Leaving Church — Why Do People Do It?

People who decide to leave church generally do it after much prayer and consideration.

Years ago, when we still attended weekly church services, a longtime acquaintance (that’s generally what we are in church situations — we’re rarely given time to freely mingle and get to know one another as friends) left.

If you attend church, you know how this goes: Bob and Allison aren’t there one week. Probably sick, or out of town. Because we’re only longtime acquaintances, we don’t call and ask, and besides, isn’t that what the visitation committee members do? It’s their ministry.

And then another week goes by. Must be a family emergency. We’ll pray for them, when we have the time.

Another week, and another, until six months later when we think, “Bob and Allison haven’t been here for, whoa, a long time. How sad. They must have left the Lord, and they’re backsliding.”

Please read the rest at What Kind of People Leave Church? at my BeliefNet blog, Commonsense Christianity. I am unable to post the entire article in more than one place, so I am most grateful to those of you who follow the link and read the whole thing.

If you have your own leaving church story, or, I’m-still-hanging-on-but-I’m-frustrated, please feel free to leave a comment.

A generous selection of Steve Henderson artwork is available at Framed Canvas Art, as licensed open edition prints.

This article is linked to Missional Woman, Womanhood with a Purpose, Essential Things, God’s Girl, Christian Mom Blogger, Happy and Blessed Home, Anything Goes, Love Bakes Good Cakes, The Jenny Evolution, A look at the Book, Counting my BlessingsModest MomA Mama’s StoryWhat Joy is MineLife of FaithMoms the WordWomen of WorshipThe Multi-tasking MumThe Fairy and the FrogStitch by StitchMonday manic link upEnchanted Homeschooling MomMopping the FloorFrugal Crafty Home

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About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. In addition to her This Woman Writes blog, Carolyn writes a regular art column for FineArtNews, an online newsletter for artists and art collectors.
This entry was posted in Art, blogging, Christian, Culture, Current Events, Daily Life, Encouragement, Faith, Family, home, Lifestyle, religion, spirituality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Leaving Church — Why Do People Do It?

  1. Hi Carolyn, We’re neighbors at Womanhood with Purpose Link-up. I’m a pastor’s wife, and I think one of the reasons people leave and look for another church is they are looking for teaching they can apply to their lives. Some leave the church in general, but I think others are church shopping. Thanks for providing a place for people to share their stories.

    • Hi, Deb — believe me, when I wrote about this, it was with what I hoped would be a sense of balance and grace, because there are many good people like you and your husband, working in a church that isn’t corporate or cold, providing an environment for believers to interact as equals. Sadly, this is becoming less and less so, as the message from the Big Mega-Churches infiltrates into the smaller, simpler congregations. Everyone wants to be big, and act big. People leave for all sorts of reasons, but often because they feel unlistened to, frustrated, disenfranchised, and marginalized. This is a very real problem, and as one of these people who has left, I speak up for Christians who are Christians indeed, and didn’t leave lightly.

      • You definitely wrote with balance and grace. I agree with you. We are each looking for a place to belong and feel connected. When churches start worrying more about numbers than people there is a problem. Often a small group within the larger church provides the relationships we want.

        Your voice and message is an important one. One thing I know for sure . . . the church is messy. It’s full of imperfect messy people. My prayer is that it will also be a place of love, grace, and mercy where we can lift each other up and grow together.

        • That is a good prayer, Deb.

          Perhaps, as we have more Christians in and out of church congregations, we’ll meet and connect in more places than one building. We need one another.

  2. I’m looking forward to going over and reading your blog post. I’m in the situation but for a serious reason – suspected predator.

  3. angela moore says:

    Great article. I find that many mega churches are just to impersonal . Too many preachers, too many deacons, too many trustees.

    • Thank you, Angela. As individual Christians, we have choices about where we go and how we learn. Like you, I recoil at the megachurches, finding little there of meaningful human interaction.

