7 Reasons Some People Might Not Come Back To Church

Churches are in various stages of re-gathering.

It feels like the next few months will be a season of challenge, potential and renewal like we haven’t seen in a long time.

But there are some members who won’t come back for a while and others who don’t ever plan to come back to church again.

There’s never been a season without some church departures, but this one is likely to be steeper than most.
The question is “why?”

There’s never been a season without some church departures, but this one is likely to be steeper than most. The question is “why?” Click To Tweet

Why are some people not planning to come back to church? And is there anything we can do about it?

I plan to address the first question in this article, and the second question in an upcoming article, 7 Ways To Reach The People Who Aren’t Coming Back To Church. This is also a follow-up to my previous article, “Will The Congregation Come Back?” Should Not Be Our Biggest Concern (6 Better Questions).

1. They got out of the habit

Yes, church attendance was as much about habit as faith for a lot of folks.

Some of them have really missed it and are realizing how much the fellowship of the church actually means to them, so they’ll be coming back with a renewed commitment to faith and to their local congregation.

But for others, the momentum of weekly attendance has given way to the inertia of staying at home. They traded one Sunday morning habit for another.

2. They haven’t missed it

Some people didn’t feel connected to the church or the people in it, even when they were attending regularly. So they haven’t experienced the sense of loss or the desire to gather again that many of us have felt so deeply.

Many have simply replaced church attendance with other interests, like outdoor activities, watching church online, or just sleeping in.

Instead of labeling absentees as shallow or backslidden, we need to ask ourselves “what can we do to re-engage them on a deeper, more enduring level?” Click To Tweet

Instead of labeling absentees as shallow or backslidden, we need to ask ourselves “what can we do to re-engage them on a deeper, more enduring level?”

3. This break gave them the excuse they were waiting for

Not everyone who has been attending church has been contributing to it or getting something from it. Some have simply endured it.

We need to assess the reasons for this starting with we, the church, can do better.

4. They’re still at risk, health-wise

There are those with underlying health issues who will need to stay at home long after most of us are back to a regular schedule.

Don’t forget them. They’ll need us now, more than ever.

5. Fear

There’s been a lot to be afraid of in the past year. We don’t overcome those fears at the same pace.

People in fear need patience, love and hope, not ridicule and condemnation. Click To Tweet

People in fear need patience, love and hope, not ridicule and condemnation.

6. The church hasn’t reached out to them

Most pastors and churches have worked very hard to make sure everyone was regularly contacted when we couldn’t meet together.

But even in the best of circumstances, someone will get missed. That may have led them to a deeper sense of disconnection than they felt previously, which will make it harder for them to re-engage.

7. We haven’t given them a compelling reason to show up in person

Online church has come of age during this crisis. Our church started doing it and we’ll keep doing it.

This will lead a few people to ask, “If online church is working, why should I show up?”

This attitude doesn’t negate the value of online church. If you’re doing it well, far more people will be inspired to come by watching your online service than will be demotivated to stay at home. And if you’re not doing it well … then they’re not staying home because of it, either.

When we regather for worship we need to make sure people get to experience something in person that they can't get online. Click To Tweet

When we regather for worship we need to make sure people get to experience something in person that they can’t get online.

  • The personal touch
  • Deeper relationships
  • Engaging worship
  • An opportunity to bless others

These are just some of the ways we can connect people to Jesus and each other in an in-person worship service.

For more about this, check out my follow-up article, 7 Ways To Reach The People Who Aren’t Coming Back To Church (specifically, point #2).

What Next?

These are some of the issues I’ve seen. But I know this list is not exhaustive.

If you’ve seen other reasons that people aren’t coming back to church, let me know in the comments.

But don’t worry, it’s not all bad news.

In my follow-up article, I offer some hopeful responses with, 7 Ways To Reach The People Who Aren’t Coming Back To Church.



