12 Reasons People Stay in a Struggling Church

Yesterday, I published a post about why people leave a church. In our consulting work, we also often talk with people who are seriously frustrated with their church – but who stay there anyway. Here are some of the primary reasons folks give us for staying when they don’t like all that’s happening in their church:

  1. “This is my church.” Sometimes this statement reflects an unhealthy sense of ownership, but it might also show a simple sense of deep love for the congregation.
  2. “We haven’t sensed God’s leadership to leave.” I’m not always convinced that these folks have prayed deeply about the decision, but they at least recognize the need to follow God’s will. They don’t want to jump ship unless He tells them to do so. 
  3. “Where else would we go?” When there doesn’t seem to be better alternatives, church members tend to stay where they are.  
  4. “We’ve seen pastors come and go.” Folks who’ve walked through more than one leadership transition in a church soon realize that the storms of change often die down. 
  5. “Our family has always gone here.” Thus, to walk away from the church—for whatever reason—is to ignore one’s heritage and to break family tradition.
  6. “The church won’t survive without us.” Seldom is that assumption accurate, but some folks genuinely believe it.
  7. “We’re just waiting to see how all this works out.” In this case, a departure might happen, but not immediately. The glue that holds members in the church is weakening, but it’s still there.
  8. “We really do love _______.” In the blank could be any number of words: “our pastor,” “the music,” “our small group,” “the location,” “our friends,” etc. Something means enough that the negatives don’t seem so bad.
  9. “Nobody’s going to drive me away.” Usually, this person’s frustration has become unhealthy bitterness (and even arrogance).
  10. “I’m going to keep my commitment until the end of the year.” Again, leaving this church might still happen, but not before the church year is completed. A commitment is a commitment.
  11. “We still have hope for this church.” Glimpses of God’s hand and a little bit of faith can go a long way in keeping people in a church.
  12. “My kids love it here.” Many parents will put up with a lot they don’t like if their children and teens enjoy the church’s programs.

What other reasons come to mind for you? 


  • wmtoolbox says:

    Great post and insight! In the last year we’ve left 2 (yes, 2) different churches. Most members would not consider them “struggling” churches, but from our viewpoint they were. At various times and as we prayerfully sought the Lord’s will for our family, we struggled with #2 #3, #7, #8, #9, #11, and #12. We are confident that both exits were in God’s will and were what was best for our family. Sometimes staying is the worst thing you can do.

  • Robin Jordan says:

    This may be a variation of the third reason that you give but it is one that is encountered in Continuing Anglican churches. Continuing Anglican churches are liturgical; they use a particular service book, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Many of them use a particular hymnal, The Hymnal 1940. Their members have become so accustomed to a particular way of worshiping that they cannot imagine themselves going a church that worships in a different way. A few may migrate to a conservative Lutheran church, which has a similar liturgy; a few may migrate to a conservative Methodist church that uses John Wesley’s adaptation of the Prayer Book. Most will stop going to church altogether if their church closes its doors. Continuing Anglican churches are generally small and struggling because the way of worshiping to which their members have become so accustomed is often not a good fit with the communities in which they are located. They are tied to a shrinking base. They were frequently started by Episcopalians who became unhappy with developments in the Episcopal Church and decided to leave that denomination and form their own church. These disaffected Episcopalians saw themselves as the forefront of a much larger exodus of disaffected Episcopalians and anticipated that this exodus would swell their ranks. However, the anticipated exodus did not materialize. The Episcopal Church is not known for being evangelistic and these breakaway churches have suffered from the same shortcoming.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Robin. Very interesting. 

    • Mark says:

      There are some evangelistic, rapidly growing episcopal and anglican churches, and yes, they still use rite 1 at some services. Some still use the 1662 BCP, which is the great prayer book. Some have gotten a supplemental Bishop when the diocesan bishop was too liberal, and it has worked. For everything to work, it has to be a church where the preaching is very relevant (homily) and the people are caring.

  • Sara Wade says:

    I left my church of 25 years after they laid me off. I guess the lay-off was a breaking point for me as I had worked hard to get them to address their decline. I felt my layoff was a shortsighted attempt to solve an staffing/budget issue at the wrong time. Since then I’ve been attending a church which I love. My husband’s loyalty is to our first church. He hopes for a brighter day, I need a prolonged break and be an enjoying the growth from being part of a church that is growing. Still, there is a lot of guilt and a the sting of being layed off is still there.

  • Allen Raynor says:

    Another reason is a love and sense of loyalty to the pastor who has been there in good times and bad. This is the struggle my mother in law went through before finally leaving her church.

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