A local church is like a family. When people decide they have good reasons to leave, it can be hard on everyone. Sometimes it seems sudden, and no one has a clear picture of what’s going on.
As a pastor and church consultant, I’ve heard a lot of stories about why someone left their church. Too often we lay the fault down at the feet of church leadership, but it’s not always their fault. Like I said, the local church is like a family—and it can be an extremely dysfunctional one.
The Top 6 Reasons People Leave Their Church
There are so many reasons why people feel they need to leave a church. What’s difficult is that they’re not always completely honest—with themselves or others—about the decision.
When looking at the reasons people leave, we removed those related to lifestyle changes like moving or new marriages. We want to focus on the reasons people left because of unhappiness or disharmony. These are the areas we may be able to have some influence.
1. “I can’t deal with the politics.”
Occasionally, churches struggle with one or two families who everyone knows is running the show. They set the tone, the direction, and things are done their way. Their frustrations get the most attention, and their wishes are the first to be granted. There can be a variety of reasons why they’re so influential:
- They’re charismatic
- They’re forceful
- They’re the largest contributors
- They’re longstanding pillars in the church
Most often people would rather leave than get into a confrontation related to power dynamics, and it can be difficult to get the true story out of people who are leaving because of politics. That said, I don’t know many pastors or leadership teams with this issue that are unaware there’s a problem.
Pastors are just like anyone else. They avoid conflict when they can. But by capitulating to strong, forceful personalities in the church, they create an uncomfortable environment for everyone else.
There are only two ways to deal with this issue: Wise conflict and resolution or growth. When the church is large enough, it’s harder for these influential people to control the environment. The problem is, it’s going to be hard to grow in the current climate.
To learn how to reverse church decline, download the free ebook, 7 Ways To Beat Church Decline, today.
2. “There are no opportunities to get involved.”
This issue is often a case of miscommunication. There are generally lots of opportunities for people to get involved, but they’re waiting to be asked, while the church is waiting for them to step up. Eventually, people leave because they want to be used but feel they aren’t.
It’s so important for a church to have a crystal clear strategy for getting people involved. There needs to be a process for figuring out people’s gifts and matching them up with appropriate opportunities—and it needs to be clearly communicated.
The Nurture framework offers four simple steps for providing churchgoers with the right next steps at the right time and connecting them with opportunities to get involved. Click here to learn more about how your church can more effectively reach and engage with your community using the Nurture framework.
3. “My church is too judgmental.”
Life is messy and when we’re in a close community, we’re going to see the messiness up close. People in churches have broken marriages, sins, wayward children, substance abuse issues, and a myriad of other problems. There isn’t a single one of us whose life hasn’t been tainted by struggle.
What makes it unbearable is when those who are supposed to be our support become our accusers. They look at the mess in our lives and they shake their heads, point fingers, and express their contempt for those who are unable to live up to their idealism.
This doesn’t mean that there is no place for guidance and even correction. It’s that people need to feel that their church is a safe place to fail and be broken. This is why gossip is so dangerous and needs to be rooted out of every church.
4. “I can’t identify with the people.”
There are a lot of people who leave churches because they feel everyone is so different. People start feeling like they should start looking elsewhere when there aren’t enough people who share their interests or level of education, or who are in their age or income brackets.
This isn’t entirely the church’s fault. In fact, it can be pretty frustrating. The only way out of this morass is by growing the church outside of a particular demographic, and that can be hard if everyone leaves because people aren’t like them.
The truth is that growth comes from exposure and relationships with people who aren’t like us. Churches should be discouraging homogeneity, and that starts with your onboarding process.
As people get involved and become members, we need to be communicating constantly that the church is about loving and serving others.
5. “The focus doesn’t resonate with me.”
Churches often find a focus that’s particular to them. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it can be alienating. For example, if you focus on Christian marriage and family, it’s going to start isolating single people. There’s no way around it.
Having a strong focus can be a great way to grow your church, but it comes with a cost. The more finely-tuned your emphasis is, the greater the likelihood that the transition will first come with some attrition.
Sometimes the focus isn’t on a topic, but a personality. If your church is developing a celebrity culture around someone in leadership, that can cost you some churchgoers, too.
6. “Money is not being spent wisely.”
Churches are in a difficult position. They need money to run and that money comes from the generous people in the church. But because people give, they feel a great sense of personal investment in how that money should be spent. There are strong feelings every time the church spends money on new equipment or staffing—and all those opinions don’t always align.
Sure, people do leave churches because they’re unhappy with the way money is spent. But what’s interesting is the number of times that this reason is cited by someone who was a random and occasional contributor. The truth is that people who give regularly are not only invested in how their church spends money, but they’re usually extremely invested in the church itself.
There isn’t really a way around this problem. You want people to feel a sense of ownership in church finances, but you don’t want them to be divisive about it. This means you want to regularly communicate a few things:
- Transparency in financial matters is important to the church leadership.
- Unity is also extremely important, but consensus is nearly impossible.
- Leadership is always available to talk through any concerns and thoughts congregants might have.
- The sowing of discord and disharmony will not be tolerated.
Sometimes Loss Is Healthy
It’s not always easy, but sometimes it’s healthy—for everyone involved—when people move on. The best thing churches can do is provide exit interviews where people can share the reasons they’re leaving. This gives churches an opportunity to reaffirm their love and concern for the leaving family, and discover what, if anything, they need to do to ensure positive change.
Download the free ebook, 7 Ways To Beat Church Decline, today. You’ll learn more about why people leave churches and how to reverse decline.