7 Disappointing Reasons People Leave the Church

One disappointment I have had in ministry is watching people come to church, get excited for a time, then disappear. You spend energy and heart on people, grow to love them and get excited about them, and suddenly they are nowhere to be found.

The biggest disappointment is not people who transfer to another church. I’m okay with that if it helps them better grow in their relationship with Christ. I’m talking about people who quit going to church altogether. They are in one day — out the next.

What happens to them? Why do they leave?

I’ve found there are often similar reasons that are repeated continuously. Perhaps you have seen this too.

Here are 7 reasons people disappear from church:

Burn out – These people came out of the gate too strong in the church. They showed up, got excited, and signed up for everything. They got so busy doing church they failed to enjoy being the church.

Injury – People inside the church can be cruel. I hate when that happens, but it’s true. These people experienced some of those people and they couldn’t move past it.

Distractions – These people got distracted by seemingly good things. They were playing travel ball, loving the fast life, traveling every weekend. Over time, their lifestyle of attending becomes the habit of not attending.

Life change – These people had a lifestyle change, such as divorce or re-marriage — or they move to a new community — and never re-connect with a church.

Mistakes – These people messed up! They made a mistake that may be public — or at least they feel that it will be known — and the place that should dispense grace appears either refuses it or they feel that it would. Many times when a person feels that way it is more perception than reality, but the way a person feels about themselves may determine whether they remain committed to church.

Power struggle – These people had an agenda. They were pursuing an issue — or a position — and when it their demands weren’t met and they couldn’t overpower the system, they left.

Lack of connection – These people never connected with others on a deeper level. As a result, they never felt really a “part” of the church.

Pastors, have you experienced these walking with people in ministry? How do you address these issues?

Obviously, we need to do all we can to help people become disciples. Knowing why they leave may be helpful. We can’t address some of these issues — maybe most — much of this is out of our control. But, the more we understand the more we can help people as they experience these.

I think there is also a word here to the one who has disappeared or is on the verge. Beware. If you feel the need for the church in your life — or if you understand the Biblical mandate to be a part of a Body of believers — then guard your heart for these. And, help us know how to be a better church. In fact, come help us be a better church. Here’s one pastor (And, I know so many others) who is listening.

What other reasons would you add to my list?

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42 thoughts on “7 Disappointing Reasons People Leave the Church

  1. Hypocrisy in the leadership is a reason, and I agree, the judgement and blame of the member that left is awful. What happened to leaving the 99 and coming after the one.
    Also you said "if you understand the biblical mandate to be a part of A body" should that read " if you understand the biblical mandate to be a part of The Body"? Respectfully.

  2. I came to this site through a Google search because we are about to quit church for good. Just weary of serving and giving and pouring out and having no connection to anyone no matter how hard we have worked trying to build relationship. And your article blames us. Great. Just great. Leadership is just a machine, run like a business corporation. Programs galore and all of us who volunteer are treated like staff. They don't want input. Interaction is like dealing with an HR department. This is not what Jesus wanted for His Body!

    The only good thing that came from my visit here was reading findingellen's post. She gets it.

    • I am doing reseach on why people leave church. My e-mail is bishopbob.bb.king@hotmail.com. I would love to hear a more detailed account as to what happened. I have been in a mainstream denomination as a minister for many years. I have had birthed in my spirit a burden to help those who have left the church for various reasons and how that a recconect might take place. I see a great need for healing and reconciliation in the body of Christ by those who have been left behind.

  3. I am curious as to why all of these "reasons" are placing the blame on the person who leaves. Burn out can come because the church has extreme expectations of people to volunteer time and energy and punish them when they try to limit their involvement. Injury is not always at the hands of their "peer group" in the congregation – usually it's at the hands of the pastors or leadership. Most people aren't that affected by the opinions of others in the congregation – but when the pastor/leadership injures them, that's another story. Mistakes – People don't "perceive" that they will not receive grace – they KNOW it. Because they have observed it in the church's response to others' "mistakes." Lack of connection – this one blatantly blames the person by insinuating that they didn't try hard enough. In many church's if you don't have the right last name, live in the right neighborhood, make the right amount of money, give the right amount of money, or weren't born and raised there, no matter how hard you try, you are not going to "connect" because you simply aren't good enough. I think I will be writing a post on my blog about the disappointing reasons people can't stay in your church. Look for it soon at whenchurchhurts.wordpress.com.

