7 Reasons People Disappear from Church

One frustration I have had in ministry is watching people come to church, get excited for a time, then disappear. You spend energy and heart on people, grow to love them and get excited about them, and suddenly they are nowhere to be found. These people don’t transfer to another church. I’m okay with that if it helps them better grow in their relationship with Christ. I’m talking about people who quit going to church altogether.

What happens to them?

I’ve found the same 7 reasons repeated continually. Perhaps you have seen this too.

Here are 7 reasons people disappear from church:

Burn out - These people came out of the gate too strong in the church. They showed up, got excited, and signed up for everything. They got so busy doing church they failed to enjoy being the church.

Injury - People inside the church can be cruel. These people experienced some of those people and they couldn’t get over it.

Distractions - These people got distracted by seemingly good things. Over time, their lifestyle of attending becomes the habit of not attending.

Life change – These people had a lifestyle change, such as divorce or re-marriage, or they move to a new community and never connect with a church.

Mistakes - These people messed up…they made a mistake and the place that should dispense grace appears to refuse it. Many times this is more perception than reality and based on the way a person feels about themselves, but sadly sometimes it is reality.

Power struggle – These people had an agenda and when it wasn’t met and when they couldn’t overpower the system, they left.

Immaturity – These people never grew spiritually; there was never any depth to their faith, so church soon became a chore rather than a joy.

Pastors, is this frustrating to you?  How do you address these issues?

What other reasons would you add to my list?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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68 thoughts on “7 Reasons People Disappear from Church

  1. I have another one for you. Over the years of dealing with churches more and more you will hear ministers say that the churches that they pastor are businesses. Although, the church was never meant to be a business in many places that is exactly what it has become. Here is the problem with the church being a business. The people will treat it as a business not as a church. So you will see consumerism prevalent. The people will have expectations for the churches and when those are not meet they will treat it as they would any other business.

  2. The cruelty point is a major problem , it us a secretive subtle killer of people stopping attending. some of the most “powerful” people in Church can be the most cruel because they get away with it. I attended a Church where a ministers ” friend” “churchspy” type was allowed to throw objects at people after church services ! the speakers and deacons and deaconesses would turn a blind eye! objects would be picked up and thrown with full force at peoples heads.

  3. I recently made the decision to leave a church after 10 years of being a part of a church. I do not want my service and devotion to God to be based on church attendance and serving in ministry. I've got enough pressure in my life as it is. I am tired of having to explain myself. I can not connect with the church vision. It is just not working out. But I want to leave on good terms and the right way by talking personally with the Pastor.

  4. I will add that there is greater portion of people in churches who do not have well adjusted personalities, which makes one more prone to endure injuries and burnout in that environment. I am not belittling people for it, because this is the true purpose of the church which Jesus stated in Luke 5:13. However, knowing this and interacting in this environment someone with a well-adjusted personality would be inclined to depart. It has nothing to do with anything else. I have never heard anyone say that they left a church, because they were so loved, accepted, appreciated, and fit in that environment. Have you?

  5. People often want something "new" and the Bible, sadly, seems to bore them. People need to be taught what the scriptures teach about the church, worship, and what God requires of them.

  6. Lack of depth. I have seen far too many churches avoid depth, avoid the difficult topics and only hover on the surface. In the end, when life happens, only the depth of the gospel can sustain.

  7. Really good stuff, Ron. This coin has two sides: people leave the church because the church is worth leaving (side one), and people leave the church because God is simply not that important in their lives (side two). Both sides are real.

  8. I left a church a few months ago. Burnout was a major reason I left. I was expected to be at the church 5 to 6 nights a week. I made many attempts to build friends with people at that church outside the institution of that church. I had no success. Since I've left, I've had no relationship that resembles a friendship with anybody that goes to that church. It's a slap in the face when people are so busy (and encouraged to) with the programs of church, they have no time to be a true friend.

  9. Good post; wish I had seen it the first! I would like to add a few to the list, if I may. I have seen what you listed, but I have also seen people that were “brow beaten” or nagged into coming. These same people be sure to volunteer for one or two things just to get people to leave them alone (hide in the congregation)! I have seen others that came because a person was teaching or preaching, maybe a certain program was being taught; as soon as this person said something they didn’t like, they left! If the program was no longer being taught: gone! These came in with the EXIT sign in full view! Knew where it was and never took their eyes off of it. The hard part is trying to get them to focus on something other than their own agenda! Possible, but tough!
    Twitter: bryankr

  10. I am a pastor and it is so discouraging seeing peoe come and go. You come to love people and the next thing u know they r gone. There are times u just wonder if it’s all worth it. The thing that keeps u going is those that hang in there through thick and thin.

