Why are people not going to church? Churches nowadays are more accessible—you’ll likely find a local church in even the smallest communities in your town. Not only that, but the advancement of technology has also made it possible for people to attend church online. People with poor health or restrictive schedules can now better accommodate church attendance in their lives.
Despite all this, a great number of people still don’t go to church. And if you’re in charge of a church, you need to understand the reason behind this. Finding and understanding the reasons behind people not attending church are vital steps towards motivating people to start or continue to attend church.
You can be certain that we, here at Church Helper, will help guide you through these steps.
Why People Don’t Go To Church
To answer this pressing question, we’ll look at two studies conducted by social scientists. The (at the time) new Pew Research Center offers a study (2018) on why Americans go (and don’t go) to religious services. Meanwhile, the Barna Group’s study (2014) suggests that Americans are divided on the importance of the church.
Answering this question will be difficult if we’ll box ourselves in our perception. People who regularly attend religious services may find it difficult to wear the shoes of those that don’t.
Though the respondents of these studies only included Americans, the findings can still help us see from the perspective of those that don’t go to church.
1. They deem the church irrelevant.
In the Barna Group study, 35% of the Millennials opting out of church cite the church’s irrelevance as one of the three things of equal weight in their decision. This is in line with the Pew Research Center’s (PRC) survey result: 37% of US adults who attend religious services a few times a year or less often say they practice their faith in other ways.
We can gather that the decision to not go to church isn’t due to people’s lack of faith. Rather, they practice their faith in other ways that make the church irrelevant. Some that started attending as young adults due to their family’s religious traditions eventually deemed the church irrelevant, as the PRC study suggests.
2. They cite the hypocrisy and moral failures of church leaders.
The two other things cited by 35% of the Millennials in the Barna Group study pertain to the hypocrisy and moral failures of church leaders. Religious leaders are looked upon as the foremost upholder of the church’s moral foundation. So, it’s not difficult to see how people can become disillusioned with their local church when they witness leaders in hypocritical acts and moral failings.
We can argue that God’s teaching about loving one another includes understanding, therefore we should do our best to look beyond these acts and failings of leaders. However, we shouldn’t dismiss this reasonable point. It’s not a matter of “Millennials’ tastes” that this point was mentioned but a very real problem that many churches have.
3. They feel God is missing in the church.
In the PRC survey, more than half of the respondents that regularly attend religious services cited “to become closer to God” as their primary reason. No other reason survey respondents gave came close to this. Meanwhile, the Barna Group study states adults who deem church as very important cited two reasons above the rest: to be closer to God (44%) and to learn about God (27%).
With that, people that attend church but are unable to feel God’s presence are understandably less likely to attend again. Neither study suggests possible factors that make people feel closer to God, but we can try and identify these factors. For example, observe your house of worship space. Is it suitable for people attending religious services? If it’s messy and disordered, a good chance is people attending will have difficulty feeling God’s presence in your house of worship.
4. They feel that legitimate doubt is prohibited.
In the Barna Group study, one out of 10 unchurched Millennials “senses that legitimate doubt is prohibited, starting at the front door.” Though the percentage refers to small groups of people with this thinking, we believe what the survey respondents stated is relevant and helpful.
We may think the survey complicates the matter of church attendance, but even seemingly irrelevant points like this can help us understand why there seems to be a slow slide in church people in our locale.
We cannot and should not condemn anyone for having legitimate doubt regarding the church or religion in general. As Christians, we must have compassion for others. Rejecting the doubt people have and making them feel obligated to agree with everything taught in sermons makes the church seem like a monolithic group, as though freethought is illegal.
As long as they are not hostile in voicing their doubt, we should always strive that people attending our church felt welcomed in their visit. Do all you can to help relieve doubt when possible and also respect their beliefs if ever their doubts remain.
5. They don’t learn about God or Jesus.
This point is in line with that in #3. There, we learned that in the PRC study, the top reason survey respondents (who regularly go to religious services) cited for attending church is “to become closer to God.” While in the Barna Group study, adults cited two reasons above the rest as to why the church is very important: to be closer to God (44%) and to learn about God (27%).
So, if they attend religious services regularly but leave every time not learning about God or Jesus, their attendance will likely drop to zero.
With that in mind, take time to review your church’s monthly or weekly sermon plan. Regardless of the specifics of a church’s bylaws, the basic belief system of all Christian denominations revolves around God and the Lord Jesus. Even if the main point of a sermon is regarding modern Christian living based on the New Testament or finding spiritual solace, God and the Lord Jesus should always be at the core.
6. They don’t gain any significant or new insights about faith.
According to the Barna Group study, more than half (precisely 61%) said that “they did not gain any significant or new insights regarding faith when they last attended.” This ties in with the previous point, as respondents shared that fewer than one in 10 (6%) who’ve ever been to church said they learned something about God or Jesus last time they attended.
To address this, evaluate whether people attending will find the church sermons valuable. Your church can have a hip young clergy or mission trips to exotic locales, but if church sermons don’t impart anything significant or new about faith to those attending, members will be more likely found skipping regular religious services.
7. They have trouble finding a community.
Though not directly stated, this last point can be inferred from the data provided by the two studies. The PRC study stated that about “one-in-twenty say they attend religious services primarily to be part of a community of faith.” Meanwhile, the Barna Group study results showed one in 10 reports going to church “because they are looking for community.”
In both studies, only a small percentage of respondents expressed this sentiment. But it is still important for us to take note of.
From here, we can see how people will be less likely to attend church if they don’t find a community within the house of worship. Your house of worship may have great weekly sermons, cater to Millennials’ tastes, or even coffee bars. Still, people will be unlikely to show up every Sunday morning when they feel as though they don’t belong to the faith community.
What Can Your Church Do?
The picture Pew’s data paints, as well as that of the Barna Group, is a useful springboard for leaders to begin assessing how to improve regular religious services. These studies provide a healthy slice of reality that people have varying religious experiences affecting their decision on attending church.
With that, based on our discussion above, here are steps to better cater to people wary of attending religious services:
1. Share the message of why church matters to those in doubt or unbelieving of the church’s relevance. Carry this out with compassion rather than pride. If people are adamant that they practice their faith in other ways, respect their decision.
2. Reflect on our church’s leadership. Make sure that those in charge are upholding the church bylaws and God’s teachings.
3. Try and identify factors in your house of worship that can make people feel closer to God whenever they attend. Perhaps a particular tradition is missing in the services that contribute to the lacking presence of God.
4. Be welcoming to those that have legitimate doubts about religion or your congregation. Do not display passive-aggressive behaviors that can make those in doubt feel unwelcome.
5. Ascertain that sermons taught have God and the Lord Jesus at the core. This should be so, no matter what the main point of the sermon is.
6. Exert effort in making sure that people attending will find the sermons valuable. They should learn something significant or new about faith after every service.
7. Help people find a community within the house of worship. Introduce them to small groups and other Christians within the congregation, and do not rest until they find a community they feel welcomed in.
While it’s true some people have spent endless amounts of time and effort to avoid anything regarding religion, there are people who used to go to church (or were even members before) that slowly became impassionate regarding service attendance.
And the reality is that they are not all to blame for becoming impassionate. Hopefully, through our discussion, you now better understand why some people opt to not attend church, as well as how to cater to them better.
To help cater to an under-served group like people with poor health, utilizing modern technology will serve you well. Exploring the suite of tools available from Church Helper may open up new opportunities for you to connect with your distant congregation or those with physical disabilities.
While you’re here, you might also like to read our previous post.