Monday, February 6, 2012

Six Reasons to Stop Going to Church

The church in America is losing the young. And they are not necessarily coming back. According to a recent survey by the Barna Group, Six in ten young adults will leave the church for an extended period of time and some will never return. While there is probably a plethora of reasons why people leave church, six reasons seem to come to the top. According to Leadership Journal they are:

Isolationism. One-fourth of 18- to 29-year-olds say church demonizes everything outside church, including the music, movies, culture, and technology that define their generation.
Shallowness. One-third call church boring, about one-fourth say faith is irrelevant and Bible teaching is unclear. One-fifth say God is absent from their church experience.
Anti-science. Up to one-third say the church is out of step on scientific developments and debate.
Sex. The church is perceived as simplistic and judgmental. For a fifth or more, a "just say no" philosophy is insufficient in a techno-porno world. Young Christian singles are as sexually active as their non-churched friends, and many say they feel judged.
Exclusivity. Three in 10 young people feel the church is too exclusive in this pluralistic and multi-cultural age. And the same number feel forced to choose between their faith and their friends.
Doubters. The church is not a safe place to express doubts say over one-third of young people, and one-fourth have serious doubts they'd like to discuss.

What do you think? Why else are the young leaving church? Have you left the church and if so why?

Update: Some of the information above is covered in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith. One of my former students has done a podcast review of the book on his blog Theology & Backgammon. Perhaps you will enjoy hearing Scott's review.


  1. "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith" by David Kinnaman addresses this issue. He works for Barna, so much of the book is dedicated to the numbers. I found the book helpful, not just for those in the target group of 18-29 yrs, but it also helped me deal with my own misgivings and issues about church.

  2. In the main, none of those complaints would be accurate in regard to the United Methodist Church or other "mainline" Protestant faith groups (Episcopal, Presbyterian USA, UCC, ELCA, Christian Church-Disciples). Still, all of those faith groups are said to be "dying" faster than the "evangelical" churches where those complaints would be valid. Does this represent a "marketing" opportunity for the "mainline"?

  3. I would add that the church is losing people because of our lack of emphasis on Christianity as "a way of life." Generally speaking, the church is driven by metaphysical abstractions of law and belief. Our faith has become so disconnected from this world that it has been rendered impotent in our post-modern culture. In a culture where truth is determined by how it works, a faith built on metaphysical beliefs fails to be made "relevant" (for a lack of a better word). Until the church understands their faith as a way to a better life, which also brings transformation of this world, we will passover this generation of young people.

  4. I think a lot of it boils down to this; the Church, to a large extent, has lost the sense of hospitality and generosity that was a hallmark of the early Christian movement. We bicker about minutiae and are stingy with our hospitality. We aren't fun to be around, and so people don't want to be around us. I am being extreme to make a rhetorical point. But, as they say in kindergarten, if you want to make friends you need to be one.

    1. "hallmark of the early Christian movement"

      Tell that to Paul! ;) The Corinth church had serious issues, just like we do today.

      I think Christianity is a hard sell. If you water it down so that it is unoffensive it loses all relevance. If you build it up as the life style that it was intended to be, people will reject it as too much a limit on their Jesus-free life styles or avoid it out of fear that they can never live up to it.

    2. The problem is the church leaders define generosity and who you should be generous too the church and the storehouse (church as in their ministries). This alleviates any responsibility to out of work family members needing help or helping those Jesus said were the least of his of which he said what we do to them was done to him. Many can walk by a kid without a coat for the winter and say I gave my tithes at church for my blessing. Proverbs 19:17 said when you give to the poor you give to God. Now there are churches that disdain the poor as professional takers. But if you look closely you will find a fair amount of professional takers behind the pulpit.

  5. Nobody talks to kids about faith, especially their parents.

  6. For me it didn't nourish my spirit. All of the factors listed were true for me. But basically I didn't see the kind of joyous life depicted in the NT and I didn't get any guidance on how to get there or how to process that 'pray and read the bible' didn't get me there.

  7. I had a friend leave the church after many years -- and he also left the faith. I think those 6 would likely resonate with his experiences and issue. But I think Shallowness is probably the biggest issue. The Evangelical churches (and I think Mainline churches suffer from this too) have failed to teach how to live a life of faith. And no, I'm not speaking of things like sexual purity or living righteously.

    I think the church has failed to teach what it says it values most: Relationship. How to connect and get closer to God. How to connect and get closer to the church. And how to connect and get closer to those outside the church.

    So what many are left with is some facts about God and Jesus and else -- or little else. And in many churches, even those facts may be little if most of the sermons are simply "How to be a better spouse" or "10 ways to a new you."

  8. Published a response to the same article here:

    We need authentic intimacy with Jesus, endless grace, and an atmosphere in which young adults can both ask hard questions, and allow their faith to ripen.