  11. I've pastored a new church plant for 3 years now and I can predict with about 95% certainty who will stay and who will go using this one variable: small group participation. Those who connect with others in a small group stay, and those who do not will be gone within a relatively short time. There are likely other variables that contribute to this outcome, but this is the best predictor that I have found to discriminate between those who stay and those who leave our church.

  12. My 7 reasons for disappearing (and appearing elsewhere):

    1. Leadership going in a direction that was not Biblical…that pulling away from Christ & heading towards Self. When God calls (and you accept) you have to step up to the responsibility. If they doesn't want to… then don't take the position. 2. "Powers That Be" among church member. The ones who run programs or even the church. 3. Volunteers worked like a rented mule, then having faith/commitment questioned judgmentally when you don't/can't. 4. Misuse of church resourse (money, materials, people). No financial accounting. Seeing funds being used for staff personal use. 5. Being expected to put up with garbage dealt out by 'problem children' who are never are given any Christian discipline. 6. People who are not qualified or able to lead (staff or volunteer) put in leadership rolls, then others expected to pick up their slack (need a warm body principle). 7. Church operates on a major "good ol' boy" network.

  13. The below point strikes me the most —
    "Injury – People inside the church can be cruel. These people experienced some of those people and they couldn’t get over it."

    I have seen this many times in my real life. It is sad but undeniable truth among believers.

  14. I have found when people are "injured" they look at the church as the other end of the relationship. They want to belong again but are too afraid of being hurt…so the walls go up. It's not really fair to Christ's "church" at large or Christ himself, but the sad thing is that the hurt person is missing what they most need to heal. Jesus and a community of believers.

    • I think you are exactly right. The same happens in any relationship, marriages, friendships, etc. We are wired to protect ourselves physically and emotionally from injury, so when we are hurt, the walls come up. I've often said that when people say "I've been hurt by the church" that they really weren't hurt by the church…the church is the body of Christ and would never hurt one of its own. They've been hurt by people poorly being the church. Good thoughts. thanks

  15. Could there be another one? Church changes? New leadership comes in and changes the dynamics, priorities and/or leadership style if the church.

  16. Great thoughts and observations.

    I’d add two more reasons for people leaving, although technically one is covered by hurt.

    Offence – this can be a big problem in some and is often a two way thing. I love this quote from Brian Houston: No mature Christian who is seasoned in the Word  has any defensible excuse to become offended.

    The second thought is that some people want to stay victims. When God moves and miracles happen, some would rather resort to old lifestyles than embrace the aftermath of answered prayer.

    • Those are good Brian. I've seen the victim approach many times and some of those people move church to church looking for that kind of attention.

  17. The list was pretty good, but it focused almost entirely on the disappearing people, and not the often unhealthy church systems they leave behind. What if church is not engaging or relevant and they have a hard time relating faith to their lives? What if the preaching stinks? What if they felt judged when they came to church? My list would balance the faults of the church with the faults of the people who leave. It seems like a clearer picture to me. What do you think?

    • I agree Jonathan. I write much more about those things. I purposefully focused this list on the decisions made solely by the individual. Your comment, and several others, make me consider a companion post, and then maybe one that brings the two lists together….thanks

  18. Don't know if this fits into your dialogue, but, after 15 years of attending a small congregation, of which my family was part of the group of founding members, my wife and I stopped attending this year. I still believe strongly in my faith principles, and I bear no ill will towards any members of the church, but, the church continued in the model of survival through developing econimic and familial relationships, as opposed to living and evangelizing for a faith that I deeply believe in. I believe people will give to a cause that they feel deeply about without thought of what circle of giving they'll be slotted into. There are those members who leave when the appreciation they seek is either dropped or delayed, but we left because we felt that reflecting on the principles of our faith had been usurped by the principles of personal appreciation and survival of friendships. Obviously, with so much time invested, our actions carry mixed feelings

  19. I would add that people sometimes hit an invisible "ceiling" — they get involved, seem to be making connections, but reach an unmarked point where further involvement threatens the security of some seriously entrenched (and seriously territorial) people. I suspect that this feeds into your "injury" reason. Sometimes pastors can be blind to the fact that those who seem to be tremendous assets are also significant liabilities.

  20. Maureen illustrates a huge problem in our churches.Great point.

    I may step on some toes here, If so I sincerely apologize. Please know I only say this in love and a desire to truly see the following gone from our churches.

