Busting Myths on Why People Stop Attending Church
Disclaimer: I am writing this as a “Non-Traditional Christian” – The views and opinions reflected in this blog are from a person who has served in various roles in ministry, but has not held the role of Pastor or (the top leadership role in a church / ministry).
I am a Christian… who does not regularly attend church services in person or online virtual services at this point in my journey with Christ. For many people this fact alone will make you question if I am even “saved” at all – since I am not attending a service every week. I hate to break it to you, but you were programmed to have this negative opinion of people who do not attend church habitually. While in the past I did attend church regularly in person, virtually/online, or listening to replays, I have often heard the ministry leader (Pastor, Bishop, Prophet, etc.) express a particular disdain for people who profess to be followers of Christ, but do not attend Church. They lump everyone from former church members, regular visitors, and those who have actually fallen away into the same general categories. They are labeled as disloyal, opportunists, unfaithful, troublemakers, heathens, backsliders, unrepentant, lazy, ignorant, undisciplined, and overall failures. The notion is that such people are actually enemies who deserve to get “what is coming to them,” because they are not protected under the covering of the church or ministry that they left anymore. Instead of reaching out to a person who leaves, even under stressed and undesirable circumstances, an attitude of a holy “good riddance” is given instead.
Now the truth is sometimes when a person stops participating with a church or ministry, it is for the best, the best for that person and the fellowship that they are leaving. The problem is that, most of the time the reason for why the person has left is not expressed by the person leaving to the congregation, which leaves room for gossip, conspiracy theory, and misinformation to take root regarding the situation. A person who does not like the person who left will be all too happy to explain and share all of their negative perspectives on the separation. And if that church or ministry is prone to “Pastor Worship”, the person who leaves will almost always be depicted as some type of villain, possibly possessed or a witch/wizard/warlock. Blame for any ministry problems and failures during the time of that person’s attendance can freely be put on the person that leaves, using him or her as a convenient scapegoat. (For more on this, check out the book Charismatic Control by Steven Lambert, ThD)
Of course, what has been described are the extreme cases and there are some people who leave that are not missed – no one notices that they are gone. However, the negative stereotype is broadcast through many sermons, teaching messages, as a warning of what can happen to a person who does not attend. Many Modern western churches are built around the model of fellowship being the anchoring element, upon which the foundation of the ministry is built. There is nothing wrong with that, except, when the goal becomes to keep people in that one location as long as possible. After learning about the Kingdom of God and how that was part of Jesus’ mission on earth – to expand and spread the “Good News” regarding it, I realized that church assemblies are supposed to equip and build up people to engage and expand the Kingdom of God beyond that church location. So why is it so confusing and perceived so negatively if a person moves on, away, or fellowships with believers in a different assembly?
Let’s discuss this! Feel free to repost this on your social media page and start a conversation with your family, friends, and contacts.Whether you agree or disagree with what has been expressed in this blog, this conversation needs to happen.
There are scriptures that are used to “teach” why not participating with a church is bad/ undesirable.The one that I remember being referenced the most is stated as, “Forsake not the assembling of the saints…” When the scripture from Hebrews 10:24-25 actually says:
24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Which other scriptures have you heard in regards to church attendance?
There are some churches/ ministries that pronounce judgements or curses on the people that leave by declaring things like: They will not find success, or the protection/favor of God will not be with those who leave, or declaring that they will be handed over to Satan – implying that the person renounced their confession of Christ as Savior and is no longer saved.
Have you ever heard something like this being preached or declared in a church service?
A person may decide to end fellowship and participation with a church/ministry for all sorts of reasons. Below is a list of reasons why a person may stop attending, please share other reasons that are not listed and/or discuss with your network.
- The church/ministry was not a good fit for them – anything from the time of service, worship/teaching style/ location or expectation from the church to the members could be incompatible with a person’s ability or desire to attend.
- There is another church/ministry that the person wants to attend.
- The person does not agree with the doctrine or practices of the church
- Personal or corporate conflict – a disagreement with a church member or leadership that distracts that person’s focus away from worshiping God.
- Church hurt – a person was hurt by a person, or people (sometimes leadership) to the point that church attendance (at that location) causes trauma and becomes too painful to attend.
- A person moves away to another city/state/country
- A person is not growing, has no opportunity to serve, or feels like they are regressing (going backwards) in their faith.
- God/Holy Spirit told them it was time to move on -to another church, to step out on faith, or whatever personal directive from God.
- The person is not well received by the people of that church. Usually for religious reasons: the way that the person dresses, the zeal and enthusiasm of the person, or a host of other reasons
- The person is condemned and gossiped about at the church, and it is no longer a safe place for them to be.
- The person is overwhelmed by the surmounting issues at the church: disorganization, quarreling amongst members and ministry leaders, scandals, power plays, and etc.
People who have bad experiences at church as children/teens/young adults often leave and never come back. Even people who are older but are “babes in Christ” or “unChurched” have a window of time that if they have really bad experiences at church they might leave and not come back – at least not back to that church. What are your thoughts on this? What can be done to encourage children, teens, young adults, and new Christians to not just attend church but to develop their own personal relationship with Jesus? What has worked? What has not been tried yet?
