Church Dropouts

By Cloyce Sutton II

Why do people quit going to church? It is an oft-asked question. A recent poll by LifeWay Research supplied some interesting answers (“Study Gives Top 10 Reasons Why Christians Drop Out of Church”, The Southeast Outlook, 11-2-06, p A1, A12; see the chart below).

All the respondents were adults who had stopped attending church regularly. The average length of time these adults had been out of duty was 14 years. Although it included a cross-section of “evangelical churches”, I found the results to be telling in many ways.

We tend to pride ourselves in being non-denominational, and in being committed to true New Testament Christianity. Yet the excuses offered in this survey sound just like the excuses our own brethren use when they drop out. For all our distinctiveness, we don’t sound too distinctive in this regard. We may have failed to impress upon our members what commitment to Christ and commitment to the local church demands of them.

Several things stand out on this list. First, the majority of the excuses blame someone or something for falling away: family, job, cliques, or church members somehow caused the member to stop attending. It’s the other person’s fault. Second, the excuses seem awfully shallow. They remind me of student excuses for not doing homework: “My dog ate it.” Third, they consistently reflect a lack of proper priorities in life. Work, family, and distance become more important than a deep and personal spirituality; more important than a nurturing environment with fellow Christians in the local church.

Perhaps the most glaring omission on the list was the one thing that would explain virtually everything else: Lack of personal commitment to Christ. Would it be too much for someone to simply say, “I don’t care about Christ. I don’t care about his church. I don’t care to live a godly and spiritual life.” The Lord expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you” (Malachi 1:10). Jesus offered the same assessment: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15f).

Commitment to Christ precedes all other commitments. It is the absolute denial of self and the whole-hearted willingness to give up all that defines our relationship to him (Luke 9:23-26). But that devotion to him also bears fruit in devotion to others (Hebrews 10:19-25). You cannot be concerned about Christ without being concerned about his people.

Thus, those who are committed to Christ are also committed to their fellow Christians in the local church. In Syrian Antioch, those who “turned to the Lord” and who resolved to “remain true to the Lord” were the same disciples who became “the church” in Antioch (Acts 11:21-26). In Philippi, the Christians there were concerned about needy Christians in Judea. They expressed that concern by a generous financial contribution. Even Paul, who knew them well, was surprised that, “they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:5).

The only effective way to reduce the attrition rate in local churches is to increase the commitment rate. That is, each disciple in the local church must first be whole-heartedly committed to the Lord. When that commitment is in place, things like distance and busy-ness, cliques and hypocrisy, and all other sorts of church problems will not prevent  someone from serving Christ.

One other observation from the survey: Over two-thirds of former churchgoers are open to the idea of returning to church. So, there are good opportunities around us: to reclaim the lost, and to motivate the marginal. All it takes is commitment. – via Eastland Bulletin, 11-05-06

Top 10 Reasons People Quit Church

  1. Simply got too busy — 19%

  2. Family or home responsibilities prevented attendance — 17%
  3. Church members seemed hypocritical — 17%
  4. Church members were judgmental of others — 17%
  5. Moved too far from church — 17%
  6. Work situation prevented church attendance — 15%
  7. Church was not helping me develop spiritually — 14%
  8. Stopped believing in organized religion — 14%
  9. Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement — 12%
  10. Got divorced or separated —12%

(Note: Survey respondents could “check all reasons that apply”, so the answers total more than 100 percent.)

    From LifeWay Research ( Conducted summer 2006. Survey of 469 adults who once regularly attended church, but now no longer do. The average length of time the respondents had not regularly attended was 14 years. Two-thirds of the respondents were open to the idea of regularly attending services again.

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