    "Injury – People inside the church can be cruel. These people experienced some of those people and they couldn’t get over it."

    This is huge and is not acceptable. A big reason people cannot get over the hurt , is it is portrayed, however unintentionally, as their fault. Even the seemingly innocuous words " they couldn’t get over it." could make a person who is going through hurt feel like it's their fault they were hurt.

    I have been on both sides of the coin. I was hurt, and I was made to feel that I was at fault. It wasn't. In the end it doesn't matter though, as my wife and I prayed through it, and supported each other through the pain and into forgiveness. But I do remember the sting of the pastors, who were supposed to be the leaders and the ones to turn to, not listening and turning a deaf ear. It was very hard.

    I have also hurt people. Unintentionally. When I found out I was devastated and made amends quickly. I didn't tell them it their fault, nor would I want anyone to ignore them and say get over it. I wounded them and I had to ask their forgiveness.
    It’s unfortunate that Church hurt is considered normal. It is not. Not for any reason. We are supposed to set an example to the world, and if we just accept that people will be hurt what are we saying?

    I know that offense will come, and yes I know that we must learn to realize that we can only account for how we act and not others. But there are many who are not that strong yet. they can be if they are helped through these crisis and if we take a zero tolerance policy towards cruelty in our Church, and in our church buildings.

    Now of course if no one brings it up no one can help. but when we know it’s happening it must be fixed. It cannot be tolerated in the church of believers and to simply point to it and say, it happens is wrong.

    Again. If this offends I truly am sorry for that. I am not trying to be cruel. Only to point out a serious problem.

    • Yes. I was just lunching with a sweet friend today and we were talking about how the most obnoxious people in church expect everyone to put up with their outbursts and mean behavior – that they should "be given grace". However, they sure don't give any back. Then suddenly the ones who have received the abuse are the "bad guys". It hurts. A lot.

  21. Just talked to a hurting couple this week who left the church for a while and are slowly making their way back. They were heavily involved in church and were wounded when they were not ministered to by leadership when they were in need. After giving so much, they just wanted help and care when the wife went through surgery and her father passed away (not at the same time). But instead of being visited and loved and having meals brought, they were ignored except to be asked when they’d be functioning again in ministry.

  22. One of the things that most concerns me about burn-out in the church is that it can often be fixed with a little effort by the leadership. I think it works very much like the emotional bank account that many marriage counselors talk about. When people give and give to the church, but they don't receive any encouragement or thanks, then they are injured (#2) and burn-out (#1). If they are supported and lifted up in their ministry, however, I've seen people at the edge of burn-out find renewed energy (from the Lord) and give even more to the work of the Lord. It's one of the reasons why I continually challenge myself to shower others with thanks. As long as it depends on me, I don't want anyone to burn out on my watch!

  23. Burn – out and fear of it after you've had a church suck the life out of you! I wouldn't know how to fix this. There are always a select few who cary the burden of the rest. I see this in all organizations and company. I think it's up to the individual to set proper boundaries.

  24. As mentioned previously consumerism is one of the biggest reasons people quit church or move on to a different church. As a pastor, I will say that for me the bottom line is a gross misunderstanding on the part of too many Christians of what the church is. We simply do not grasp the deep significance of the church. When it comes to dealing with people leaving a friend in ministry told me many years ago "quit chasing after people who don't want to be caught." I have found this to be helpful and true advice.

    • Agreed. The church model is based upon 1980 business model. People are chasing the senior leadership, but the leadership is not there to equip the needs of the people. The 1980 church business model has been turned upside down because of the onslaught of social media. the church now struggles because it can't adapt to the new social media economy.

  25. Also, pick 'n' choose mentality, where attender never intends to commit, just flits church-to-church for what they can get or be fed.

  26. While this post highlights some valid reasons (and I agree with them) I feel there is a category of reasons not represented. That is when a church leadership is failing their people to the point where they drive people away. I'm not talking about failing because they don't organize enough activities or other country club church aspects. I'm talking about failing at fundamentals.

    • Love this comment. I am a part of a church right now that is trying very hard to 'close our back door'. WE don't do a good job of providing even mature persons with the tools they need to succeed. We don't connect people well OR help them form spiritually. Right now, the blame rests fully on our shoulders as leaders.

  27. This probably goes along with immaturity, but I'd add shallow Christianity. Coming to be stroked and coddled and when that doesn't happen they move on to something that more fits their neediness.