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9 thoughts on “7 Reasons Some People Might Not Come Back To Church”

  1. Good points – I had to get over needing to get into the car and leave, instead of just sipping my coffee and waiting for the on-line meeting to start….and I’m the preacher!
    To keep a sense of proportion, it’s not just the churches: in many areas — shopping being the most obvious — life after the pandemic will have been changed irretrievably, mostly because it just accelerated what was happening anyway.

  2. I know as a leader this is one of those articles you have to write to readers and subscribers in a way that causes us to look inward and ask why ourselves and do better. But after 35 years of ministry I learned a big thing – I by nature still die inside when people leave, it’s just me, and my wife has to hear my self-beating over not doing enough for those that left.

    But I am trying to learn as well that the majority of those who leave, left not because we weren’t genuine or as a small church did not give direct individual attention or failed to serve and shepherd them in their needs and difficulties . . . they left because they simply were not strong believers (if at all) in the first place and needed an out so they didn’t have to explain why they left. In other words, people who want to leave due to their own lack of faithfulness and solid walk with the Lord saw in Covid a chance to avoid responsibility and honesty with themselves and the Lord. The church or the pastor had little or nothing to do with it.

    I also have learned that I have to pour myself into leading and loving and guiding those who care and want to be invested in. I used to spend so much time with those who didn’t care and it drained me – and lost those who desired to have more but I was too busy “going after the one” (as so many like to say now.

    Covid has literally separated “the men from the boys” – cultural Christians from those who truly live by faith even if it is imperfect and stumbling – they’re leaning His direction and need us to help them lean into Him farther. I just have tired with the “it’s really our fault pastors” when it might not really be that, it might be large numbers of people are sinful and self-serving even if they call themselves Christians or church “members” and this has exposed them – and so they depart.

    We met with leaders last night and have made some major adjustments to how we operate (testing it for the rest of the year) and are adapting, using online for more already as well, and have maintained always a close contact with everyone at home – and some still won’t come though most restrictions here have been lifted. They’re good to go out to eat, play, and much of it no masks – yet still want to stay “safe” by not going to church. The best and most healthiest church won;t see them in the doors again and it won’t be the church’s fault (I dare say not the fault of most of the churches out there).

    The article is well written and I can’t agree more with looking inward – we just need to look outward, considering who and why they really left – and balance it in the end and not take all the blame onto ourselves. I’ve lived in that self-blame for a long time and it profits nothing. Look inward and look outward – both – and God will show what I need to change and also to see what (and who) I cannot change.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story here. It feels very raw right now. Especially in a smaller congregation, when we know the people who leave, it’s not just about numbers, but relationships. I pray your church moves forward well.

  3. When attending church people took off their masks. I’m not about arguing about l just quit attending.
    Im at risk so I extra careful. I do still try to honor my pledge but if l start back and people aren’t wearing them l stop going. It’s far from over.

    1. I’m so sorry that’s happening for so many at-risk people like yourself. I pray you stay healthy and that this is over soon so you can be in IRL church again.

  4. Rev. Susan K. Ferguson, M.S.; M.Div.

    Before the pandemic I would not attend church “in person”because poor immune system. In the past too many people attend church when sick with no regard to anyone else, too sick to work, sick but attending church. As an honorable retired Presbyterian minister, I would like to see the “general church” come up with a better greeting than “passing the peace”. It is more like passing germs on. During this pandemic I have felt more in community with on line services. Churches are going to need to been more aware and inviting to “on line members/visitors. Like wise, those watching need to be more interactive with comments, like, good morning xyz church. Not sure clergy have worked out a way to visit, but would greatly be more beneficial to invite “on line viewers, to call, or request a “FaceTime” visit. Physicians have done “tele/medicine “ over the past year. Need more reaching out to those home bound.

  5. As one of the worship leaders I’ve enjoyed this time away from live church to simply sit back and worship. My church has not done any online services but I’ve been able to join worship at a church elsewhere. Actually, this has given me the opportunity to “attend” worship in many different locations.

I'd love to hear from you!

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