Why Would You Leave Your Church?

About a year after my wife and I left the Roman Catholic Church and joined an evangelical church we started getting the itch to leave. The desire to roam just kind of showed up. Our church wasn’t bad we just kind of felt like we’d plateaued spiritually there. I don’t remember how it came up, probably in a sermon, but before we even began to look around our pastor said that before you leave a church you should try serving in it first. Well we did and we stayed. The church wasn’t to blame for our spiritual plateau, we were.

So this morning when I read the results of a survey on why people leave, I was saddened. Consider this excerpt:

Fifty-eight percent of respondents in a LifeWay Research study said the greatest impact on their decision to move to another church was “my need/desire to leave my previous church.” The rest (42 percent) said they switched because of the desire to join their current church.

More specifically, 28 percent of churchgoers who choose to leave their previous church do so because the “church was not helping me to develop spiritually,” the study revealed. And 20 percent of respondents leave because they “did not feel engaged or involved in meaningful church work.”

So those twitchy feet my wife and I had were not that uncommon. As I reflect on this many different thoughts come to mind. I don’t think there is a single reason for these numbers and here are a few that I think might exist:

Church Growth – Not all church growth stuff is bad but a lot of it is. They have a huge push to win converts and that is laudable. But what do you do with them then? You ground them and then… No clue. I was at a conference and heard one church growth guru say “If you’ve been a Christian for ten years the last thing you need is another Sunday school class.” His point was that there is a danger of being educated beyond our level of obedience and that is a point we should pay attention to. But what was his answer? What were these “senior” saints supposed to do? Be greeters, work the coffee bar, be ushers, be parking attendants, etc. Blah. They’re so stuck in their initial premise (get ’em in the front door) that they can’t conceive of what to do with them after that. What about teaching and serving the poor and short-term evangelistic missions and long-term missions and church planting? Real discipleship not just more labor to win people into the maze of growth. Personally, I can see how that endless loop would get old after a while.

Church Growth II – I’m picking on them I know. And again, not all of it is bad but a lot of it is. When the prevailing paradigm in the church is to do nothing more than win converts to Christ, the preaching doesn’t go much beyond that. Sermons tend to be topical and only lightly touch the scriptures. Pastors and Sunday school teachers never get very deep into theology because that might make people leave and we want bigger numbers. The preaching and teaching in those circles can be pretty weak. When the saints are fed only milk and not solid meat for too long they will leave. In some cases, departure may be part of the plan for all I know!

Easy Evangelicalism – Tragically those charges are not limited to only the church growth oriented portion of the evangelical church in America. The culture is pervaded with “easy” churches where the bar is set low, the music is turned up and discipleship is voluntary. The social aspect of the church culture gets stressed to the exclusion of the hard part. You don’t grow spiritually when you sit in leisure. If you do no more than occupy a pew on Sunday it is easy to walk. You get fidgety when you sit still too long. We need to be challenged to take risks and grow. If you are so preoccupied with your family that you won’t risk them for the sake of Christ (Matthew 10:34-39) it is too easy to walk away.

Emergent Church – The newest trend may be drawing away the younger folks. If it is new it must be better. Churches who are being more ‘edgy’ might seem to be more engaging and involved but frankly what I’ve seen from Brian McLaren and his ilk is more of the same with weird settings. Add candles, incense, artists paint in the aisles and music from U2 to the weak-kneed preaching and teaching and you’re emergent. Again, since it is new and trendy it may be more appealing.

Worship wars – Music styles rule. If you haven’t got a rock band we’re outta here. Or if you do have a rock band we’re outta here. People can feel “not fed” when the music doesn’t make them raise their hands or when “those people” keep raising their hands. I’m sure this is probably part of the reason people leave but they attach a pious sounding reason to it.

One of the reasons that didn’t show up that I would have expected was children’s programs. “AWANAS is on the wrong night and conflicts with t-ball.” “My kids don’t like the children’s programs. They get board.” I would have expected this kind of thing to be a reason. Maybe it was included in that broad category of “church was not helping me to develop spiritually.”

LifeWay Vice President Brad Waggoner found the study results encouraging.

“The fact that the majority of church switchers express a desire to grow spiritually and become active in service should strike a chord of optimism for leaders.”

