The question of why do people leave church is one that has been asked for as long as there has been a church. The constant efforts to maintain and grow your congregation can often feel like a drain on resources or at times a losing battle. Every church leader wants to be able to focus on helping those that need it and sharing the word of god.
How then, do we tackle the issue of people leaving a church and allow more time to be spent on making a real difference to the community? At Church Helper, we believe the first step is to understand exactly why people are making the choice to walk away. Some reasons will be the same as those found a thousand years ago, but there are others that relate to the unique period of time in which we live.
A lack of connection with the local church
One of the more prevalent reasons given in the past year or so and there is no denying this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. With the transition to online services and digital content, this would appear to offer a way for churches to connect with more people than ever.
However, this has had the opposite effect in many situations and the first one is when a church fails to adapt and utilise technology in a unique way. It may be tempting to pay for generic systems or resources that lose that personal feel that people will have with their specific church. We often choose a church because of a personal, emotional and spiritual connection and if you swap that for some mass-produced generic technology then it can easily alienate people.
When you swap physical interactions with digital ones, you change the type of connection you create with your congregation. Many will simply not be able to get used to this kind of dynamic as they will feel it doesn’t offer the spiritual connection with their church leaders and overall church that they need.
As a church leader, if you can find a way to maintain the connection your congregation has with your church then you can discover the fantastic benefits of technology. At Church Helper, our systems allow you to personalise your content, protecting that connection with your members. Furthermore, you will be able to connect with far more people around the local area and wider world.
A change of church leadership
It is often the case that members of a congregation will be drawn to a particular church leader, minister or management team. We are dealing with such a personal decision, one of huge importance in a person’s life and we select our church based not only on our religious needs but also on our connection with the people who support us.
Sadly, it is a fact of life that church leadership will inevitably change at some point, for many reasons. It could be that a member of staff moves to a new church, retires or simply makes a different career choice and no matter the reason it will impact members of the congregation. This doesn’t mean the new leadership are any less supportive, caring or fantastic in their work but some may take this change as a catalyst for drifting away from the church.
Fortunately, this is one of the easier reasons why people leave church to deal with. If you search carefully for the most suitable candidate for a new role, you can find a more accurate replacement. If your church then aims to provide notice and engage with its congregation during this transition, it can make people feel more comfortable with any changes that happen and feel less desire to find a new church.
Moving to a new location
One of the more obvious answers to why do people leave church is that they simply move to a new location and the ability to stay with their church isn’t a realistic one. It may be that your church isn’t a large ministry and doesn’t have multiple locations for people to choose from. When this is the case, there is simply not a lot you can do about it and you need to focus on building your congregation and making your local area a positive place that people wish to live.
Another problem that occurs when people move to a new location, relates to the lack of remote services and digital systems used by churches. With the recent pandemic, many churches around the United States and the world have invested in digital tools so that they can stay connected with their congregation. Exploring the suite of tools available from Church Helper may open up new opportunities for you to connect with your distant congregation, particularly young adults.
Sadly, a lot of churches have failed to stay up to date and so when people move to a new location, they are not able to stay with the church they know, trust and love. If you can bridge this gap in a genuine way then you have a chance to keep your church members together, even if they move to the other side of the country or the world.
In essence, many of us move locations in our lives and churches simply have to deal with this natural dropout rate. If a church doesn’t, then its church membership will eventually dwindle down to a small congregation or even close down.
A change of habit
The world is always evolving, with tastes and interests in society changing. All of this has a direct impact on people’s habits, and habit is something a local church relies on heavily to stop people from leaving. It is often said that habit and discipline are very closely related, and being part of a church does require commitment, dedication and discipline.
People have to deal with a lot of pressures in life and demands that pull focus this way and that. This means that it can be very difficult to build habits and then maintain them. Having a spiritual and emotional connection with a church provides solace and safety to many people, but something that isn’t always enough to stop them from leaving their church.
One of the most important actions that a church and its leaders can take is engaging with the congregation on a regular basis. If you can maintain that connection and that habit with each person, then you are likely to maintain a strong commitment within the church, attend church events and resist the demands of the world around them. Utilise our Church Helper software to manage events, send out communications and track engagement.
They have been hurt by the church and church leaders
Sadly, there are those that get hurt by the church for a number of reasons. Whilst being part of a church is about a commitment and connection with God, it also involves individuals who work and represent the church, such as a senior pastor or administrator.
This can be difficult to overcome if you are hurt by someone you have placed trust in and a natural reaction to this hurt is to leave the church in question. We always hope that such hurt never happens but if it does, that all the relevant action is taken as well as the support given in the hope it can rekindle the faith and trust that the person once had.
Another aspect of getting hurt by the church involves being hurt by other members of the congregation. The Christian faith is about supporting and loving those around us but when people with different attitudes and interests come together, these differences can sometimes trump faith leading to small groups to leave churches.
