12 Reasons People Leave a Local Church

Over the years of my ministry, I’ve talked to many people who chose to leave a church even though they still lived in the same area. Here are some of the primary reasons given for leaving (without commentary on the validity of each one):

  1. Relationship conflict. Somebody got mad at somebody else, and one (or both) of them decided to find another church.
  2. Weak preaching. A congregation will put up with a lot of poor leadership, but many—especially young people—will not long sit under poor preaching.
  3. Authoritarian leadership. Some leaders do not permit opposing views, and they expect everyone to follow in line. In turn, some members simply don’t stay under that leadership style.
  4. Poor children’s or students’ programming. Even though it’s not good, it’s one thing for adults to have little opportunities for growth; it’s another matter completely when our church provides little for our children and young people.
  5. Neglected pastoral care. Right or wrong, some church members give their pastors only one shot at pastoral care. If the pastor somehow neglects a need, members start looking elsewhere.
  6. Personal sin. Sometimes it’s easier to leave a church than to sit under preaching that convicts week after week after week . . . which also means it’s apparently easier to leave than it is to repent.
  7. Burnout. Members who are really faithful to a local church at times overcommit themselves based on the needs of the church. Few people are willing to admit they’re just worn out, so some will simply leave instead.
  8. No connectedness. Lonely church members—regardless of whether they’re lonely because the church is unfriendly or because they choose not to get involved—don’t usually commit for the long haul in a church.
  9. Congregational strife. Even if you’re not in the middle of the battle, constant conflict wears out even the best church members.
  10. Theological disagreement. Sometimes this difference is over actual theological beliefs, and sometimes it’s over moral right and wrong.
  11. Political positions. Granted, this reason is often more apparent during campaign seasons, but it happens.
  12. Perceived irrelevance. Members who think the preaching and teaching do not speak to the reality of their day-to-day lives will often seek that kind of teaching elsewhere.

I’ve written elsewhere about “Weak Reasons to Leave a Church” and “Better Reasons to Leave a Church.” Let me know your thoughts about all these discussions. 

16 Comments

  • Jim Watson says:

    It fits under a couple of the points you made, but an unshakable inward focus is the reason I left a local church.

  • Robin Jordan says:

    13. They have heard exciting things about another church in town, about its great band and its celebratory preacher, and after visiting the church a couple of times, they decided that the church that they have been going to is dull and uninteresting and it’s time for a new church. .

  • It happens, for sure. Thanks, Robin.

  • Mercy Macadenden says:

    My grandson of 8 was interested to join a children.s presentation but was a day lste for practice. .a very active child, he becomes restless sitting down.. the adult coordinator showedbirritation and told him to get out of the room if he could not behave…partly my grandsons fault.. but I just wonder where Jesus rebuking the disciples driving away children from getting close to him comes in.. Jesus said.. suffer the little children to come to me..forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of God..jesus did not specify whether the children were good mannered or simply simply ordinary normal kids.. mlet them cime to.me.. am frustrated at times.

  • AC says:

    This was a realistic list, citing both good and bad reasons to leave a church. I had an experience where I felt like a church (I was an active member there for a decade) was trying to look like other churches in the area, instead of trying to be the bride of Christ. I prayerfully decided it was time to move on. The other church is healing and growing again, but I’m where God led me.

    I like this list because it’s not just assuming that everyone who leaves a church is doing it for the wrong reasons (although that is the case sometimes). There are also good reasons to leave a church, as long as one is prayerful and mindful about the decision, and not just leaving impulsively.

  • nations1 says:

    Good stuff, All of these are relevant. #8 has definitely been on my mind lately as can be seen in my own thoughts. ( https://nations1.wordpress.com ) I have seen #8 also as a reason people stay in spite of all the other reasons being present. When friends or family are very strong in a church I have found that it is hard for people to leave, even if they should.

  • Bill G says:

    These are all right on to me as I have recently become Pastor of a church that has had both slow and group exits by members over the past twenty-five years, and honestly the exits have been largely because of bad leadership. There are a number of former members who come back periodically because they love this fellowship and they are still hurting. Each of the points above remind me to be sensitive to the opportunities to minister to these brothers and sisters. Thank you Dr. Lawless!

  • Dale Sigler says:

    Another may also be that there is a refusal to see that there needs to be changes in the way we think and act. Too often churches keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. My wife and I are very discouraged by the fact that we see little willingness to think outside of the old patterns even tho both of us have brought new ideas that were either ignored or so weakly supported as to be as bad as ignored. The idea that we can market our way into growth instead of seeing that we need to find ways for us “oldtimers” (we are both 70, like many in our congregation) to be growing and reaching out to others in love. We are loyal to our denomination because we believe it is theologically correct, on paper, but the whole denomination is drifting away from its foundations. Not sure where we would go so we continue to fight.

  • Mike says:

    We just left a church because of 1, 8, 9, & 11. This self-entitled group never welcomed us into the church, immediately involved us in politics, and tried to get us to take sides in the Hatfields vs. McCoys. We tried to maneuver around the issues but found that the pastor was unwilling to get involved because they had his job in their hands. We have a few acquaintances, but no real fellowship. It was one of the worst church experiences we ever had in 40 years of fellowship.

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