Why People Leave the Church

The Pew Forum recently published a survey on why people change religions from the tradition in which they were raised as a child. They have a handy interactive graph that shows why people switch to and from and in between traditions.

But I'm particularly interested in why people who were raised as protestants leave protestantism. I'm hoping it might yield some insights on how we can minister better. Here's the relevant chart for those who were raised protestant but now choose either the Roman Catholic church or become "unaffiliated."

Reasons Those Raised Protestant Leave Protestantism

I suppose the biggest thing I see is the gradual drift that seems to factor into the highest categories named.  It seems people don't wake up one day and suddenly say "no more church for me!" It's a process of alienation, one of quiet struggle I suspect.

There was a time in my life when I struggled with faith, and I wasn't too vocal about it. I questioned some teachings and I was unhappy with some heavy-handed congregational politics. The last thing I wanted was to be lectured with easy answers. Without a support system (and especially a faithful and patient wife) I could have drifted farther out too.

In my limited time as a parish pastor, it made me wonder about the time I was spending with the faithful core of my congregation. I went to many meetings and had many conversations and visits, and they were a blessing to me (and I pray I was to them), but it often seemed like I was talking to the same people repeatedly. I began to wonder about the fringes. Much of a pastor's role is to equip others for ministry, but I kept wondering if I shouldn't I be more about hanging out with the people I didn't see every Sunday.

That was a nagging thought I never resolved fully. I don't have any easy answers. What do you think? What do you see in this chart?

Comments (41)

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Jesus is the meaning of my life.
Where an individual church may depart the Word, I can see departing the premises.
Those who depart Christ utterly may not have understood the meaning of life in the first place.
Why do you equate leaving the church with leaving your faith? I am disenfranchised about church in general. I would love to leave where I am at but the alternatives are more bad politics. It is why I never intended on becoming a pastor.
The issue is that people and not pastors make the congregation. If the pastor is the only one keeping together the "faithful" and not everyones responsibility the the church will and has failed. It is more of a congregant issue then pastoral.
People have become as a rule less interested with genuine pietistic living and have turned towards social club Christianity. They desire nothing but connectedness. Just look at the ink spilled about the subject regarding unity and togetherness.
If all we did was focus on genuine personal revival and not "acting" like the church I know that the church would function better. The church has given out the rule book and it looks a lot like a social ethical book that will make us a better church/business entity.
Yes I am disenfranchised. I am tired of the church and I want out, but I am also a believer and know that i am supposed to submit, but sometimes I feel like I am submitting to a wet sponge.
Boy oh Boy! I just finished a book, which will be out in about four weeks and it talks just about this. You have two things in a church, the business of the church and the people of the church. You can either follow the business of the church and neglect the people and God by following the rules and regulations instead of the bible. There are those who will use the book of discipline over the bible to get what they think is what the church should be. Then there are the rest of us, who have had the opportunity to see that through the bible and what it teaches, we come closer to God and Christ Jeus. In turn they come closer to you and you realize that it's not the business of the church that counts, it's the people. I know that the church needs those who watch the finances and makes sure the church is clean and well kept. We have group organizers and many different ministries that cover many things in the church. The Pastor/Preacher or Priest believes that they need to be in the middle of it all or the ones who believe the business of the church comes first want them in the middle of it all. Let those who wish to do the business of the church do so. As for me I want everyone to know the hope I have in Jesus. I don't need scripture nor do I need the rules of the church to lead me to where I need to go. I follow Christ and I tell those around me, starting with my family and friends the hope, which leads to faith and love and kindness. Then I ask them to come along to come to church and to start a Sunday school class or join one. Then start a bible study class at home and bring others to know God and Jesus through the bible. I go to church and in fact preached last Sunday at a small church to help a friend. Go to church and give to one another the love which you receive from God. Go where you are comfortable and where you are loved and you love the ones who are there. Never stay where the business comes before God and never stay where you are not welcomed or comfortable. Love God and Christ Jesus and they will lead you to where you need to be. In God's Grace John
It isn't the rules of the church, the structure of the church, the rituals of the church, the hierarchy of the church or any of the other rigmarole of the church that I need. I need the church because I need to see that this life I have in Christ is not about me. I have to figure out how to live in community with people who are different from me (in terms of culture, generation, race, etc.), who otherwise would be separated from me and whom I might never choose to have relationship with, but because Christ has torn down the wall of hostility between us I now not only tolerate but embrace.

I need a church experience with people who are not all exactly like me; who do not all think exactly like me; who do not have the same economic status as me; who do not read the same things I read; listen to the same music I listen to (demand the same worship experience I do).

