In 2006, LifeWay Research conducted a survey of formerly churched adults in America, hoping to uncover certain trends about the de-churched. Lifeway admitted that they found the results shocking and cause for concern. Below are the highlights of the study.
Change in life situation
The number 1 reason for leaving church is a life change that prompted people to stop attending worship. In fact, almost 60% of de-churched people said that some adjustment to their lives is the primary reason why they no longer attend church.
Specifically, one-third of the formerly churched believe they are simply too busy for church. To them, life changes—often family or home needs—are as important as or more important than attending a local church. Several people reported that family responsibilities were causing them to feel too busy to attend church. And women (64%) are more likely than men (51%) to feel this increased pressure from home responsibilities.
One of the more surprising results about the formerly churched was the tendency to blame a physical move away from their home church as a reason for not returning to any church. About 28% of those reporting lifestyle changes said that a move to a new location caused them to stay away from the Church. Such a reason for leaving the Church demonstrates a great need for more outwardly focused churches. When a person or family moves to a new place and feels no motivation to join another church, it’s up to congregations within that community to reach out to them.
Disenchantment with the church
A number of the de-churched claim they’re disenchanted with the current state of their church. And 37% say this disillusionment is one of the primary reasons for leaving. Perhaps even more surprising than this percentage are the reasons for their cynicism. Several that were listed are as follows; the top 3 are in order, the pastor seeming above his preaching, clicks, and favoritism.
However, it must be noted that it was found interesting to note that only 15% of those who feel displeasure with the church say it’s due to a moral or ethical failure of the church leadership. While the local and national press often have a field day with moral breakdowns of pastors, that’s not a major contributing factor to people deciding to leave the Church.
The unloving church
Not only is the pastor a contributing factor to discontentment within the church, the way the formerly churched perceived the people within the church also motivated their leaving. Of the formerly churched who expressed dissatisfaction with those in the church, 45% said the other members were judgmental and hypocritical. Did you get that, judgmental and hypocritical!
In 1 Cor. 1:10, the Apostle Paul urged the church to preserve unity, having “no divisions” within the body. Our research shows that unity is key in the success of a church maintaining a healthy percentage of its members. If church members hold grudges against each other and don’t seek to sustain harmony within the body, people will leave. In fact, of those who said the church is unloving, many left because they didn’t believe God was at work within it. Clearly, for God to use a local body for His glory, it must keep a balance of unity and love.
One of the biggest mission fields may be the people sitting in your church every week. While no one will ever know exactly how many attending worship are believers, many are leaving the Church because they were never Christians in the first place. Our survey found that about a quarter of people leaving the Church expressed a change in beliefs or simply lost interest in religion. Of that group of people, 62% stated that they had stopped believing in organized religion altogether.
Don’t miss the enormity of this issue. Not only are people leaving the Church, but many are coming in and out your doors without meeting Christ. Inevitably, some will simply refuse to accept Christ no matter how evangelistically healthy a church becomes. But a large group of people, possibly tens of thousands who could be reached for Christ, are leaving the Church.
So what does this mean in my opinion? First, we need to be reaching out to those with families and who as many of us know struggle early on in our marriages with the juggling of kids, work, and other responsibilities. We need to make a special effort to let them know, at least while in the doors of the church if that is all we have, that they do not stand alone. Many of us have been where they are and in many cases still are.
Second, and for me and big one, stop the clicks and favoritism. For new people it is easily seen and observed and for the season member it just simply gets old. We must be mindful of the little things we do and say. Example: I once attended a gathering for a guest speaker, during this gathering several tables had been set up with only one being clearly marked as the speakers table. A couple whom it later was found out that had just visited the church that morning came to hear the speaker later that week at this gathering. Not knowing really anyone they came in and sat at the first table they found. No one had obviously been setting there so they took off their coats and sat down. After a short time one of the organizers of the event came by and told them that, “this table is saved, could you please find another seat.” The look in the people’s eyes said it all, shocked! They moved quietly to another table, listen to the speaker, and then quickly got out and have yet to be seen again. Now the sad thing is the organizers all sat at that table together. What was the big deal about them sitting there? Nothing, it came down to the click wanting to be together not about what was right or what Jesus would have done.
Third, we need to reach out more to the non-Christians in our churches. If like me you find it hard at times to know who is and who isn’t, ask someone who might have been there longer than you or simply go up to someone and introduce yourself. You don’t have to find out at that moment if they are a Christian or not, but began to build a relationship with them and soon you will know. We need to get the new Christians or even the non-Christians involved as soon as we can. Yes, I said non-Christians involved. Andy Stanley so clearly points out in his book Deep & Wide that getting the non-Christians involved in simple things can make a big impact on their growth towards Jesus. Yet, most churches use the same people for most of what they do. Branch out and get these people involved, they are searching that is why they are there, find a place for them to fit in!
As you may have noted the first reason was to do with the preacher. I intentionally skipped that one and saved it for last. There is so much I could say here but I will leave it to this. People want a God fearing, Christ centered, loving man to lead them. However, they want someone approachable, not unlike them in many ways, and who can relate to their feelings, needs, and struggles. It is in my humble opinion that more often than not our well educated pastors miss that mark. Do they know the bible, yes! Can they preach the most amazing sermons you have ever heard, yes! Are they Godly men, yes! Do they relate to the people they are preaching too, in many cases, no! Just my two cents worth!