Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Why Some People Leave Church

I just read Mark Finley's booklet They're Coming Home about reaching former members who no longer attend church. It has several helpful lists of ways to reach out to former members, but one of the most informative is the list of reasons "Why Some People Leave" church.
  1. A conflict with another church member or the pastor.
  2. Discouragement over personal problems and a growing guilt because of an inability to live up to biblical ideals.
  3. A growing disinterest in spiritual things because of a neglected devotional and prayer life.
  4. A perception that the church is no longer relevant to life and does not meet felt needs.
So do people leave the church, or does the church leave people? Three out of four items on this list show the church leaving people. (I put item 2. in this category since people should be able to find help for personal probelms at church).

Another good list is the "Signs of Fading Interest" in the church:
  1. Irregular church attendance
  2. A critical or ambivalent attitude toward the church and its leadership.
  3. A change in habit patterns--or a return to old ones.
  4. Increasing withdrawal from the fellowship of the church.
The point of this information is that when we see these things happening to contact our friends and ask them what's going on. Don't let your church be one that 'leaves people'. Listen to their story, accept them and their faults, and invite them to worship with you again. Just noticing and caring may make the difference.


  1. I was raised primarily Adventist, and was baptized when I was a child. I left the church because I felt it was overflowing with alot of hypocrisy. There are an incredible amount of Adventists who get caught up in legalism and completely neglect to incorporate many of Christ's teachings into their daily lives. My feeling was, I don't care if you don't eat pork, but if you stand around gossiping about the friend I just brought, and act so shocked that someone with jewelry on has penetrated the inner sanctums of our church, you're actually sort of worse. Sadly, this still goes on! A church near us recently lost a large number of members. See, the visiting pastor wore a wedding band. Several members immediately pounced on this, as though he were breaking all of Gods commandments, as though this wedding band would stand between him and salvation, and the church was divided in the ensuing uproar. I'm sorry - I don't subscribe to such a legalistic stand point, and further, I beleive the sanctimonious, judgemental types will be judged for their part in driving beleivers away.

    I had many questions that I am just now getting answers to. That's over three decades of seeking and NOT ONE Adventist being able to answer my questions. A sad commentary on Adventism.

    Your advice is sage advice "Listen to their story, accept them and their faults, and invite them to worship with you again." I wish the Adventists in the churches I attended had had the same mentality. I cannot blame my spiritual decline on them, but neither can I claim they edified me in my spiritual walk.

    I am growing spiritually, and I thank God I found the book "The Antichrist Agenda". I will be re-joining the Adventist church soon. My mom's pastor and I have discussed timeframes for my re-baptism and I am really, truly excited.

  2. Dave, could you please list the ways to reach out to former members?

  3. wow whiterabbit, sounds like we attended the same church! I feel very sorry that this goes on in any church. I was brought up catholic and struggled very much with with some of the things that church taught and I slid away from God. Many years later I was unchurched but seeking God so I started reading my bible. I discovered the sabbath and some other truths. I found the best radio program to listen to was adventist and so I studied there doctrine and listen to sda pastors on tv and such. I figure they have accurate teachings from the bible like no other church and I started attending, was baptized and quite excited. Apart from the very small group of dear souls I have met, I find my church very cold, judgmental and un-loving. Many seem very legalistic. I informed a friend of mine that I was considering attending a different sda church in hope of finding less judging and legalism. She told me her husband and herself used to attend the sda church I was thinking of visiting and that it was even worse there. I don't want to quit attending church but I find I am very uncomfortable where I am, I'm sorry to hear of your experience but I'm glad to know that it isn't just me who thinks the sda church needs to learn about the love of Christ. I suppose we all need to pray hard and often for all the churches that claim to know God - may He help us all!

  4. Wow! I need to catch up on my comments. It's hard to say anything after hearing such heartfelt and difficult stories. My heart goes out to both of you.

    As to outreach, maybe some one who has been brought back into the church would like to respond. I have given the extent of my knowledge at the end of my post.

  5. My husband and I pastor a church and you are correct on why people leave. Five years ago we pioneered this work with 12 members, our attendance grew to between 75-80 and now is down to about 45-50. The majority of people leave due to reason #1, a few for #2, some for #3 but we've never lost anyone for #4. My husband's messages are always relevant and purposed for life change, covering subjects such as marriage, raising children, what God expects of us as employees/employers, etc.

    From the very beginning we have been aware of the "signs of fading interest" and have stayed on top of it. It has AWLAYS been our policy to meet with our people when we see any of the signs. However, we have NEVER been able to get anyone who has left to sit down and talk with us, all we get from them is "everything is fine, nothing is wrong". Then either, "we are just busy" or "God is calling us somewhere else". Sadly most of them are not attending church at all. We know they have been offended but just will not tell us why. One person even said to us, ‘I’m upset with you but I don’t’ want to tell you why.” No matter how much we tried to get her to talk with us she refused.

    God calls us to please Him and in doing so we are going to, at times, displease people especially those who have their own agenda.

    When we began this work, because we had been in 'unhealthy' church situations ourselves, we purposed to love people unconditionally and to do whatever we had to do to make it very hard for them to leave our church for offenses. Unfortunately we were a bit naive in thinking that we could talk and walk through offenses with them. In our experience, people don't really want to resolve anything they just leave offended.

    The only thing we know to do is to pray for them and continue to love them.

  6. It would be awesome if people would do an exit interview, however most peole are not honest about why they leave. It appears that the church or preaching is'nt reaching them where they are in their present situation. Some people just switch to a church where the preaching is different(more relevant in their perspective)