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that broke out globally in 2020 – although prior to the pandemic many churches were adopting the technology to have virtual church meetings, online broadcast of services, and even virtual church campuses – the overall tone towards virtual or online members seemed to be negative – like these people are too lazy or undisciplined to attend church in person. This discounts the fact that there are many reasons why a person may choose to participate online rather than in person. At the end of the day,since this technology has become available it has done more good for churches and spreading the “good news” of Christ than harm, in my opinion. Instead of a sermon being preached in a local church and only the members in attendance at that time being the ones to hear and receive from it, that same message can broadcast in real time globally. This is no different from radio broadcasting, tapes, videos, CDs, or DVDs of the messages going out from a local church. So why is there an underlying negativity about it? What would happen to the global Church if these technological options were no longer available?
Below is a list of reasons why a person may choose to attend a service virtually instead of in person. Feel free to discuss and add to the list in the comments section or on your social media page.
- Location – The person may not live close enough to the church that they would like to attend to fellowship in person.
- Transportation – The person may not have means of transportation to attend in person
- There can be times, especially when a person is growing in hearing the voice of God, that in person services/meetings can be distracting – this way the person can stay in the presence of God and not be distracted by church politics, or whatever else that may be going on.
- Wanting to “visit’ with a church before becoming a member. A person used to have to physically visit church after church in person before deciding/being led to join one.
- Hunger for the Word of God – when a person is growing they may hear ministers with various teaching/ministering styles that they are drawn to. Participating online means that they do not have to choose one service over another, they can attend more than one if they desire.
- A person may be in a place where they are seeking guidance from God on whether to leave or stay at a particular church and watching online gives them a broader perspective regarding that decision
- Everyone does not have Sunday off from work, some people choose to watch/listen to the service while they work so that they do not fall behind in the teaching and to stay as much in fellowship as possible with their church.
- Not everyone is comfortable in crowds of people that they do not know. Introverts may need time to build up motivation to attend in person, because a lot of services are designed for extroverted people: Go hi-five 3 of your neighbors, Hug 5 neighbors sitting next to you and tell them…, Tell the person sitting next to you…Now everybody hold hands while we pray….
- Not all churches are the same: Some churches have loud and wild praise and worship, while other churches are more dignified. Some churches heavily lean on audience participation, while others are quiet and respectful during preaching. Some churches have activities and meals after service, while others send everyone on their way by 12 noon. Online attendance gives a person the opportunity to witness the culture of the church without awkward situations if they do not “fit’ in that culture.
Before getting to the place where I now no longer attend weekly services, I was a faithful church attender. I didn’t just attend, I served in various roles, because I wanted to not be a hearer only, but also be a doer (James 1:22-25). In that time of serving, I found out what goes on behind the scenes in some (not all) churches and it changed the way that I viewed Church as an institution. In some ways it helped mature me, to adjust my expectations and remove the mysticism regarding the building, practices, and administration. It did also have negative effects on me, as I was deeply hurt, multiple times, in various situations. Regardless of the bad experiences that I had, I also had many of the best encounters with God there. I saw first hand the movement of the Holy Spirit, I learned to recognize the Presence of the Lord and the flow of the anointing. I am a witness to seeing people get healed, set free, and delivered. I know that the Power of God can fall to a degree that everyone is touched, and this is the reason why I also believe that the same Power can not be contained in a building, in a service, at a specific time. That same Power can move through a broadcast over the radio or online. It can move with the same strength and momentum through a tape, CD, DVD, or replay. Why try to limit God to an in person meeting? If we believe that He really is God, then we know that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM!
I personally believe that I have grown the most while not attending church on a weekly basis because I had to learn how to hear the Voice of the Holy Spirit, read the Bible for my own edification, and apply the revelation that I was receiving to my own life. My hunger for the Word increased, and my prayer time was unhindered. No other person was involved with “measuring” where I was at in my walk with God, and He also began showing me how to walk with Him instead of waiting until a crisis was at hand. I am not perfect at this, I still have times when it would be helpful to have a community of like minded Believers in Christ that I could go to for help, however God has kept me – even without having that. This is not the ideal situation for any believer- please do not think that I am glorifying not participating with a Church. However, it is not necessarily a bad place to be depending on the things that are happening in your life. I wanted to start this conversation with you because it’s time. It is time to remove this “territorialism” and “Pastor worship” from the Body of Christ. The rivalries and discord amongst local churches, between denominations, and regarding doctrinal differences must end if we are really going to expand the Kingdom of God and fulfill the “Great Commission.”
Attending services or online are options that are available to all believers and one option may be better for one type of person than for another. For a secular example – I attended college courses both in person and online. I had successes and unique experiences with both, when I wasn’t doing well – had failures and challenges in both. So there is no magic bullet – no perfect answer. What is working now for a person may not be ideal later on or in a different circumstances. A person is not “more Christian” if they attend in person, or a person that should be looked down on if they attend online or have taken a break from attending weekly. What matters is that however a believer is continuing their Journey with Christ is that we are all in the Family of God, One Body with many parts. Instead of trying to discount and disqualify people from salvation, let’s trust God that through the in person services and online, and other technological formats that His messages of love, peace, salvation, acceptance, freedom, and grace are reaching those whom He desires to reach – Christ desired ALL to be saved – and that the seeds being planted through all ministry will produce the harvest of Revival that many of us have been longing for.
Thank you for reading this, especially for getting this far in the blog post. Please do not let this be the end of your interest in this topic. Please have conversations about this with other believers and post, or make reference to this blog on your social media to keep this conversation going.
Bonus Question: What would happen if all Christians/Believers/Followers of Christ utilized all of the resources that are available: services, books, radio, CDs, DVDs, MP3s, replays, blogs,websites, and podcasts to build themselves up (Jude 1:20) and to advance the Kingdom?
Dionne Renae 💜💜💜