  4. Phylicia says:

    I found this very interesting as I just wrote on a similar topic – why young women give in to lust, umbrellad under the bigger issue of why young people are leaving the church (60% of churched young people eventually leave the church, according to Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis). I enjoyed your blog and found it through a link up!
    http://phyliciadelta.com/stigma-sin-lust-and-the-christian-woman/

    • Thank you, Phylicia. I have heard of — and seen — young people leaving the church in droves, but what fascinates me is how many non-young people, like me (young at heart but 50+ in body) are dissatisfied. Not too many leave the church yet, based upon our own experience of leaving (we have been pariahs for many years now), but more and more are very quietly expressing dissatisfaction. That’s the first step, then skipping a small group or a service now and then, not enough to be noticed, but enough to have relief. But many don’t know where to go next, because they’re admonished to “not give up the assembling of one another,” as if what they’re kicking against is the only way to assemble together. Too many live for too long under the impression that they are not “real” Christians, because if they were, they would not be dissatisfied — no one else is, so what’s wrong with them? It’s a very real, very powerful situation, and indeed, if people are looking for a Revival, it’s already here, and it’s happening not through people filling the pews, but leaving them. As I told one mother of an exemplary church son who left the establishment, “He left not because he’s unspiritual, but because he’s very spiritual, and not finding the truth where he is, he’s leaving to go look for it.”

      Wow. That was long. Thank you for your kind words and for finding me through the link up. I hope you’ll be back and we can get to know one another. –Carolyn

  5. Lisa D says:

    I’m one of those “Hanging on”. I was raised in the church I attend. My parents still attend. I have seen so many people leave. My church seems to be filled with personal drama! I hear that all churches are the same so I choose to hang on. We have had a lot of preachers come and go too (drama again). I just hang on until the next one, hoping to connect. I only go to preaching services on Sunday mornings. I’m afraid to get to involved in other things because I see so many people leave my church because of hurt feelings or gossip. I don’t want to be around it. Some leave due to politics in the church and many have left to follow the preachers that moved. Now Im gonna head over and read the rest of your story. 🙂
    Lisa

    • Lisa — my heart aches for you, and my prayers go with you. First of all, you need to know this: it is not a sin to leave church. It is not an obligation to attend something just because you are told “this is God’s church.” If it is filled with drama and gossiping and pain and you’re just hanging on, you don’t have to stay. If you can’t make a break, then take a Sabbatical — just, for the next three or four weeks, stay home and rest.

      And whether you stay in or not, get out that Bible of yours and read it, if you are not already. Absorb yourself in the words. Ask God to explain it to you. Ask Him questions. Ask Him to take you to a deeper level of knowledge of Him, and get ready for the ride. Actually, you may already have asked that last question, and you’re on the ride. That’s why you’re “hanging on” and not happy about it. You’re desperately, deeply, sincerely seeking truth, and you’re not finding it. But you WILL find it in the Bible — so since that’s the one place that you know you can find it, take advantage of that resource. God will walk you through your situation — He wants your heart in His hands, not your tush on a pew. The two do not necessarily correspond.

      I hear your frustration and pain — it’s what I felt for many years, while we were “hanging on.” There is something better and purer than that, and it sounds like you’re being called toward it. — Carolyn

  6. benieetbelle says:

    I too left the church for a while, I haven’t been to another one yet. I was a leader for the children’s ministry, I cleaned, and volunteered in all I was asked to, I served the best that I could, but it got to a point where what I had to offer wasn’t good enough and they expected more to the point I got burned out. I was there pretty much every day of the week, they took the whole “a single woman must occupy herself in the work for the lord” too literal. Don’t get me wrong, For the most part my service was never to please them but as an offering to show how grateful I was to the Lord, and I didn’t complain as the the responsibilities kept piling up, until I realized there was also other members there, I couldn’t do it all on my own as they expected me to. Shortly after that my mom fell ill and being that I’m the only person she can count on, I missed 2 services to be at her bedside thru the sickness. As bad as it sounds the best gossip was at church, and guess who was the topic, everyone stated that I missed because I had gone back to my ways of clubbing and drinking, I even got in trouble with my pastors and got my leadership role taken away…All because of false rumors. Besides the people whom I served with in the children’s ministry, no one ever called to see what had happened, if I was ok, nothing. They carried on as if the rumors were true and when I went back, people looked away as if they couldn’t see a “sinner”. I never heard from the pastors either. I can’t help to feel guilty for not going back, I feel like I disappointed God in not following directions.

