Eight Reasons It’s Easier Not to Attend Church Today

I’m not certain it’s all bad news. Sure, the majority of congregations are experiencing declines in attendance. And many more churches are growing at a pace that is slower than the growth of the community in which they are located.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that attendance declines are good. Such trends mean fewer people are engaging with believers, and fewer people are being exposed to the gospel.

But our nation is no longer a “churchy” culture. More and more, to be involved with a local congregation means you are counter-cultural. It’s now easier to see where the home base for congregations ends and where the mission field begins. There are fewer and fewer persons who show up at church services because they simply want to be part of the crowd. To the contrary, active congregants are now the exception in our nation rather than the norm.

For now, I simply want to share eight common factors that are negatively impacting church attendance. Some of the reasons apply specifically to the unchurched, while others could be related to either the churched or unchurched person.

  1. In most areas, it is no longer culturally expected for persons to attend church. I live in the heart of the Bible belt in the Nashville area. But when I leave for church services on Sunday mornings, I see numerous families out playing with their children, walking the subdivision, or just enjoying the day outside. They don’t feel the cultural pressure to attend church. To the contrary, they are joining the majority who opt out.
  2. Congregational expectations of the attendance of members are lower. In the recent past, the absence of a frequently-attending church member was noticeable. He or she might get a call from another member to check on them. Today, if a church member attends three of four weeks, rarely does another member inquire about their absence. By the way, if every member, on the average, attends one less Sunday per month, the overall attendance of the church drops 25 percent.
  3. Unchurched persons are often very demanding about the perceived quality of worship services. Though some of us bemoan this reality, the entertainment culture is now pervasive. If an unchurched person attends a perceived low-quality service, he or she may not return.
  4. Many church members are less friendly to guests today. I understand that this statement is categorical and not statistically verified. But I can say, after over 25 years of doing surveys of church guests, I hear more and more about unfriendly church members. So either the expectations of friendliness are higher, or many church members are really not that friendly to guests.
  5. Churches do not emphasize involvement in groups as much as they did in the past. Simply stated, if a person is only involved in the worship services, he or she is likely to leave the church within a few years or even months. But those involved in groups, such as home groups or Sunday school classes, have natural accountability. They also have stronger relationships to other church members that engender more frequent attendance.
  6. Most churches have no clear purpose. An organization without a clear and poignant purpose will have members wandering aimlessly. And many of them will wander out the figurative door of regular attendance.
  7. Most churches have no clear plan of discipleship. This factor somewhat overlaps with the previous issue. Church members are more likely to be faithful attenders if they understand how they can become a better disciple for Christ through the ministries of the church.
  8. The typical church in America is a low-expectation church. I have written on this issue extensively. And the less you expect of members, the less you will get, including attendance.

Of course, it’s easier to write about problems than offer solutions. But I will be doing the latter rather extensively in the months ahead.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about these eight issues.


  1. says

    Thom, all valid. I would add one to the list: people seldom have an experience of God at church. The one distinctive about church is that it should be “other” than everyday life. Too often it’s not, in my opinion.

      • Cheryl Jamison says

        I grew up in the church and overall it was a great experience. However, I lost my desire to attend church after a protestant minister of a “mainline denomination” abused my son. The minister was moved from church to church, and we were ostracized by the denomination. I’ve tried church off and on since then, but still have trouble trusting folks in the pulpit and the pews. A lot of the folks I know don’t attend church because experiencing God and growing in spiritual disciplines is easier and more effective outside the church. We can’t count on the church as a moral or ethical compass. A lot of churches seem to only publicize hatred and right wing dogma. Until churches deal with these issues, I believe attendance will continue to decline and some denominations will become extinct.

    • Andrew says

      With all respect, I think this falls under the “perceived quality” item. God is always at church, in his Word, forgiveness, and fellowship. I think the only way God couldn’t be in church is if none of those are present.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Dan: I agree to a point. In the agrarian period of our nation, farmers were working 70 to 80 hours a week, but most still chose to attend church services. It’s not so much the busy schedules as it is the choices available. Unfortunately, many are not making church their preferred choice.

      • Daniel says


        I’m a deacon. While I wouldn’t want to deny that agrarianism and closer community ties had a lot to do with higher rates of church attendance, one thing we must account for is that the modern family has been atomised, and I’m talking about families with father, mother, and children (the question of broken families is another issue altogether). Almost all the young families in the churches I have served have both parents working in professional careers, and children engaged in increasingly competitive activities viewed as “essential” in order to pad college applications on gain admission to the “right” schools.

        The time pressures on families are far, far more intense than they once were 50 years ago, where Mom kept the home fires burning. Modern parents are increasingly harried, stressed out, rushing to get church clothes together for the kids, and pay the bills. Not to mention the damage all this does to the spiritual life of the family, with the temptation to neglect devotional time and Bible reading.

      • says

        So, what it is? Selfish gain? opportunistic response? A hobby? Or, is it simply just the Laodicean church in action? This question needs to be answered and humbly confronted among much of Christianity today.

        Awesome article, love the material you produce!

  2. Wes Brockway says

    Very valid observations that we all must realize. I find a bit of conundrum in member’s continued in member’s church involvement.

    Southern Baptist churches have traditionally been a church of the people by that I mean that the church members are the final arbiters of what happens in a church by their involvement on committees, through lay leadership, and by business meeting votes. However, I’ve seen too many new to the church become dismayed at the politics and antics when they agree to get more involved and serve on a committee. This sometimes results in them finding another church where they become Sunday only members refusing to get involved again. I can relate!

