Culture At Large

Why People Leave the Church

Steven Koster

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?

It seems people don't wake up one day and suddenly say "no more church for me!"

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Evangelism, The Church