friendships” and ministries.
I’ve never felt so robbed of dignity as I have in some churches. Non-Christians have never made me feel nearly as examined and judged as fellow believers. How sad that this is the reality so many people experience.
The Church should be the one place we are recognized to have worth simply because God created us in his image.
I learned all of these lessons growing up in the church. My dad was at times a youth pastor and elder. I think my whole family suffered from church PTSD during different seasons. Cynicism grew in my life to where I didn’t even WANT to keep trying to find fellowship. Having been apart of churches all over the U.S., I believed they were all basically the same.
I don’t know how God helped me to do deal with it, but he did. Church hasn’t gotten better — it remains as ugly as always. Some groups do have more strengths than others.
But I go now out of a desire to make a difference more than out of hope of being spiritual nurtured. To tell the whole truth, there are still weeks I dread it. Now and then, when I am weary, I feel my stomach form a few knots as I walk into fellowship hour. But, I believe God wants me to keep going for now, so I do.
I don’t know that God calls everyone to do what he’s placed on my heart though. I think time away is sometimes needed for healing. I believe fellowship is vital for spiritual wholeness, but I am honest enough to say I don’t know how to tell people to get it. My heart aches for all the people who have been hurt by those who should love them best. I look forward to when Christ returns and wipes every tear from our eyes.
by Maurice Hagar II • 2 days ago
I lead a double life as both a leader in the church and a management and organizational consultant. What I see is very little difference between the two worlds, especially at the leadership level.
In fact, I hear more talk about servant leadership and healthy culture in the business world than I do in the church world.
Between this sad reality and the daily church sex scandals, could it be any more obvious that we’re doing something seriously wrong?
by Map Forward reply to Maurice Hagar II • a day ago
Yes. My crisis of faith came in my 20s when I realized that non-Christians and the corporate world I was in somehow managed to be more than “Christian” the church I grew up in.
- if you know me in any way you know that i have a very loose definition of church and believe that our limited notions of it are why so many people are leaving it. the exact things that Jesus was railing against have been what we’ve built many of our institutions on because it’s easier that way–doctrinal statements that are filled with long lists of requirements for beliefs, an us & them mentality, and homogeneity. affiliation, certainty, and conformity are values that often keep the wheels spinning & people coming.
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(Link): The Unchurched