    This results in more staff run churches by design or default. Churches should be staff led but staff run is another matter and is a change in our polity. Certainly many churches that are predominantly staff run do very well and some see this as the way to go, but it reduces our members to being spectators versus participants and some churches aren’t staff run effectively. In some situations I know the church has become comfortable leaving the decisions to the Pastor and all they want is a fun, comfortable church. Ministry and effective worship service is not a real concern.

    We certainly live in challenging times.

  3. Steve says

    The US Tax Court defined a church as, “a coherent group of individuals and families that join together to accomplish the religious purposes of mutually held beliefs.” In other words, regular assembly for a religious purpose in common worship and faith are a requirement for tax exemption. Scary is the idea that “active congregants are now the exception in our nation rather than the norm.

  4. Lee says

    Increasingly the church is an exclusive social club with no relevance to the kingdom nor the world. for many congregations, their best bet is to hire a social director and forgo a pastor. That said, if 1955 ever returns, the church today is ready for it.

  5. Rick Powell says

    Far from being a scheduling problem, there is, I believe, a theological problem at the heart of all of this. People today believe that God demands almost nothing from them. Our pulpits, constantly afraid of stepping on toes, reinforces this by never challenging anyone. Thus people think that God is pleased with twice a month attendance because others are only attending once a month. It is such a heart-breaking and anemic view of our God. I don’t believe that it will change until we return to preaching that we are saved by God’s grace, but then we are called to a fruitfulness for the glory of God that is not compatible with this half-hearted Christianity. Praying for my Master’s church…that it might awaken!

    • A Magngo says

      I think you are right. I have read a book called “The Only Words Written By The Finger Of God” written by an Australian author that really gets to the heart of the problem. Amazingly, this is what the church needs, some serious reflection of what is right and wrong with world. Actually, the book is surprisingly in its depth and what it covers.

  6. Lee says

    it is the committees that run people off.
    1. Idea has to get put on church board agenda sometime in the next few months
    2. board appoints idea to a committee to study it
    3. committee appoints subcommittee to report back in 6 months
    4. report to committee and vote in a few months to bring it to the board sometime (whenever it can get on agenda)
    5. Board reviews for vote to accept idea at the next meeting
    6. board appoints new committee to look at funding
    7. that committee reports back and cuts needs
    8 board assigns to new committee to study implementation
    9 Never mind – the person who had the idea left the church to one that just did it without committee politics.

  7. Lucy says

    Mr. Rainer

    You are correct. When I went to Church as a kid, Church was somewhere you went to praise God with no pressure. It seems like now when I go it’s all about raising money, money for the four walls not the community. In my opinion, it’s no longer about saving souls. It’s all about how large (mega) can we make this church? “building fund” Seems like a competition with other Churches.

  8. Kim Farlow says

    These need to be added to your list. This list is from the christian’s perspective why they do not have a home church. Liberal doctrine / Emergent movement / Hyper calvinism that demands christians to believe in the TULIP in order to be christian / Alienating music choices as in ONLY rock music / No discipleship / False doctrine and beliefs / Support of false teachers by church leadership. All of these and more are causing christians to NOT go to church. We have finally found a church after looking for 2 years.

    • cindy says

      You nailed it. My husband and I loved being members of a church that taught sound Biblical principles. We loved worship through classic as well as contemporary hymns. It is all lost to futuristic growth projections and loud rock music.

  9. Scott says

    Thom ,I wonder sometimes at the mind of the unchurched as they walk into our services. In the church I attended yesterday for instance. I walked into an audortorium with a massive stage lighting package complete with dry ice smoke. I thought I was at a concert and the show was about to come on! The songs have more emotion than theological substance and they tend to be the highlight of the show. I long for more expositional preaching rather than five ways to a better marriage sermons.

    In short, we have lost our Gospel centeredness! Where is our passionate expository preaching? I sit and watch the faces of our people in Sunday School and the worship service and am convicted of our disservice to our church. They come looking to be feed…but get entertained. God for give us to call our church to do the work of our Lord but not equip them to do it.

    God bless you for your ministry and leadership Dr Rainer!

    • Nathan Payne says

      Scott – I think your question actually loops in on itself. You say you wonder about what an unbeliever thinks when they come into a service…but you go on to describe how a more traditionalist believer looks at them.

      Let’s step back for a moment and truly consider what a young unbeliever would think about many church services in a more traditional church today. (1) This music is amazingly boring. (2) This music keeps using terms and words that don’t make sense to me. (church-ese) (3) This guy seems to just be talking through this book line by line…but I need to know what to do since I just lost my job. My wife just walked out on me. My child just told me she is pregnant. Or, I’m struggling with wrong thoughts or bad behavior.

      The irony is this…what an unbeliever will initially think about a service and a message is VERY different than what a believer of only a few years will think. So really, your concern seems to be more about whether long-term believers are having their personal tastes satisfied, along with their desire for a deeper study of scripture. Yet an unbeliever doesn’t connect with the hymns that you grew up on (they may, in fact, be completely unchurched), and they are not in a spiritual position to be “fed” by meat when they haven’t even gotten onto the milk yet.

      If you are wondering what an unbeliever thinks about a service like you described…invite a 20-30’s one to church with you, take them out to lunch afterward and ask them what they thought. It may really challenge your thought process.

  10. Gary Hinkle says

    Thom, I also think that many church members are exhausted with the way churches are operating, ie. committees for everything. Many churches are now calling them “Teams”, but let’s face it, call it what it really is. Certain people trying to get their ways into the church. I do speak from my own frustration with this and quite frankly, I’m tired of going to church because of it.