  9. I used to justify my attendance at church because it was my 'local' church - and I felt to be authentic I needed to be local, wihtin my community. As the years went on I used to still think about why I went: "I don't go for the sermons - they don't feed me; I don't go for the music - it doesn't help me reach the heights of worship I know I can get to; I don't go for the age range - the average age is probably 65 and I am in my 20s; I don't go for the social groups - there are none for my age; and I don't go for the liturgy - because I feel it is alienating to newcomers.

    I always thought my church was rubbish at mission - but despite all the above aspects I still thought to myself "a bruised reed I will not break" - why should I walk away from this local church because Jesus won't.

    But the final straw came when I relaized, after five years, that actually it is not that people are poor at mission and serving the community but that they are not interested in doing it... So I left.

    I miss the liturgy a bit: I see it as a strength - something to follow because there are greater things than myself, an act of submission - rather than wanting to 'consume' the experience of my choosing.

    I want to be a disciple, to live in the most authentically Christian way i can. Right now I don't go to church and I have no Christian friends to associate with. It feels such a shame.

    1. You can find a small gathering in a home of Spirit filled believers. For where two or three are gathered Jesus promised to be there.

      Your heart for the Lord came thru loud and clear. Where ever you go you take the church with you because we as individuals are the church and much more we are his hands and feet.

      The church bldg. has become big business that controls God's redeemed so much so that there is no room for the Holy Spirit to move.

      Many church leaders won't allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us even in how much to give. They continue this condemnation in Malachi of a curse which Christ has redeemed us from on his cross and expect us who have read our entire bibles to go along with their manipulations as if we are robotic clones.

      Too bad they can fool some of the people but not all of the people who know we cannot be cursed with a curse over not having ten percent to tithe on every gross dollar, since being redeemed from the curse includes the Malachi 3 curse they are always quoting to collect their pay!!! The ironic thing about their tithing manipulation is most of us would give anyway without all the scripture twisting and condemnation but no one but a brainwashed robot wants to be manipulated into doing something.

  10. Ben Mills
    " If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross ( burdens, problems, issues) daily, and follow Me. For whosoever desires to save their lives will lose it, but whosoever loses their lives for My ( Jesus) sake will save it" Luke 9:23,24

    To this young generation, bottom line is that we fail to realize we are in a spiritual warfare that dates back to before this generation was born and will continue, if Christ delays His return. We, as Christians ,are not to be conformed to the world, not to be isolated from the world. The world should be ashamed at the evil inwhich they do every day, for God is angry with the wicked every day (Psalms 7:11) But Christians do help by seeking the poor, charity, missions, spreading the good news, we all have work to do young people.If Bible teaching is unclear, then turn off facebook, twitter, t.V, video games and get on your knees in fasting and prayer. How do you send your time children of God?
    Anti-science- science does good, really good, but science also tries to disprove the exist of your Heavenly Father. Embrace science but don't conform to it. God is the creator of heaven and earth, not the BIG BANG. Sex, sex, sex, fornicators WILL NOT inherit the kingdom of God, 1 Cor 6:9, young Christian feel they will be judged, you better believe it. It is for the SAVING of your SOUL.
    Of course you are force choose between friends and your faith, we all are, show me your friends and I will tell you who you are, Even paul felt john mark was not ready and set him away, but later John Mark saw the light, you will lose friends but you also will gain new ones as well. Doubters are all welcome in the Church, if you feel you cannot express doubt then find a new church that you can express your doubts and feelings or PRAY that God will open a away for you to fine answer you are searching for. We must bare each others faults, but the answer is NEVER to run away and leave the church.

  11. What people need to understand is what the church is. The church is not a building one goes to,where you first do paise & worship,pay your tithes,listen to a pastor give his interpetation of Gods word,and go home to watch the football game. The church is the true believers in Jesus Christ.Who understand that every breathe we take is because of God.The church lives the gospel and realizes that the love of worldly things makes you an enemy of God.The church seeks those things that are above.And forsakes our own desires for the good of others and for the glory of the name of Christ.I hear alot on here about the early church.Well the early church was willing to die,be burned alive,fed to lions,boiled alive in oil,and suffer anything for the love of the Jesus and the sake of the gospel.Today very few are even willing to suffer their so-called freinds to dislike them because they make a stand to live a holy life in the fear of God.All of the reasons given above are selfish me,myself,& I reasons. Did not Jesus say,If you keep your life,You will loose it? But if you loose your life,For my sake and the gospels,You will find it? The reason people are leaving the faith,is because they want God to change to fit into their desires.And don`t want to give up their lives for the love of Jesus,and the sake of the gospel.They don`t want to forsake the world and be seperate.They want to buy fire insurance,yet live as the world lives.The church is and always has been the true believers.Who know the God they serve and take Him at his word,obey His word,because they truely believe His word.Who seek the things that are above and forsake all,for that pearl of great price!

  12. My wife posted previously but here is my reasons for not going to church
    Many churches are filled with lords and hireling NOT Servants of the Lord. Thought Jesus said the greatest among us is the greatest servant, not those who lord it over people and their wallets.

