Survey: Reasons Why People Leave the Church

Why do people leave the church? A new study by LifeWay Research found reasons, some inevitable, why some people stopped attending church.

Labeled as the "formerly churched," 59 percent of those who left the church did so because of "changes in life situation." This was the dominant reason found in the survey conducted to better understand why people leave the church.

More specifically, LifeWay Research Director Brad Waggoner pointed out two life-situation reasons why adults stop attending church. According to the study, 19 percent of the formerly churched "simply got too busy to attend church," and 17 percent said "family/home responsibilities prevented church attendance."

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Other reasons explained were moving too far from the church, work situation and divorce or separation.

Another common reason adults leave the church is "disenchantment with pastor/church." The study reported 37 percent of adults cited this as a reason for no longer attending. Some of the factors contributing to disenchantment included the behavior of church members. LifeWay reported that 17 percent said church members "seemed hypocritical" and "were judgmental of others," and 12 percent said "the church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement."

"While some may use disenchantment issues as a smokescreen to hide behind, the large percent of the formerly churched who struggle with disenchantment deserve some honest attention," Waggoner commented, according to LifeWay.

Still, 80 percent of the formerly churched do not have a strong belief in God, which the study indicated may account for their higher priorities of work and family over church. Also, among the top 10 reasons adults leave the church, only two were related to spiritual causes, the report highlighted, with 14 percent saying the church was not helping them develop spiritually and another 14 percent saying they stopped believing in organized religion.

The church, however, may have prevented some losses if it showed more care, stated the study.

"The responsibility and influence of the church varies across the different reasons for withdrawal," said Waggoner. "One clear influence is the expectations that churches have of attendees as they come into the life of the church."

He went further to explain that many churches are afraid of asking too much of the churchgoers, fearing they would leave.

Yet the study suggested for more discipleship and commitment from church attendants along with a greater show of care. The study found that 16 percent of those who left the church said nobody contacted them after they left and another 16 percent said nobody seemed to care that they left.

"In the end, it’s important for church leaders to not only assume responsibility for those who seek to join their churches, but also for those who attempt to leave," said Waggoner. "Be vigilant at both the front door and the back door of the church."

Other study findings showed that 24 percent consider themselves "spiritual, but not religious;" 42 percent said they are "Christian, but not particularly devout;" 19 percent said they are "a devout Christian with a strong belief in God;" 10 percent confessed to wavering on Christianity; and 6 percent said they were wavering on belief in God.

LifeWay Research launched four new projects this fall to include churches and ministries beyond the Southern Baptists and results are expected through December of this year. A second part of the study on the formerly churched will be released next week to find how churches can win back those who left. This study was conducted on 469 adults who regularly attended a Protestant church as an adult in the past but stopped doing so.

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