  11. says

    There’s an axiom in the sales business that, when the client says “your price is too high”, what they’re really saying is “your value is too low”. Translation: non-attenders don’t see the value of church attendance, i.e. what they’d rather do on Sunday morning is more important to them.

    It could be caused by a lot of things. Things like “easy joinism” where we let in folks who have no intention of being serious church members. Or “easy believism” where folks join without really understanding salvation and/;or the Bible. Or weak preaching that does not really engage the members.

    There are a whole lot of reasons why, but I’d say we cannot really blame the members who don’t attend..

    I am reminded of the story of the dog food company whose sales were lagging. They had an expert come in and analyze everything and they agreed the company had the best product, the best distribution system and the best sales force, and the most efficient production system in the business. But it took the janitor to tell them all that the problem was: the dogs didn’t like it.

    One way or another, for the non-attenders, they place more value on whatever they’re doing on Sunday morning, than they place on attending. Somehow, that has to change.

  12. Chris C. says

    Most modern churches are very ecumenical. Leading to a lack of doctrinal stance or teaching. My issue is that it is hard at least in my area to find a church that is both growing in doctrinal teaching and also dispensational.

  13. Mark Dance says

    I agree that all of these factors negatively affect church attendance, but the bottom line is that the Bride doesn’t love the Groom as she should, or once did. That problem and solution start with me, the lead pastor. To influence my members or community, I must take personally the rebuke to the Ephesians in Revelation 2. They had good theology, but had lost their first love.

    Dr Rainer addresses this personally and directly in my favorite blog of 2014:

    “I must love Jesus more deeply and tell others about Him more often… I have no proposal. I have no new programs for now. I simply have a burden.

    And as a commitment to God first, but then a commitment to you, I am asking God to lead me to love Him more deeply than I ever have. I am asking God to put people in my life where I can show His love, and tell them about my Savior.”

    To see the whole blog, go to the top right corner of this page to a search box that says “Search” Put “lost love” in that box and press “go.” It will take you there.

  14. Brian says

    I think these are all things we generally know, but sometimes feel powerless against. It is stark reminder of the reality of what our churches and Pastors are facing. It is easy also to react in the tyranny of the urgent, and “sell out” the gospel, especially in terms of addressing number 3. It is tempting to get caught up in the pressure of justifying my paycheck/existence and do whatever is necessary to pack the pews. At least I sometimes, feel like empty seats reflects on my inabilities to lead. Certainly that is distraction and discouragement from Satan. But in the midst of all that, it is reality that we feel the pressure to keep up with the entertainment factor, and forget the power of the Holy Spirit, and that the preaching of the Word will not return void. We must remember that what the world calls success is not necessarily success to God. As Bill Stafford once said, “Jesus didn’t come to engage the culture; He came to cross it.”

    • Mark Dance says

      You are not alone Brian, I think all of us pastors take church attendance personally. I know I do. It is one of the main reasons I dread summer. Empty seats are haunting reminder that somebody is not doing their job. And we have to look at those seats during the whole sermon!

      Although we will never be able to personally pack all the pews, we can lead by example by bringing some folks who we brought into the “Father’s house” that we met in “the highways and hedges.”

  15. says

    I think #8 is huge. Often we think that lowering the expectations makes something easier or more accessible when in actuality people tend to live up to the expectations of a community. If a community expects little, then people will do little, but when a community has higher expectations then most people will live up to them. (The natural caveat to this is that a person must value & have some investment in the community for this to happen)

  16. says

    Great thoughts. All true in our SoCal culture. One affirmation and one addition.

    I affirm the dire need for clear vision and a simple discipleship plan. Every church has the responsibility to REACH people for Christ, ESTABLISH them in Christ, EQUIP them for Christ and free them to MULTIPLY in Christ.

    I would add the emphasis on church as the body of Christ and not a building (all good) has led to a “downsizing” of the value of the weekend service.

    Only time will reveal the fruit of all of this. May God’s kingdom come and will be done as we all figure this out together.

  17. Sara says

    Another issue we have had in church attendance decline is school sports. Schools use to view Sunday as a family day or even as that sacred day most of the population attended church and would never put games or practices on that day. Now we seem to have some family gone nearly every week during their child’s particular sports season.

    • Mark Dance says

      We have that same problem in my church and community Sara. I don’t think our culture is going to shift back in our favor however. Historically, the church has thrived when it has been forced to be counter-cultural. Some pastors fight this trend in a negative way from the pulpit, which makes the the difficult job of parenting even harder.

      Thank you for your input

  18. Scott says

    I follow Paul’s writing to the Thessalonians that Christ’s return will not happen until the “falling away” or “apostasy” and the “lawless” one is revealed happens first. Fulfillment of prophecy has never been more accurate.

  19. Mark Lindsay says


    I see a lot of truth in every one of your reasons. The two reasons regarding clarity, purpose and discipleship, depend upon the perspective. I have found that often times what is clear to me is not clear to another. This seems to be a very difficult issue, too. I have had teachers who have served for years, and who have sat in training sessions and read flyer after flyer from me, who have difficulty recognizing the purpose of church education ministry. Now maybe I’m just a poor communicator, or maybe there are other competing issues vying for awareness. Or, maybe it is a result of another issue you referenced: quality. Small group discipleship is built on community, and community depends on oneness which is a function of commitment and regularity. In other words, are the higher absentee rates today having an adverse effect on quality of ministry? How about on comprehension of and engagement with purpose?

    Another good read, Thom.

