The Six Biggest Reasons for Quitting Church

By Curtis Rittenour
Posted September 04, 2013

Why do people stop attending church? The answers from one person to the next might be plenty diverse, but we do know there are trends.

Research methods for determining why people quit going to church can shape the responses, so it’s important to interview a representative group with careful questions. When people are asked on websites to state why they quit church, the results are typically skewed toward those with a bone to pick.

Another approach is to focus on a specific age group from just a few churches. Once more, you tend to get responses that might not speak for the church at large. And not every person who drops out of church fits neatly in a box. There are lots of reasons people quit church.

Thom Rainer, American author, researcher, and current president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources recently posted an article on “The Main Reason People Leave a Church.” He writes:

But all the research studies of which I am aware, including my own, return to one major theme to explain the exodus of church members: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these members have ideas of what a local congregation should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been met. Certainly we recognize there are many legitimate claims by church members of unfulfilled expectations. It can undoubtedly be the fault of the local congregation and its leaders.

But many times, probably more than we would like to believe, a church member leaves a local body because he or she has a sense of entitlement. I would therefore suggest that the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality.” [1]

David Kinnaman with the Barna Group is working on a five-year project on why young people leave the church.[2] The research covers eight national studies and includes interviews with teens, young adults, parents, youth pastors, and senior pastors. It focuses on teens who disconnected from church after the age of 15. Interestingly, there was not a single dominant reason that showed up. Here are the top six reasons uncovered in order:

  1. Churches seem overprotective
  2. Teens’ experience of Christianity is shallow
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to
    sexuality are often simplistic and judgmental
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those in doubt.

For whatever reason someone gives you for quitting church, our response should be based on the pictures of Luke 15, which show a searching shepherd, a welcoming father, and a diligent woman. Many people simply go through difficult life experiences and when they slip away, nobody seems to notice. Jesus' approach to those who quit church is to come close, to seek out, and to affirm that God is interested in them.

Are you?

Let us know in the comments below how you'd answer these six challenges from youth and others. Plus, we'd like to point you to some resources for reaching those who have left the church or are contemplating it—

Curtis Rittenour
Curtis J. Rittenour is the senior writer at Amazing Facts International. He pastored for 25 years and has authored books, magazine articles, blogs, and seminars.
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