I need a church that demands something of me - a church worthy of Jesus giving his life for; a church that is destined to be the spotless bride of Christ. And that same spotless bride, the New Jerusalem is the same church that infuriates us with its hypocrisy and inner conflicts and lack of compassion and sin and all the rest. But it is still the church.
John,

I don't think that it is that easy. Maybe I am pessimistic, but I believe that there are very few churches out there that actually care more about the people then about the financial and social aspect of churches. It is how we have such flaky authors that produce "TOP SELLERS" with crap. I could name a few, but you know who they are. The church is in fact looking for genuine faith, that is why I believe that many are leaving and heading to Catholic church. There is a tradition and a reverence that is there that many other churches have lost. I don't believe that People leave Protestantism because they don't believe anymore, I think that they know that there is more too it then what we hear at the local church.

There is accountability. There is right/wrong! There is an ethical and moral stance in politics.

These things said I believe that maybe the answer comes in small home groups of 10 or 15 people. Together studying the word of God, but how do you keep out error? Well in the first century they had Apostles who were traveling "pastor" who would attend different meetings and help with issues of incorrect doctrine. We don't even have that accountability in the CRC. Accountability is the key to success within the body of Christ.
There is a constant need to keep us accountable. I think that all churches with significant overhead will forget at one point or another the need to be for the people and not for the Payroll.
How is that any different then a social club? I don't think that you will find that the struggle that is spoken of in the New Testament is the struggle to get a long with the church. Sure there are mentions of it, but it isn't the main focus of the church. It is a component any time you put more then 2 people in the same room. I might be mistaken, but what you are speaking about is my exact issue with the church as a whole. We are so egotistical that we think it is about us and not about Matthew 28.

Discipleship isn't this idea that we struggle to get along, it is about teaching and growing. It is about surrendering together, so that we can do Matthew 28 all over again.

The Church is supposed to be a movement of people that are moving towards righteousness, not about the struggle to get along.
Jason that is what it is about, the people who read the bible gather with others who read the bible and talk about what is needed. I have read the bible many times and then someone in a bible class reads something and explains it in their terms and they are right. We will never understand all of the bible until we are with the one who wrote it. We need to gather as a people together with the purpose of showing the hope we have in the Father who gives us everything. We also need those who run the church to understand that yes we need a place and we need help from all who believe in God and Christ Jesus. We can't do it all ourselves as Christians, wheather we are pastors or just someone who fills a pew. Read your bible, gather with others to better understand the bible. Do it in a church, home, building or in a field it doesn't matter, what matters is that you Love one another and of course Love God with all that you have. My hope is in Jesus and thanks. In God's Grace John
Well, of course, it is more than "getting along" but it is not less than keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is also a cause for which we burn to pour out our lives sacrificially - TOGETHER. That is the point I was shooting for - that discipleship is not this great individual endeavor: Jesus and me and forget about anyone I can't abide.

The first century church was not a bunch of isolate islands of disciples all struggling on their own toward righteousness. It was a mix of large group/small group, beautiful/ugly - getting it, not getting it, movement sometimes (usually?) in the right direction.

The church getting it and doing it, by the way, is not a matter of "them" it is "us" - do I get it? Do I do it (whatever it is)?
When I got save I did not have a Bible and was 46. The preacher told me not to believe him but check it out 4 yourself. I have been doing that for 22 years. For me I have seen so much false doctrine in the church it is mind boggling. The worst part 4 me is that the church wants me to be led by the Holy Spirit which is the way it should be. But what they really mean is led by the Holy Spirit except in certain areas such as giving, drinking wine, divorce and more. When I go and see the Pastor to address the issue they stand on the denominational position.
I had a Pastor who said if U drink wine U cannot be on the church board, a deacon basically. The process was by vote and nomination. I was nominated and the pastor asked me if I had a problem with being on the board. I said I did not but that U do. I told him I enjoy wine once in awhile and informed him his position was not scriptural. I also asked him if he was willing to stand on his non scriptural positin? He said yes. I then told him Jesus nor anyone in the Bible could not qualify to be on his board. He did not care. I have heard pastors demanding God heal someone. Command the harvest to come. Say everyone should drive a Mercedes or Rolls Royce. It goes on and on. I still go to church for the fellowship of believers.
As a follow up I would like 2 say that Jesus never told anyone 2 build a building. On the day of Pentecost 300 people got saved. Jesus through the Spirit could have told Peter 2 build a church, made him the pastor and the other guys the deacons and elders. He did not. Why? Could be he was looking down the road and saw all the problems involved in having church buildings. He was right.

 

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