    Mark Lindsay

  20. Dena says

    It has been 8 years since I have been to church. My reasons may be weak for some but I was deeply affected by each one. When I was 26yrs old, I was a single parent of 2 young children. I wanted more than anything for my kids to know and love the Lord like I did and still do. I was confronted by a lady who was embarrased by me because I wore pants on communion Sunday. I told her that I didn’t think the Lord cared what I wore as long as I came to church. I also reminded her that He wore a robe and sandals when He was preaching the word. Later on, when I joined another church, I was told by the pastor that I was going to hell because I was divorced. It didn’t matter to him that my marriage was physically abusive and ended with my husband having an affair. There are a couple more reasons but everyone gets my point. I give thanks to the Lord every day and give Him all the praise and glory for the things in my life. Maybe someday I will go back to church but for right now I’m going to continue with the way I’m doing things now.

    • Mark Dance says

      Thank you for your transparency Dena! Although you have clearly walked into a couple of guilt-zones, please know that there are likely several churches near you that are grace-zones. For your children’s sake – avoid the former and pursue the latter. You will have no regrets when they are grown, and you all won’t miss out on the many benefits of the imperfect Bride Jesus died for.

      • Alexandria says

        No, she needs to realize that God is right where she is. This is coming from someone who spent 12 years in church only never allowed to be a part. From the beginning, the women were petty and competitive. Oh, you don’t have a child, well, we have one. Oh, now you have a child, well, we have 3. Oh, now you have 2, well, we have 7. My baby showers were sparse and the last time they gave me one was after my son was a month old. Oh, I didn’t realize you already had one and it was a boy, I thought it was a girl and you didn’t “show” as huge as we did and why we didn’t realize you were due, from the pastor’s wife. It was awful, especially when the membership was only about 100 members. But, boy did the “others” get huge baby showers. When our pastor sold our church into a bond program which was totally against what God wanted but he pushed it anyway so he could build his mega church, 14 babies died that year with a couple sets of twins that were miscarried and mine was the first and only that was full term. Please understand, our church had no prior deaths before this. Just a few months prior to that our pastor and his family was in a car wreck. Most every single elder and deacon drove 2 hours to pray them through it. Two should’ve died but they all walked out. When my son was born at 3am and we realized he was having trouble breathing, we called for support. NOT ONE PERSON showed up and not until AFTER he spent 5 hours in surgery and was taken to a hospital 100 miles away only to not make it. He was born without a diaphragm and his lungs didn’t form. He barely lived 10 hours. Not even our pastor should up until we got the news. Why?????? Our $5,000 tithe a year wasn’t enough, I guess.

        Hubby served as deacon and I on praise team and I also created a nursery program for 65 children under the age of 6 that were just thrown into rooms to be merely babysat with no purpose. Even the pastor refuse to promote these little children as he felt it wouldn’t do not good and he had no young ones, per his conversation with me. When they turned 6 or 7, the children’s church didn’t want them because they couldn’t sit down. My son was 2 and my having a teacher’s heart and wanting my son to know why we were in church, I started my own ministry with his class and was able to get 3 others to help in rotation. It got noticed and I was asked to run the nursery, paid staff. Well, that worked for several months until our “pastor”, who asked me to do this, had a change of heart and felt that a mere ‘woman’ shouldn’t run a ministry and replaced me with the husband of a couple we were very close to. The day he took over I was treated like dirt. The friend became cold and wouldn’t even look me in the eye. Within a couple months, I quit and was quickly replaced by a another woman who was chomping at the bit to have my position and the nursery was never the same after that. That was one of a few reasons we left and when we did, the pastor lied about us by saying I was demon possessed and took my hubby out when he was the one who had enough. Everyone we met after that treated me with so much disdain and contempt including elders we served under for most of those years who knew us and our hearts. Needless to say, the pastor was finally forced out after his 5th affair (at least 5 we knew of and each was swept under the rug by the leadership and one was a family member), each being his secretary and not before taking most of the churches money and dividing it amongst his 5 children. To this day, that church still struggles.

        We visited several churches after that and let me tell you God was not there. They sang the songs and claimed to serve Him, but they didn’t. You will know them by their fruits or lack of. One pastor claimed to be a womanizer and a alcoholic. That church folded within 3 years. Another church was built around their gymnasium. It was promoted more like a YMCA than a church. I guess people prefer fitness over God as it’s still going. Visited a baptist church. Don’t get me started on their false teachings. Homeschooled both my boys and with being president of our local Christian support group we used a quaker church, a baptist and methodist church to meet in over the last 8 years we were active. The pastor of the quaker church was not a nice man. He watched over us like a hawk the moment we set foot in there and the only activity we used his facility for was graduation and we made sure we cleaned everything before he left. He lied to me about his calendar as I tried to schedule a meeting and I saw his book, opened right there in front of me. There was NOT one entry for the day I asked for but he said that one of his members might need it that day. Found out later he only allowed us to use his facility if hopes we could provide him with more members. Didn’t work. The baptist church had issues because I wasn’t a member even though they allowed other non-members to use their facility over the years. They even allowed us to use their softball field when my church started their first softball team which I coached and played on and we didn’t have a field to practice. They quickly changed their mind when their own church team found out and threw a fit, even ran us off the field.

        So, what did we do, we realized that God was in our hearts, not in a building. Took us some time, but we finally got it. He is our soul reason for being here and with that we KNOW Him. Not something we EVER found in a building called a church. No petty competitions, no stomping on people and treating them like dirt because they didn’t have a dime to put in the offering plate but DID serve in every need the church had from nursery to cleaning, you know the jobs the decent members couldn’t lower themselves to do because of some stupid spiritual gifts test they took which said it wan’t their gift. Happened to a great couple but were brought in front of the church and ridiculed for losing his job, but praise to those who finally know their spiritual gifts and can now use it as an excuse to weasel out of everything including their own children.