    • Thanks. Good reply. I'm writing a post too — have been for some time — on when the church hurts. Sorry it happened to you. 
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  4. I am surprised that there has been mention of church cliques. I have been to several smaller (100 or less) churches. As a single mom who had to work to support my daughter and myself, I couldn’t be a part of the ladies meetings held during day. I tried to invite others over for dinner after church, but families didn’t want to come. I made a few friends ( I thought). One day, I became very ill and needed to go to the dr but was unable to drive, so I called a couple of them–excuses were made even though I explained how desperately I needed help. I finally find a person Who I Barely knew that took me to the Dr. I got prescriptions and took to the pharmacy. While we were waiting for them to be filled, out of the theater next door came the ladies who were so busy along with several others….only to go to the ice cream shop next door.

    I decided I could not be a friend when they did not want to be. Interesting enough, no one ever called from the church to find out what happened to me.

  5. When a person has been deeply injured by another Christian in their church they no longer feel safe in a place that they thought should be safe…..their church. It is then very hard to go to any church because they wonder what might await them there. Though they have forgiven that person it still causes mistrust and feelings of rejection. It can forever leave doubts about ever wanting to join yourself to another congregation. Sad but true!

  6. how about they are unregenerate? Parable of the soils comes to mind. I would say that if the church is teaching sound doctrine, living out a life that Scripture calls us to live out and applying biblical truth to the local assembly we must trust God with the why and continue to preach truth.

  7. I think negative comments about the church or some of it's members cause some of the new folks to leave the church. A new Christian doesn't expect to hear bad things from long established members about others and how wrong the pastor is about many things. The new Christian gets disappointed and leaves the church. I challenge all pastors to pay close attention to matters of this nature. An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. It's so sad that this very thing happens among the Saints of God.

  8. This article to seems to lay all the "blame", if we can call it that, at the feet of the church members who leave. I do think that sometimes the church leadership should consider if they are responsible, at least in part. Some reasons might include: putting too many expectations for service on too few (the old 80/20 rule); not providing adequate resources for volunteers to do the work required; ignoring or otherwise not being responsive to members' requests for information, etc. I've also heard of members volunteering to do something for which they are qualified – and then no one from the office ever calls to follow up and take advantage of the offer of assistance. That's pretty discouraging after a while.

    • >members volunteering to do something for whch they are qualified — and no one from the office ever calls to follow up and take advantage of the offer of assistance.

      In defence of churches that do that, local law might prohibit the church from accepting the offer. However, that does not really excuse the church secretary from following up with a phone call to thank the individual for the offer, but they can not legally accept the offer.

  9. If that's true then why are you wasting your time reading a Christian blog? Do you just enjoy being mean and trashing other people's beliefs? I love how atheists claim that religious intolerance is the cause of all our problems but then show the same intolerance for anyone that's not an atheist. Have you ever seen a Christian go onto an atheist blog and point out how stupid they are for denying the loving Father that created them while pursing meaningless lives with no purpose based on a religion (yes, atheism is a religion) that inevitably results in oppression, dehumanization, and death (i.e. eugenics, abortion, euthanasia, communism, Nazism)? Jesus Christ offers eternal life, all you can offer is death at the end of a short and pointless existence.

    • Athiests are not the only people who raise those questions.

      However athiests are more likely to both support the questioner, and point to answers, with supporting evidence, than Christians are.

  10. Greetings, I am wondering along with Chase (as I understand his comments) some folks may either leave or not begin to come to a church at all if they believe, or think they believe the traditional theological of Christianity does not seem relevant to today. Modern science now has some tools such as archeology and other critical perspectives that are able to examine, look at the Bible and find very little extra-biblical evidence of the stories in the Bible, particularly the Pentateuch. Though there seems so much food for thought in these stories of triumph and failure, dysfunctional families, and our longings. The Bible I feel despite its lack of historical or factual truth tells us of God's presence through the ages. How do we share this excitement with others?

    However, at the same time there are a number of folks drawn to 'non-denominational' churches that preach a conservative word that seems to really speak to some people. thank you for this opportunity. Are we (mainline churches) preaching, teaching and appealing to everyday folks who work, have families, trials and challenges or are closed to the everyday lives? Do we answer or at least respond to their cries, their hunger for something beyond?

    • 1) That there is no extra-biblical evidence supporting the Bible or Jesus is simply not true. 2) The Bible is the most read, scrutinized, vetted, and authenticated book in the history of the world. No part of the Bible has ever been proven false. 3) Just because a scientist or an archeologist says something does not make it true. Both scientists and historians are constantly revising their views of history and the universe, sometimes completely reversing previous positions that were considered inviolate at the time. I'm always amazed at how many Christians view the word of sinful scientists as inerrant but not the Word of God. 4) Even as believers, we cannot fall into the trap of thinking that we are smarter than the Bible. 5) The world will always find every perceived way possible to deny Jesus and His Word. When we start believing what the unbelieving world tells us then we lose the power to transform lives through the Gospel.

