The following list is not a scientific poll. it is anecdotal. It is experiential. These are the most common reasons I’ve heard for why once faithful attendees no longer participate in church. These reasons are, however, unconvincing in the end. After all, if active involvement in a theologically robust, God-glorifying, people-loving church is God’s will for every believer, then there really are no good reasons to quit going to church. There may be good cause to move to another church, but quitting church altogether is never God’s desire for anyone. With that said, what are some of the most common reasons given for giving up on the church?
1) “There are hypocrites in church.”
Yes, there are hypocrites in every church. And it is certainly easy to grow weary of those who say one thing and do another. It is also easy to forget that we are often just as guilty of hypocrisy. There are many ways that we fail to even live up to our own expectations of ourselves, much less God’s will for us. Thankfully, God’s love for us is not based on our ability to do what we know is best in every moment. In fact, God saves those who are willing to admit that they are often hypocrites and acknowledge they are in need of God’s grace. So, to those decrying all the hypocrites inside the church, God’s invitation is that there is always room for one more.
2) “I’ve been hurt by someone at church.”
The church is a family and like most families, there will be hurt along the way. For many, it is ordinary relational difficulty that produces a root of bitterness; that root grows into resentment and eventually results in total avoidance. God’s Word anticipates this kind of division and calls us to protect unity (Ephesians 4:3), forgive those who hurt us (Colossians 3:13), and restore broken relationships (Matthew 5:24).
For others, the hurt is more severe such as abuse or assault. These greivous sins ought not to be taken lightly and are not taken so by God. However, God’s plan for upholding those who have been terribly sinned against includes the church (1 Thessalonians 5:14), not fleeing from the church. This is not to say that one must remain in the same church in which they were abused/assaulted, in many cases they should not.
3) “I can’t find a church that meets all my needs”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against the danger of desiring a church that is a perfect fit, “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.”
It feels good to believe that we are so spiritual that no church can attain our standards, but Bonhoeffer reminds us that this attitude flows from pride. He provokes the question, “Is it truly our super-spirituality which leads us to believe no church is good enough for us? Or, is that the best excuse we can find to stop gathering with the church while easing our consciences?”
4) “I don’t need the church.”
Many assume the church is nothing more than a spiritual pep rally to get us through the week ahead. It is unsurprising then that so many see the church as unimportant or unnecessary. After all, we have our Bibles and we have Jesus, so who needs the church? The obvious problem is that this directly contradicts the teaching of Scripture. God actually designed us in such a way that we need one another. We need teaching, accountability, encouragement, love, prayer, fellowship, singing, etc. and gathering regularly in church is God’s plan for providing these opportunities for us (Ephesians 4:1-16).
5) “I’m too busy to go to church.”
In a sermon series concerning the church, Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones admonished those whom he called “trippers”–those who regularly found better things to do than gather with the church. He told his congregation, “Unless you feel that something is being offered and given to you here [at church] which no other institution can offer or equal, well then, in the name of Heaven, go out into the country or to the seaside. The church of Christ is a church of believers, an association of people banded together by a common belief and a common love. You don’t believe? Well, above all, don’t pretend that you do, go to the country and the seaside. All I ask of you is, be consistent. When someone dies in your family, do not come to ask the church in which you do not believe to come bury him. Go to the seaside for consolation…”
Why is Martyn Lloyd-Jones so strong with his words? Because he understood the importance of the church in the life of the believer. He knew that the church is a group of believers “banded together.” He believed that one of the evidences of genuine faith in Christ is a love for God, a love for God’s Word, and a love for God’s people.
We tend to make time for what we consider important. For Martyn Lloyd-Jones, few things were more important than gathering with other Christians and sitting under the preaching of God’s Word.
Does God Really Desire Faithfulness in Church?
The temptation to give up on the church is not a new one. The original recipients of the letter written to the Hebrews were tempted to stop gathering with the church out of fear—fear of persecution and fear of social contempt. The personal safety and reputation of these churchgoers were on the line. To these beleaguered Christians, the author writes, “… let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). In other words, God’s agenda for you will never involve giving up on regularly gathering in a local church.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Hebrews 10:24-25 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (San Francisco: Harper, 1954), 27.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones quoted in Iaian Murray. The Life of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: 1899-1981 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013).