        Does Dena need a “church” to find God and to raise her children in a Godly environment, NO!!!!! My youngest son was 6 months old when we left and never looked back and he has such a heart for God. He is almost 21 and spent the last few years letting God use him for His glory, studying and witnessing to his friends in God’s way not some beat them over their head and drag them to church like so many think that Jesus did. So wrong. My oldest serves God by helping others as an EMT and an 8 year assistant scout leader/counselor in the Boy Scouts and knows who is God is. Both boys are Eagle Scouts like their dad. We let God into our home and lives which is unheard of by today’s christian standards. We lived the example we wanted our kids to learn and grow by. Bring them up in the way they should go. You can’t do that when they are indoctrinated by the Government run school system and by godless churches. You couldn’t pay me to set foot in either let alone to send my children for “education” not to mention countless pastors are under the thumb of DHS to rat on their members for being patriots, prepping and survival and are 501-C which is also government control (don’t believe me, try promoting a conservative candidate and see what happens), not to mention caving to sodomy agendas, schools teaching common core and promoting islam . No thank you!! In essence, parents have no clue in how to live by example when they go to church on Sunday and act like heathens the rest of the week and you wonder why our kids are the way the are. They are too busy having both parents work so they have have the status to compete with their peers. Forsaking their family for things.

        Churches losing attendance to me is the wheat being separated from the chaff. Those in church being the chaff and who have NOT yet learned to hear God’s voice and depend on HIm and only Him, read their own Bibles and do their own studies. Ask God and He will lead you but instead asking everyone else’s opinions. What will you church goers do if ALL your churches were destroyed and the people scattered? When will God’s people learn to grow up and stop feeding off of everyone else for “support” when God IS our support system. I know there are some good churches out there, few and far between, but they are in many cases for laying a sound foundation but after that, we are to go out, not sit back fat and happy on everyones else’s hard work. No one is going out but building their own version of Babel. Not why God put us here.

        I say, Dena, you do what God is calling you to do. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Pray, seek Him and He will show you His plans for you and your family. Lean on God, not man. Amen!

  21. Tony says

    Where I go to church in Tx many folks have no sense of community. In the past most members depended on each other like family, cared for one another and worked together as the church. But the last decade there’s been a trend where people get their feelings hurt, get angry with one member or another and just quit. They’re willing to throw away all relationships just to take their toys and go home. It’s sad and discouraging issue.

  22. says

    Since I’m now in a para church ministry I can look back and say all of your points are valid. I’m not pointing fingers because I’m sure I was part of the problem. We struggled to find a church that we wanted to join when we moved for our ministry here. We finally found a church that we get excited to join not because of what “we get” but because they “expect” us to serve. My 15 year old daughter works the Information Desk & feels needed. She never got that opportunity in our previous places. Youth were entertained. Now she serves. For the first time in 20 + years of ministry my wife & I serve together. (What a concept).

    Is our church perfect? No. But they have a clear direction & for a leader like me that is exciting. We went thru a 4 week membership class where we caught the vision. We actually go to one of 10 Satellite locations. I here people criticize them too. I went kicking & screaming but have never felt more excited about church & I don’t even get to preach!

    People want to be apart of something bigger than themselves. We now are.

  23. says

    This whole article is about who has social capital. Thom puts the onus on the church, but in reality the church has lost cultural pull because of growing secular alternatives. I think this line of thinking is a red herring. Instead, we need to discover how to engage this rapidly different and changing culture.

  24. Steve says

    Growth in the disciplines of faith attracts people to the church. Jesus said, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you are making it a den of thieves!” The church needs to be cleansed and then Jesus will begin to heal! This is an inside-out process. Faith, obedience, repentance, and prayer must come from strength in Jesus. Without Him, we can do nothing. Intelligence doesn’t save, nor does entertainment, nor ignorance. “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.”
    We must put on the full armor of God – Christ Jesus; and stand strong in the power of His might. When our hearts and minds are filled with prayer, praise, virtue, and holiness the idols will flee. It is then that Jesus will dwell in them and walk with them. That’s when the church will truly grow. Be set apart says the Lord.

    Business paradigms do not apply to the church. You cannot compare one church to another church. It is what never entered the human mind that God prepared for those who love Him. Spiritual discipline depends on strong doctrinal teaching. Immature and undiscipled people will simply move from one church to another. From the 90’s mid-sized churches have been closing in favor of larger churches. Entertainment must keep up with the culture; nevertheless, after a while the newness wears off. Even the larger churches will eventually fail when they mimic the world. The latest trend toward “multi-site” churches is the latest fade. But it is not new the Catholic church tried it for centuries. However, God’s Word endures forever!

    If you want real church growth – put on Christ. “Besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, and the daylight is near, so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decency, as in the daylight: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy.”

