Why I'm Not Buying the Reasons People Give for Leaving the Church

Why I'm Not Buying the Reasons People Give for Leaving the Church
Photo by Karl Fredrickson / Unsplash

Let's talk about the truth behind the great exodus from church.

In 2019, 34% of Americans attended a religious service at least once or twice a month. That fell to 31% in 2020 and 28% in 2021.

The number of people attending church is on an evident decline, and the top-ranked reason, according to Barna Research, is that church attendees are seen as hypocritical and judgmental.

I'm not denying this, but I'm also not buying it.

While I acknowledge the truth behind these claims, there's more to the story.

Again, it's true that Christians are often no better than the rest of the world (which is an interesting discussion about the standard of morality the world holds Christians to, but not themselves).

I believe the claims against the local church have become the sacrificial goat of an excuse for people who no longer want to attend church services.

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Jesus said that it would be by our fruit that people would recognize us. So if the world cannot pick you out of a crowd as a Jesus follower from your life—you are not a Jesus follower. 

Why I am not buying the "Hypocrisy and Judgment Dilemma."

It is undeniable that the church, like any human institution, is not immune to hypocrisy and judgment.

But these negative traits are not exclusive to religious communities.

They exist in everyday places like our favorite coffee shops or even within our own families. Yet, we don't abandon these spaces as quickly as we do the church.

Why?

Because the prevailing narrative of hypocrisy and judgment in the church has become a convenient excuse for those who feel guilty about their diminishing desire to attend.

Let's call a spade a spade.

  • If a movie is boring, I flip the channel.
  • If a TikTok seems irrelevant, I swipe up.
  • If my kid starts talking to me about something I'm not interested in, I walk away (that's a joke).

And church seems irrelevant to many, so they desire to walk away. But why not just walk away? Why start throwing out hypocritical and judgmental statements?

The real truth about church guilt.

People cannot walk away quietly from church because there is a lot of guilt attached to the abandonment.

There is always another TikTok, another movie, or another person who needs my attention. But there is very little (if anything) that can fill the gap of the church in a person's life.

Ex-churches will often claim the church itself projected that feeling of guilt onto them.

If that's you, rather than attributing guilt solely to external pressures, you should consider the possibility that this guilt stems from a deeper source—the Spirit urging you back into the Christian community.

The desire for connection, spiritual growth, and accountability may be the driving force behind your guilt.

The church is brimming with broken people. It's a shame how much hurt has come from the church. I refuse to sidestep it.

But this is not the time to walk away from church.

We are co-workers in God's service; you are God's field, God's building.1 Corinthians 3:9

Top 3 Reasons You Should Stay

  • Christian community is essential for growth: The church is the hub for growth. A healthy church community helps people grow in faith and all life aspects. Nobody should out-community the church.
  • The church is a communion of flawed individuals: The church is a community of flawed individuals who need each other's support, encouragement, and accountability to grow in their faith and overcome challenges. You have a place, and it might be to put people in their place.
  • Church offers spiritual benefits you can't get anywhere else: Active participation in a local church allows believers to experience fellowship, discover their spiritual gifts, receive guidance from trusted leaders, and find grace and restoration in a supportive community. When it's done right, nothing can replace the church.
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If you have a strong enough desire to leave the church, consider instead making your voice heard and calling the church to repentance and authenticity. 

Now let's turn our attention back to the church.

People are leaving your church because they don't want to be there.

It sounds simple and like their problem until you learn to listen.

People don't want to be at your church because:

  • Someone had hurt them badly enough for them to leave.
  • They don't feel welcomed or accepted.
  • They need to connect with the style of Worship or teaching.
  • They have strong relationships with people going elsewhere.
  • They prefer sleeping over whatever you do on Sunday.
  • They don't see the value of it in their lives.
  • They are "deconstructing" and no longer want what you're selling.
  • They no longer believe.

Whether you want to admit it or not, the church somehow plays a part in everything.

The church is either contributing to why people are leaving or, at the very least, not countering the reasons convincingly.

The church is crucial in reimagining itself as a place where people want to be and genuinely miss being when they are uninvolved.

It must acknowledge the realities of our world and actively compete against the distractions and superficiality that permeate our society.

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Are you a church people are proud enough to talk to their friends about?

By focusing on Jesus as the foundation, the church can distinguish itself from other institutions and offer a unique sense of purpose, community, and transformation.

Last thoughts about this

I value the church and recognize the dire situation we are in; I also am learning to listen to those who are leaving.

The church can be dull, intimidating, and occasionally resemble the world more than Jesus.

And I know the saying: "Worship is not about you. It's about God."

But that's not entirely true.

Psalm 100:2-4. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. He made us, and we are his ; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

It sure sounds like we play a part in it.

There is power in the local church, and it's about time we begin tapping it.

By embracing authenticity, fostering genuine connections, and keeping Jesus at the center, we can create a compelling and transformative community that defies the stereotypes of hypocrisy and judgment.

Not that those were valid excuses, to begin with.