    • My beautiful, beautiful sister — you have NOT disappointed God! Please do not let the shallowness and weakness of others who should know better keep you down, and please consider this: perhaps you have been called out. I have. My family has. We have been called out of a system that does not work, because too often it is doing to people what you have described in your comment, and please tell me — how is this Christianity?

      Some stay in — because they have been called in. Others, because they can’t or won’t leave. But you were pushed out — at first it feels like rejection because that’s essentially what it is — rejection by human beings. But rejection by humans is not rejection by God.

      Seek Him. Call Him. Love Him. Cry to Him. Read your Bible and just read about Him, staying connected with Who and What He is. You are on a journey that few are on, but many more than we think. Ask Him to show you people who can help you on your way, and do not be afraid of being alone — out of the Christian loop — for awhile. He has things to teach you, and the voices of others may get in the way.

      If you want to talk further, you can find and reach me through this Contact page — http://stevehendersonfineart.com/contact — it is the contact form at Steve Henderson Fine Art, which I co-own with my husband. You will reach my personal e-mail that way.

      Lift your head, my friend, and do not let others beat you down. God loves you and treasures you because you are His Daughter.

      • I get so frustrated when I hear stories like yours, Benieetbelle. I completely agree with Carolyn. You are loved and treasured by God. You have not let Him down, and He will never let you down . . . even when others do.

        • Humans, Deb, humans. We forgive one another as we can, which isn’t much, and rely on God to give us the grace to go the whole way. And we reach out to the people that others have hurt, in the same way that others pick up the collateral damage we cause.

          It’s only when we’ve been hurt that we have the understanding to see the pain in other people’s eyes.

          • You are absolutely right. I just wish we were better at honoring and loving Him by loving each other. And yes, it is through our pain that we are able to see the pain and reach out to others. I shared earlier that I’m a pastor’s wife . . . as I’m sure you can imagine we understand hurt. We not only see it, we sometimes receive it. Blessings.

            • Oh, my friend — my Norwegian Artist grew up in a pastor’s home, with a pastor’s wife for a mom. I am sure that you receive more than your share of pain, in many many ways.

              We lived with national pastors in Colombia for awhile, and I still remember the women of the church walking through their home (it was attached to the church) and running their fingers across the top of the refrigerator, tsking when they found dust. Sigh.

      • benieetbelle says:

        Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement, they were truly what I needed to hear and came in form of blessing on to my life. Better things are ahead and I believe that. I know it seems cloudy at first but soon it will clear up and I have faith that God will lead me to the right place, meanwhile I will continue my search to better know the marvelous God we have. Thank you soo much, and may God continue to bless you as you have been of blessing. 🙂

        • Thank you, Benieetbelle. You are on a journey, and journeys take a long time. It’s easy to get discouraged, impatient, frustrated, and feeling as if God isn’t listening or paying attention (major firsthand experience here), and if you go into it knowing that nothing will come out as expected, you will be more able to meet the bends in the road.

          Many people out there will give you sunny ideas of how “God will work this out!!!!” and He will, but it will be a growing, stretching process, and any growth involves pain. I know that’s probably not what you want to hear — none of us does — but none of us went through childhood and adolescence without literal growing pains. I tell you only so that you won’t be blindsided by people who tell you the reason you’re having a hard time is because you’re doing the wrong thing and God is displeased with you.

          He is a marvelous God, and a marvelous God does not toy with or play with His children. He loves you, and He is calling you closer and closer to His side. My prayers are with you. — Carolyn

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