  25. Jason Williams says

    Thank you for post, I always find your thought process thought provoking. I agree, with all 8 points and propose we as the Body Christ choose to do something about. It’s a simple word but it is work. The word is ministry. Thom is correct and I can’t wait to see some of his ideas on challenging the status quo of current church attendance trend, but I challenge the church dialogue here to stop looking at the unchurched and complain about them not coming to church and look at ourselves and repent from our lack of being the hands and feet of Jesus and go minister to the lost. I choose to celebrate the decision of a youth group who started 2 new classes in order to do greater ministry and saw a 14 year old unchurched girl come to Christ yesterday. I choose to celebrate the young lady who life was at a desperate dark struggling no hope or peace kind of place two weeks ago who was ministered to by an Older woman in our church and loved and excepted and brought to church and their found the Lord Jesus. I’m sure I’m on a soap box but, please recognize that the unchurched for the most part are more than people that don’t go to church, they are lives destined for Hell

  26. J says

    Thom, these are all good points. Could it also be that many churches are becoming more corporate oriented. I’m more involved in my small group than in worship service. Why? Because Sunday morning worship is too structured! Love the music. We have a wonderful music minister. The “teaching pastor” is also an excellent orator.
    But, other than the 4 minutes of “say hi to your neighbor” it’s all orchestrated with little involvement from the congregation. Special song from a member today? Of course not,, we don’t have time for that. Personal testimony, oh wait, that was the video as we were coming in. I attend a satellite church of the big guys in town. Much of the decision making comes from the “head office” While I agree that there should be input, church is not designed to operate like that in my opinion.
    Many churches, including our megastructure have great ministries and are reaching lost souls. Maybe for newer followers, that’s what they need. Many of us long for the day of old, when there was more involvement of the congregation on Sunday morning.
    By the way, what happened to Sunday night worship also? Guess maybe I’m a little old fashioned.

  27. says

    Hmmm. The sheep are avoiding the pasture. Possibly, there is no food there and they are looking elsewhere. If our churches fail to teach our people to do what Jesus actually said to do (Matt.28:20),
    how can we chastise them for not showing up. Be sure that God will find a people willing to obey His word even if it is just small splinter groups (where 2 or 3 are gathered in His name)…all the church activities, Sunday school classes, and sermons berating the sheep for not reproducing will not replace this. Our failure to first grasp, model, then teach others how to “follow me as I follow Christ” (as Paul states) is our present condition.
    Secondly, our “community” churches are less and less about reaching the neighborhoods they are actually in. Is it possible that these fellowships are finding themselves in the poorer sections of the city as time goes by and not as desireable for mining? Hmmm. I can just see our church leaders explaining to Jesus that they were inadequate giving units…yes, I am rebuking the church in America…because I know that it breaks the heart of Jesus to see this go on in His name. Making disciples was the primary directive of the Master before He left…we decided he meant “build churches. ” when the church in America finally decides that the folks in the pews are the ones God wants us to disciple we might begin again. If not, our leaders will be gathered alone one day in the sanctuary wondering what that obnoxious knocking on their door is all about…only to realize it is the Master Himself..Rev. 3:20.

  28. says

    Lack of passion in the pulpit produces apathy in the pew. The reality of “thus saith the Lord” ought to stir the heart of not only the pulpit but also the pew.

  29. Larrry DuBose says

    I agree and understand all you are saying. To add to that I’d like to point-out that even sports events are being impacted by the entertainment industry. At a professional baseball game we have T-shirts shot at the audience by clowns or other funny personalities, school groups sing on the field and the jumbo-tron captures the audio and video perfectly, the crowd is constantly invited to text a certain number to recognize the birthday or other event in the life of a friend or family member. If you sit near an aisle the constant stream of people going for beer or other refreshments require you to be a bobble head just to see the game. These experiences build expectations in the average person who walks into a church service.

  30. Trevor Matthews says

    I gladly stumbled upon your site and am glad I did.

    I believe church has become a place where congregants are entertained rather than being stewarded.
    I would rather be a servant in a church than being served – this would obviously ensure regular attendance.
    Without attempting to throw stones, I would say the “Christian” entertainment industry carries a lot of responsibility for church goers expecting the same during a worship service – one becomes emotional rather than spiritual.

    That’s my 2 cents.
    Trevor – South Africa

  31. Jason says

    Let the congregations cease, let the churches close, this is a natural course of a free market system of holy-businesses making a profit. The church will survive (and then thrive) again amount His people who are called according to his name and meet together in homes. It’s silly to erect a system of buildings as a measure of our religions health. Let’s then turn our eyes to China where god is moving and rejuvenating the faith, the US is lost already. :) #cynic?

    • Darren says

      Truth. When an organization ceases to accomplish its purpose, it’s time to close the doors. Old churches are satisfied, and new church plants are preaching easy-believism and consumerism. This is hardly the kingdom Jesus spoke of. Let the “church” as we know it fade away, and let the remnant rise in the small gatherings of the 1st century, filled with self-denial, joy, hope and love for Christ! If you decide to stay open, at least do as Randy Pope does and make true disciples!

  32. says

    Thom, I appreciate all that you do to try and bring about discussion and I appreciate your research. Certainly we all have things that we like or don’t like about church or may have had a bad experience. Reading through the comments thus far gives a wide range of issues and topics for discussion. I certainly have had my own bad experiences but I also know that I am called to Love my fellow believers. I would like to post my reasons for staying home from church or not wanting to go. Although, I do attend, I have been burned and it does leave a mark.

    I have spent the better part of almost 40 years in church, around church or looking from the outside in. Reading the New Testament leads me to have many questions. The book of Acts and the writings of Paul, Peter and James talk a lot about the church, it’s mission and acceptable behaviors within the church. Their books give requirements for Pastors and Deacons, and basic attributes of church members. This seems to suggest that there are “bare minimum” things that church members ought to do. I wonder why I rarely hear these characteristics taught about in church.

