10 Reasons Attenders Aren’t Joining Your Church

Maybe you know these people. They’ve been attending your church for some time – certainly long enough now to have decided whether to join officially. They haven’t joined, though, and nothing suggests they’re even close. Here are 10 reasons I’ve heard from long-term “attending non-joiners” for not affiliating officially with your church. 

  1. Nobody’s taught them why church membership matters. Think about it—when’s the last time you heard a sermon or teaching on this topic? Young people are especially skeptical of making such a commitment without a legitimate reason to do so.  
  2. No one’s challenged them to join. We might think we challenge them from the pulpit to join, but what we think is happening is not always what attenders hear. Their ears may hear as only a suggestion what we intend to be a clear calling.
  3. They don’t know how to join. Even those leaders who emphasize the need to join don’t always adequately describe the process. Confused attenders don’t readily join.
  4. They’re not yet believers. The battles they face are much more significant than whether they join your church; you may not realize it, but they’re still struggling with a decision to follow Christ.
  5. They’re still stinging from pain in another church. They attend a church because they know they need to as believers, but yesterday’s pain still clouds today’s decisions. Attending without joining just feels safer.
  6. They’ve not yet connected at a more personal level. That may be because they’ve not yet chosen to get involved in a small group, or it might be that they’re “just not fitting in” with a small group; either way, they’re not yet ready to join the church. 
  7. They’re wrestling with their own sin. They know that joining a church matters, but somehow they sense it’s not right to join when sin seems to control their life. 
  8. They doubt they’re needed. Sure, they’d probably learn differently if they just asked, but it’s hard to see need when attending only on Sunday morning – especially if everything goes smoothly each week.
  9. They’ve heard something about “church discipline.” For some attenders, this concept is new – or they’ve heard only horror stories about it. Because they don’t know what church discipline might require of them, they simply choose not to join.
  10. They simply see no need to join. After all, they can live their Christian life without ever being an official member of a church anywhere . . . right? 

What reasons have you heard from attenders who never join? 


  • I’ve never understood this concept of “joining” a church. In the UK, attendees aren’t required to join or sign membership forms or contracts detailing what beliefs we are to adhere to; certainly none of the churches I’ve been to. We are completely free to come, go, stay, leave. At the church I attend most I help with the PA but I’m not a member, I’ve never signed anything, never will; I do it because I love playing with the sound desk and free to stop attending any time I choose

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Fair point, though I do believe the New Testament strongly implies a recognized membership list in the local church. 

    • Reem says:

      I have witnessed that people who do not join the church, expect the church to perform their marriages, eulogize them and everything else. When there is no commitment to the mission of Jesus and the church, why do you need the church to perform these ceremonies for you? I believe in Jesus is fine, but so do the other 30 people who call the church asking for money. We are so individualistic today where we feel that it is about us, because of choice. But God called us to be one and united as one. Different communities of the faith, with a collective mind that Jesus is Lord. Psalm 133. To share in common things. Acts 2. How does one become a disciple, unless you are connected to the body to learn and participate in advancing the kingdom of God on earth? Being a member of the church is an outward expression of being connected to the body of Christ, Christ being the head.

  • Jim says:

    I have attended my current church for the last 12 years. I have never been a member. The reason is simple. Through a variety of poor financial decisions made earlier in life, I am unable to tithe. Except for my name being absent from the official list of members, I have been active in very many ways. I was even asked to allow a person to nominate me for a position as an elder of the church, but I declined because official church membership is required. I have been active in the children’s ministry including leadership activities in many of them (like VBS). I even published the weekly bulletin for four years. But, I have felt it to be inappropriate for me to become a member of an church when I know that I will be unable to support it financially.

    I continue to serve the Lord through the church, but I know that I will never be an official member.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jim.

  • Josh says:

    Thank you brother for this post and its insights!! As a pastor of a new church plant of just over 5 years I am struggling with this very issue. I have preached on the issue very pointedly but still we have a good handful of folks who just can’t seem to take that step. Many of these folks are very very involved and are a huge encouragement in many ways but could bring so much more in the way of leadership if only they would join. Among other reasons, I strongly believe that church membership is crucially important for accountability and pastoral care among the flock.

  • Brian Horton says:

    In our region of Eastern Kentucky, the predominant “church” has been the Old -Regular Baptist. Many who attend my church that have not joined grew up in the shadow of ORB, and their parents or grandparents likely were or are still ORB. In that church, “membership” is highly scrutinized until you have undergone a travail. And what I have encountered is simply many people do not think God has “called” them to church membership because they do not feel they have experienced this yet. Many also hold that after church membership, one’s life is no longer marred by sin, meaning they do not sin. So they simply do not feel they can join any church because they have not been low enough, and they can’t be good enough. So, many do not join church until older age. As those with this background come into our SBC churches, they carry that same mentality, making it hard to bring them to the point of joining. There is also a gross misunderstanding of the gospel of grace and discipleship, so I focus my conversations in those areas, coupled with the NT understanding of the church and being a member of a fellowship.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Brian. Sounds like an interesting context.

  • Rev. Joel M McDuffie Jr. says:

    After 35 years in the pastorate I still believe the main reason is commitment. Although the concept of church membership is blurred, vague, and struggling with relevance, the overwhelming reason in my opinion is that it obligates one to become a part and to feel accountable. The white elephant in the room is the obvious, if you are a believer you are a member of “the” church and so no excuse exists which excuses you from an absolute commitment to the cause. To me that is the bigger issue and should be examined by anyone claiming to be a Christian who doesn’t want to join a local body of believers. Another point in membership is that like in the early church it also helped keep the rift raft out. Membership allows churches to hold those who represent Christ to a standard consistent with that which is becoming of our Lord…Just my two cents.

  • Andrew Engelman says:

    No one ever mentions the fact of the church not being administered biblically as a reason I don’t join. Elders not aligned with senior pastor on hermeneutics and teaching different interpretations in bible study.

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