    I was in one church where there was Pastor’s Anniversary, Pastor’s Birthday, Pastor’s Wife Birthday, Pastor’s Anniversary, Expensive Tickets for Banquets and endless cost to attend expensive Conferences, Pastor’s Appreciation, Founder’s Convention, The Church Building Fund where you had to pledge money to expand the bldg. plus Tithes and Offerings. The Pastor said cut back and give more but bought a brand new car and another vacation house. This appeal for money for some new thing went on every other month ( and this Church was in a lower income area). I finally was so tapped out. I had a choice between feeding my family, or continue being a member of this church.
    It took one whole year before they sent me a post card wondering why I was not tithing any longer. I called and told them I had given my notice of withdrawing my membership months back. I was promptly hung up on without so much as a pretense that we miss you and not your tithe money.
    NO thanks to organized religions anymore! I can pray and read my bible at home
    From Fred Up

  13. I also want to add that I experience the presence of God at home reading my bible and praising more than in some of these country club type churches that are being run like just like a secular business.

  14. I have gone through periods where I stopped going to church for many months or years. The main problem I had in the church was lack of relationship. I boiled it down to a lack of love. In spite of all the bible teaching, there were cliques, premarital sex, snobbery, etc. And nobody thought these things were wrong. What the people said they believed and what they practiced was so wide it was hard to reconcile. People couldn't be bothered to help the sick or visit others in the hospital. Organizing evangelism outreaches and food pantries were too much trouble. Talking about how to help the unemployed was met with silence, and comments later on that such people were lazy or losers. There was just no compassion, and no love for others. Some of the worse offenders were the pastors and Sunday school teachers. They readily offered relationship to those they could get something from (connections, richness, access to golf clubs, dates), but short of that, it was like pulling teeth. I couldn't take the duplicity and general spiritual malaise that everyone thought was wonderful and normal. You could literally disappear from your Sunday school or small group and never hear from anyone again. A couple of people did, and when I asked about them, everyone just seemed to shrug their shoulders and talk about something else. It was like Christianity was an intellectual feel good exercise, but don't expect me to live it especially if it means giving up sexual immorallity, burdening my time or sacrificing myself.

    I am not expecting nor looking for the perfect church, but finding a group of people who are passionate about Christ and walk in humility would be nice. I hope I can find that some day.

  15. Matt 24:12 contains a principle that has been true throughout the ages and is certainly true for our day and time! "And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold."


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. We also have the fundamentalists and fire and brimstone Christians who may drive others out of church. They think they can judge and bully others into faith.

  16. People are leaving because when you become the church as God promised would happen in the OT "I will write My laws on their hearts" not being able to function as God intended will frustrate you. People are being filled with the Holy Spirit and then made to sit and listen to one person instead of themselves ministering. God makes it very clear in His Word that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth and not a man.

  17. "Oh, you're Single! We have the perfect place for you -- THE NURSERY!"

    Result: other people's screaming babies; zero fellowship.

    1 year later I quit the nursery.


    I finally left altogether. I will not go back. I have been in church for thirty years and I am SICK of being invisible.

  18. I feel the Church as failed to teach young people about the true God. With the exception of expressing doubts and having questions go unanswered, the reasons given for why people are leaving the Church indicate that they are more concerned with the life that is going on around them than what is being taught to them in church. There are broken churches that need to change, but we don't need to change how we worship and what we believe to gratify our secular passions.

  19. The church has done many bad things including the catholic child molestations and the showing of non-caring for others.

    Church noise is a nuisance. And, religious organizations do not care about the peace and quiet of their neighbors. That really shows their true colors.

  20. This is my first post as Anonymous, so read this not as having any connection to the previous Anonymous posts.
    First of all: The church is spiritual gathering - many times an ad hoc gathering in God’s name, is likely being led by the Holy Spirit. Many a church denomination can easily become a shallow-led committee with a worldly character. I always believe that this character has done my faith more harm than good whenever I had doubts. I left the church then, because of my doubts, realising that not even the committee was capable to support me or work spiritually through my struggles. However, most of the people that could help me, were people that were part of some church, but led a life of deep dedication. I must give testimony: I received incredible support and guidance during unofficial worship sessions with those few individuals in small gatherings at houses - not at any church building. This is what strengthened my faith and taught me the ways of the Spirit. I found a lot of persecution from inside official churches, so for that reason, I decided to rather not entertain those things, but to pray against it. The evil attacks sharpened rather than stopped and even my wife was targeted. We found that we were less persecuted when we don't attend services. The attacks and ill feelings never dwindled, but rather sharpened to a point that both my wife and myself decided not to attend any form of church function, since we don't need to go to a masquarade of pretense. We occasionally go to services, even make contributions, but I believe to rather give to missionaries and people that are really desperate than to feel incapacitated by pride and prejudice.