Taking the time to support and protect your congregation, spreading a message of understanding and care will help to reduce the risk of people being hurt by your church. It is the duty of every member of the congregation to commit to this ideal.
The church has relocated
There may come a time when your church needs to consider relocating, whether only a few minutes away or much further afield. One of the biggest reasons for this is if the local area is in decline and a lack of a congregation attending church makes it infeasible to continue in the current location.
Equally, it could be that the building your church is located in is beyond repair or costs too much to maintain. It is a constant challenge balancing the precious funds available to the church and sometimes the most economical option is to move.
No matter the reasons for relocating, there will be members of the congregation that don’t wish to travel. They may feel that a 45-minute car ride is too far a journey to take, or perhaps the idea of remotely connecting with their place of worship is not for them. When planning such a relocation, communicating with your congregation about the situation and sharing ideas on how to stay connected or where to move to is a helpful way to stop people from walking away.
Leaving the church due to modernisation
We cannot stop the steady march of time and with each step forward it is important that a church doesn’t get left behind. Whether that is embracing the digital technology that has saved so many in the recent pandemic or understanding social ideas that are prevalent now when compared to 20 years ago.
Unfortunately, there will be many out there that wish to resist the modernisation of the church. This may be that they dislike the image, ideals or attitudes of the modern church or simply don’t feel like a member of the church family as it feels like a distraction from Jesus Christ or old testament laws.
One of the biggest ways that churches can prevent church dropouts as a result of modernisation is by making progress in a supportive, transparent and understanding way. If you want to invest in technology, then ask for people’s ideas and feedback and get them to be part of the process. We actively work with church leaders to make the transition to our modern Church Helper software as seamless as possible. Furthermore, if you feel that you represent a new demographic in the area, then make sure you represent all demographics that need your church’s support.
Modernisation can be a wonderful, evocative and embracing concept for church membership but it can often alienate as quickly as it engages. Exploring modern American Christianity is a vital task for every church leader concerned with church growth.
Too much focus on content
One of the more modern issues that cause people to leave the church is the concept of content overload. Living in the digital age, dealing with the recent pandemic and a greater reliance on technology means the ability to create and share content is so much easier. You don’t simply want to do a word for word translation from old resources to modern technology.
A very old problem almost every church has faced is spending too much time focusing on growing their attendance, instead of making sure that the connection with its congregation is strong. The modern equivalent of this is a focus on making shiny, marketing-friendly content that may not actually create the connection or build faith that a church should be focusing on.
It is important to remember that people can now access content almost anywhere, at any time and about any subject. It is unlikely that your church will be able to produce truly unique content and so understanding that content alone doesn’t create a connection is key.
Creating that balance of in-person and remote sermons, worship service options and educational sessions is the key to a thriving, supportive and connected church that delivers what its congregation requires.
Politics causing people to leave the church
In one of the most turbulent political periods in the last generation, the link between politics and religion, such as Christian culture has perhaps been at its strongest and most divisive. Politics has always involved religion as a tool to win votes and emphasise political agendas, which can be seen as a positive for some but also an unwanted combination for others.
Where this benefits a church is that it can draw those to your congregation through ties to political ideals and a particular public figure. It can be a beacon of hope for those seeking like-minded individuals. Sadly, there is a considerable amount of evidence to show that it also causes people to leave their church.
If a public figure in the world of politics is from your church, but they act in a way that is against the morals or ideals of members of the congregation then this can be a lightning rod for driving those members to other churches and it can be tough to regain the trust of the folks who’ve left. A careful balance is required here, with churches needing to ensure that your church focuses on the word of God and the supporting role faith plays in people’s lives, irrespective of who is currently in power.
Social media interactions
An idea, opinion or attitude can be expressed to almost anyone across the world, in a matter of seconds thanks to social media. With this comes increased scrutiny of what each member of your congregation is saying, whether it happened today or even 10 years ago.
Where this has an impact on people leaving your church is that discussions, debates and opinionated messages can be shared with each other without any kind of filter or control. Therefore making it far easier for one person’s views to offend others, driving them to reconsider whether the church is the right place for them.
As a church, the goal is to be a place of worship that brings people together and each member of the church shares a bond that is incredibly strong. As a leader of the church, it is important to recognise this bond comes under increasing pressure in the modern world and in order to prevent people from leaving the church you must be proactive.
If you can explore these topics as part of your sermons, engage with people and share your own communications then it may well have a significant impact given your position as a member of the senior leadership. Explore our Church Helper software and see how the communication tools can help you share positive, loving and considerate messages.
The question posed in this article is a universal one asked for thousands of years. The difference today is the impact technology has, alongside the more traditional issues of engagement, leadership concerns and relocation. Fortunately, for every reason people leave the church and the challenges faced, there are groundbreaking ways to fight against it and turn the tide.
At Church Helper, we believe in providing churches with the tools necessary to manage their church in the most efficient way, providing leaders with the time to focus on what matters. Whether using our financial systems, streaming service or event planner, we can connect you with your congregation and ensure church growth occurs.