    I have always believed that people who are friendly will show themselves to be friendly. I am taken aback when I see people cluster with their group of friends and not even attempt to greet guests or others that they may not know yet. I guess, to a degree we are all guilty of this one. We tend to float or gravitate to the familiar. OK, so not a big deal right? Wrong. How do we know if someone is checking out this particular church for the first time? Maybe this was their last attempt at trying to find a church home. Maybe that’s the problem; we don’t think about others long enough other than to judge them or make some sort of determination about them. Moving on…

    Over the years, I have seen a lot of appalling behavior within the church. Arguments, Judgment (and a lot of it), Inquiries about someone’s attendance or lack of it, (without regard to their well-being). Misguided decisions and off-hand remarks. No wonder attendance is down. People want something real, genuine. It’s hard to do that if we won’t pick up the manual and read how we’re supposed to be acting. And I have seen more authentic community in neighborhoods where churches fear to tread than inside of a church building.

    The Bible describes believers as members of One Body. If my hand were to have something against my mouth, than I probably wouldn’t get to eat much. It’s a shame that we fight and complain, tear down sinners and saints alike and forget all about the amount of grace that it took for Christ to save our sorry excuse of a follower of Him.

    It is my belief that churches should do a better job of establishing it’s goals. (It’s hard to attract new members if you have no plan to do so). And if you are not attracting new members than you are just a civic club or place to hangout. (I’d rather stay on the couch). And if we are just in the building to hang out and feel better about ourselves, what’s the point?

    As Christ’s followers, we are to Love Him and Love Others. If we are doing those two things, than we are attractive to those on the outside who have yet to experience His Grace and Mercy. If not, we are playing high school games and dividing into categories and only surrounding ourselves with like people. Shouldn’t members of the same body try to work together, love each other deeply, and meet each other’s needs? If we can do that, than those who have not Come Home yet, will see it and want to take the first steps on the journey Home.

    Thanks for allowing me to rant. Sincerely, Wesley Rees

  33. Pastor Wayne says

    Brother Rainer,
    Why should people go to church if they are not regenerated?? The Church Christ and His Apostles established was made up of believers (1 Peter 2:5ff; 1 Cor.10:32; et al.). It was then the believers who were to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11ff). Each believer is to be a witness of Christ to those they rub shoulders with.
    Part of the problem why the church is in trouble is because many have tried to attract the church with “entertainment” (point #3).
    There are also reasons believers do not “attend church.” One is because it too often is merely attendance (and their money) which is wanted. The “professionals” want to run the church and its programs. Their primary need for bodies is to help them build their own little kingdoms and make them “successful.”
    Another reason is because much of the church has embraced politics and used worldly business models to fashion the church after.
    Coupled with this is that most of the western church more closely resembles a religious social club than the church of Jesus Christ.
    The kingdom of God and His Church is has relationships as its foundation – relationship with God with all one has and possesses and loving one another as one loves himself. I’ve been in approximately 40 churches in the last 10 years and have found very little of either. Oh, many have claimed love of God, but 1 John makes it clear that one’s love of God will be displayed in the love for one’s brother or sister. Most are so wrapped up in themselves that they virtually ignore any real need or relationship with one another.
    The sad truth is, I have found just the opposite to be true – many people in the church would rather stab you in the back than demonstrate any real love toward someone else. When confronting so-called brothers and sisters with truth and righteousness as a prophet of God, I have been kicked out of 5 of the 8 churches I have been a part of in the last 10 years (3 of them as a member and one as a pastor). One church literally locked the doors when I showed up for a service and would not allow me to enter. Not only was there action taken against me, but there was all kinds of indirect action in the “witness” such actions demonstrate to others not directly involved.
    Much of the “church” bears so little resemblance to the Church of the New Testament and then we wonder why people are not wanting to “attend.” There was no “attendance” in the Church of the NT – there was fellowship. There were no paid “professionals” (with titles and letters after their names) – ministry in each gathering-together was open to ANY and ALL believers present (1 Corinthians 14:26).
    Even basic requirements for pastors are being ignored in favour of the world’s standards. I subscribe to several ministry job websites for the last 5 yrs. In that time, virtually ALL the advertisements for a pastor (or senior pastor) requires a recognized degree, yet almost NONE list any of the Biblical requirements.
    And then pastors like yourself whine about decreased “attendance” when the worldly methods and systems you employ do seem to be working the way you want them to.
    The Lord has taken me through great lessons about the degradation of His Church in contemporary western society. He has done this through great trials in the last 24 years. I know I am a thick-headed German who often learns slowly and with great difficulty and it may not take others what it has taken the Lord to take me through. However, I encourage all pastors to humbly seek the Lord on their faces for HIS DESIGN for HIS Church. In some cases this may mean that “their” church will close (or die) or they may be rejected by man’s organization of which they are now a part. However, I ask you, “Where is your security? Is it in Christ alone or is it in your position, your organization, or ‘your’ church?”
    When I started my comments, Wesley Rees’ comments were not yet posted and in reading them before posting mine I realize we overlap somewhat and likely have had similar experiences. Again, I urge those reading these comments to honestly and humbly seek the Lord for HIS DESIGN for HIS Church and do all you can to conform yourself and those you serve. The Lord is working a new reformation within His Church to destroy the “Americanization” of His Church and replace with Himself and His disciples.

  34. Thom Rainer says

    Thanks to all of you for the great comments. I was in an all-day exec team meeting yesterday, and I’m meeting with Lee Strobel and Mark Mittleberg all day today. I hope to catch up and answer your questions soon. Thanks for your patience.