Wow, he’s optimistic. I don’t know how it can be considered a good thing with people leave your church because your ministry is not helping them grow spiritually. But Waggoner did make a good point:

He said that the study “indicates that most people are looking for truth, doctrine and engaging preaching and teaching.” Thus, it is essential for churches to design a process – that includes a clear and thorough explanation of the gospel – of orienting and discipling new members.

It sounds like the people are looking for more and ministers are not getting that message. Good for the people! But shame on the ministers. Theology has a place in the church. If we preach sermons that are only practical we’re not feeding the flock. If we preaching sermons that are only theology we’re not directing the flock. We have to do both. Theology should apply and application cannot be divorced from theology.

In the end, it is a great relief that Jesus is the head of the church and not us.

[HT: Herr Luther]

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  • Ther reasons people stop attending church is varried and many. The main reason people leave church is.
    1. God is a dissapointment.
    2. Many major stories in the bible are not unique to god but are pagan and the hebrews redworked these pagan stories and claimed them for their god. Which doesn’t make god look good or unique.
    3.orginal sin and the trinity are not found in the old testament but they are taught as truths.
    4. Minister lie and decieve their follower in miss quote bible verses to support their beliefe system.
    5. People have grown tired of asking a direct question and not recieving a direct answer,but are told boring stories that drift endless away from the question ask.
    6.in Genesis 3:22,23 Adam was put out of the garden before he ate of the tree of life and not sin as many minister decieve their followers into believing.just for the heck of it I know the truth but I want to see if you are truthful. Where in the old testament does it teach orighinal sin. Please no boring story state the bible verses please.

  • Glad to meet you Betty. You have some pretty serious concerns listed here. I don’t know if you’ll come back and read but I feel like I have to make a few comments in case you do.

    1. Is God a disappointment or does your church focus on people more than God? I guess it all depends on what it is you expect God to “do” but sometimes churches get so focused on other things that they scarcely get around to who God is. I believe that God is truly wonderful once you see who he is. Tragically, churches sometimes get in the way of that.

    2. There are indeed parallels between the Ancient Near East stories and the Bible stories. But shouldn’t you expect that? I mean they all lived together in that same area and so the tales would travel. And the real question is who reworked what? If Noah’s flood is real then it should be told in the various cultures’ mythos (and it is). Which culture got it right? Just because there are copies doesn’t mean the original is wrong.

    3. That’s sort of true. There are hints of the Trinity in the OT but Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God (Heb 1:1-3, John 1:18, etc.) So we get the full revelation of who God is in Jesus Christ (2Co 4:6). You ask about original sin in number six so I’ll talk about it there.

    4. Tragically, this is true.

    5. “People” or you? Either way, that is happening a lot. I believe that theology is extremely important to people and not just pastors and seminary students and teachers. With some foundational theological categories, people can wrestle though a lot of difficult issues. Pastors and teachers are still needed on many things. But as pastors and a teachers we need to help people know their theology and their Bibles well. I’m sorry you’re not getting the answers you need. Perhaps you really do need to find another church, one that is more serious about the Bible. That might help deal with your number one as well!

    6. You’re looking for OT texts on original sin? They’re there! You mention Gen 3:22-23 but that isn’t the place to look. God cast them out of the garden so that they wouldn’t live forever in a state of sin. Different issue. Where do we look for the doctrine of original sin in the OT? We don’t have to look far. Read through Genesis 5. “Adam fathered a son in his own likeness…and he died. And so and so fathered a son…and he died…” But God told Adam that in the day that *he* ate of the tree *he’d* die. So as people are made in Adam’s image, they die and that is the result of sin. Original sin.

    I know you were looking for chapter and verse and not stories, but most of the OT is stories and so we have to deal with the stories at some level. I hope I’ve done that at least a little bit.

    Can we see it other places? How about Psa 58:3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb” that is, they are apart from God from their beginning. Original sin.

    If you want a more complete list, look at what Paul says in Romans 3:10-18. Those are all OT citations.

    However, rereading number 6, it sounds like you may have already made up your mind that there is no such thing as original sin. I hope that isn’t the case and that you are willing to listen to the Bible. It is rather arbitrary to confine the discussion to the OT only, but I really believe that the doctrine is there. I can’t develop it fully in a comment but I hope I’ve at least given the beginning of an answer for you Betty. I’ll be praying that God answers your questions through good and faithful ministers of his word.

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