      • >No part of the Bible has ever been proven false.

        Between 5% and 10% of the Earth's current population show a direct DNA link to Gengis Khan, his mother, or his father.
        No such DNA linkage is available for Noah, and his extended family.
        No such DNA linkage is available for Adam and Eve.
        Perhaps DNA research is such, that we have not yet recognized the DNA evidence pointing to Noah, et al, and Adam and Eve.
        (We do know that at one point in time, the human breeding population collapsed to under 1,000 indivduals.)

        Noah's Flood.
        No geological evidence to support a worldwide catastrophic flood has been found.
        Regional floods, that wiped out hundreds of square kilometers of life, have been recorded everywhere.
        The Black Sea is simply the most obvious example.

        Noahs Flood stands as the hardest issue to reconcile, in the face of the evidence that research has found, usually in a quest to prove the Bible is true.

        Whilst the situation is not as murky Bruce Lugn implies, it isn't as clear as Adam D implies.

        ###

        I suspect the rest of the case is off-topic for at least this blog-post, if not the entire blog.

  11. I joined a church in January of 2010, which i was part of for a little more than 2 yrs. Early on, it became obvious that the church did not have my demographic – Single and mid-30's. In a church of 1,500, there were only a handful of people I knew of who fit that description. I liked the preaching, and I was a youth leader, but I wasn't able to connect.

    In the 2 yrs I was there, I was not able to make any deep, meaningful relationships. After 2 yrs of attending the church, I would still walk around after service, feeling like a new person with no one to talk to, as I watched people talk to one another.

    After I left the church, it took me almost a year to find a church where I felt I could connect. The first Sunday I was there, as the congregation sang worship songs, I told God, "If this is the church for me, I need to know they are going to connect me to other people." That morning, the pastor's message was that the purpose of the church (that specific church) was to connect people to God, to their purpose, and to one another. I couldn't have gotten a more clear answer and 1 1/2 yr.s later that is my home church.

    Before my current church, I chose churches based only on where I felt I could do ministry; though, after a time, for one reason or another, I would get burnt out or get offended because I felt they only cared about my ability to serve and not me. When I sought out a new church, I decided to be selfish and look for a church that would minister to my needs. Of course, I also minister there, but I didn't start volunteering there until I had been there for several months.

    People sometimes get so caught up in doing ministry that they get burnt out. They forget that Jesus not only ministered to people, but He was also ministered to (Matt. 4:11; Lk 7:38). There are many times in scripture when Jesus put His own well-being before the demands of the crowds (John 2:4; 11:6). It's so easy for us to think we are being good Christians when we are ministering to people, but we forget that we need to be ministered to.

    If a church consists of people who only want to minister to people, but those people don't take the time to care for the nourishment of their own well-being, there is no one within the church to minister to and the church becomes unhealthy. People then get burnt out and leave because they are so busy ministering, but they aren't being ministered to. The church then needs to reach out to those people and seek to restore them into the fellowship rather than just watch them leave. And they need to reach out and figure out what is causing people to leave, so they can encourage people to stay.

  12. Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
    The above scripture put it best. The western church,with a small "c" has adopted so much of the world's business models, leadership styles, and forgotten that God can not be contained by a structure. The Church gathers together in Christ, we do not go to church. As some of us mature we look at a system of mans traditions and very little of it is useful for the building up of His kingdom.
    Mark 7: And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
    Jesus plus nothing is a better way to go. Grace and Truth!

  13. What about when the pastor has an issue with someone and avoids them at all costs but denies there's anything wrong? They have no option but to leave for the sake of unity in the church.

  14. Lack of connection is the biggest thing. I have a good connection with the pastor at my church but beyond that it's very weak. I can go a full week and not hear from anyone I attend church with on any level and I've been there almost a year. If it wasn't for the pastor and my friendship with him, I'd have probably gone elsewhere by now.

      • Just a question- have you tried to reach out to them in some form or fashion on a regular basis? You might be just what the church needs.

  15. I could make various observations, but I'll confine myself to a couple about the 'life change' category. One is that if a person moves out of your area, you should commend them to a church in their new locality (or at the very least offer to do so). Another is that on the odd occasion I have found that 'life change' incidents have exposed the fact that there was not a real faith there in the first place. Before anyone thinks I am harsh, let me expand a little: I have seen times when an active church member has been bereaved, and what has transpired is that the active (up until now) member was only committed to the church (and a job in the church) out of deference to that now-deceased relative. LIke a lot of these cases, it's an issue of us majoring on discipleship, but with the proviso that nothing is guaranteed, however much we might wish it to be otherwise.