  35. says

    I’ve served on a church staff for about 25 years. We’ve been talking for years about how our attendance is dropping. I read through the comments and no one mentioned the fact that people have more demands on their time than ever before and that includes Sunday mornings. Sports, cheer leading (if its not a sport) and dance and other school and extracurricular activities are now regularly scheduled on Sundays. There was a day when church was the only thing going on on a Sunday. Now its just one of many choices, and some of the other choices have merit, too.

    We are also a much more mobile society. Weekend trips out of town, or to the lake or beach, are much more common than they used to be.


  36. Randy says

    I’ve been thinking about this and want to contribute late to the discussion. In the 1950s-60s it is true there were high expectations of church members. But it was also sort of a rigid legalistic expectation and when that went away, it all fell apart. I’m thinking there was no substance there in the first place. The church can be one of the loneliest places on earth. I’ve been studying Hebrews 10:23-25 and thinking about the purpose of the meetings, it was to “stir” each other up, it was to “encourage” one another. I’ve yet to be stirred or encouraged by any other than the perfunctory duty of a pastor–it doesn’t feel genuine either. Lots of surface smiles, friendly conversation, “see ya next week,” sort of stuff, but no substance. I don’t want to go most of the time either.

  37. Nathan says

    Eight reasons people don’t go to church:

    1. The church is preoccupied with getting people, because people = money + power.
    2. The church works to justify spending massive amounts of money on building, programs and staff rather than feeding the poor.
    3. The church love being right but does not show concern for justice.
    4. You may happily attend and belong so long as you are not a woman with a voice or opinion, or perspective other than what is preached.
    5. Relevance has nothing to do with looking like the culture, it has everything to do with mindfully engaging in cultural issues from a spiritual perspective. Most people find the church irrelevant.
    6. People see the church as too political. Jesus was not a republican, liberal, democrat, conservative, or libertarian. He was about God’s kingdom…which was decidedly spiritual rather than political.
    7. The message of the church is not the gospel, it’s almost anything but the gospel: attend, pay, believe, work, belong, do, conform.
    8. The church is really more a bunch of little kingdoms built by men with narcissistic personality traits that want to be famous rather than making Jesus famous. The key issue is not the lordship of Jesus, but the lording over other by people in authority.

    Respectfully submitted to deepen the conversation.


    • says

      Nathan, Respectfully submitted? Really? “The church is really more a bunch of little kingdoms built by men with narcissistic personality traits…” Thanks for that from a pastor of one of the 90% of churches which are under 100 in attendance. You don’t even know me but I have narcissistic personality traits. From reading your post I could speculate on some of your personality weaknesses but I won’t.
      But I think, based on the weakness of some (not all) of your points you have some serious church issues. So, do you tell your Savior, “Lord I love you but your wife is really messed up dude”?
      1, 2, and 3 all happen in a minority of situations.
      #4 is odd, I don’t want anyone’s opinion when it comes to Bible, theology, morality. I’d just as soon we kept things biblical. I have to answer to God for what/who I allow to speak in my church.
      5 and 6, Good points.
      #7, Umm, sometimes that happens.
      And #8, well, just bizarre.
      I much prefer Dr. Rainer’s list.

  38. Rick Sewell says

    I have pastored for the last 21 years and now am unemployed. We are taking advantage of this time to intentionally visit a wide variety of churches. I can tell you that most churches are quite unfriendly across a broad spectrum. The ones that aren’t are often so far into decline that they come off as desperate rather than friendly. They make it very clear that they will go to great lengths to get our contact information so that they can “follow up” with us.

    I have read a number of comments about doctrinal problems, especially in regard to liberal doctrine. I have not seen this problem at all. It is not a lack of doctrine that I have seen, but a lack of thought. Time and again I see pastors using sermons they have gotten from a book or downloaded from the internet. The sermon experience lacks life because the preacher is rehearsing words that he has taken as a way of short cutting the demanding spiritual task of preparation.

    • says

      “Time and again I see pastors using sermons they have gotten from a book or downloaded from the internet.”
      I hear this now and then but always want to know how the person knows that. Have you read the exact same sermon in a book or internet yourself? You read that many sermons and remember them?
      I’ll never forget the time my Bible College professor called me in to accuse me of plagiarizing my theology term paper. He couldn’t find anything that I copied from, it just sounded like it! Glad he did it privately! I was able to convince him these were my words.
      But, I’m not saying you’re wrong, just not sure how often these accusations are generally correct. I imagine as a former pastor you have read many sermons, just not aware of any pastors I know who do this. And I know a bunch. Maybe I should poll them. 😉

  39. gail says

    I was in a church that unfortunately thought they were the “true” church and had some beliefs with which I did not agree. I finally found a non-denominational church, Cross Connection, and the pastor systematically takes his sermons straight from the Bible. He knows the context, setting, customs etc that go with the Bible verses. I feel like I am being spiritually fed. I love going to church finally.

  40. Salvatore R LaRosa says

    I just resigned from my church because of the lack of leadership and lise, gossip and other things I experienced.

  41. gene says

    Reason # 8: Church leaders and followers who have forsaken the truth, but not their own assembling together; apostasy.

    • gene says

      Reason # 9: Church leaders and followers who have forsaken the truth, but not their own assembling together; apostasy.

  42. says

    Another good list! Telling and Timely. I would like to know the basis for a few statements, but I’m sure Ed S. can get you the stats to support them.
    Like, “if a person is only involved in the worship services, he or she is likely to leave the church within a few years or even months.” Experience tells me this is true, but wondering about the basis for this statement.

  43. Ken Jerome says

    I finished an interim about one month back, since then we have “visited” 5 churches, looking for a “home”.
    All of the reasons you stated for not attending church are evident. We (SBC) have lost the art of making people feel welcome.

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