The #1 Thing That Drives People Away From Church

The #1 Thing That Drives People Away From Church May 1, 2015

If you listened to seminaries, you might think the answer was the biblical faithfulness of the preaching. If you listened to the ones who complain the most in the church, you might think the answer was the style of music or the overall decadence of society.

5.1.15

Several weeks ago I asked a question on Facebook: If you ever left church for a significant portion of time, what was it that drove you away? Here were the answers I got:

  • [My husband] and I both were very involved in youth groups and both got a bad taste in our mouth so to speak for church due to things that happened with our youth pastors.
  • As a very young Christian I think it was feeling like I couldn’t measure up. The church was very condemning and I was a babe in Christ so didn’t understand the grace of my Savior.
  • After we moved back to Columbus, we joined a church and attended for 8 years. I never felt “at home” the whole time we attended. Then a situation arose that caused quite a few members to leave, including us.
  • I grew up in church and was there for every event and activity as a child and through youth. But, after some stuff went down, my feelings were hurt and I resented the church.

Notice what wasn’t mentioned: preaching, style of music, stuff we obsess over. Notice what was central in each of the four comments: other church members. That’s the #1 thing that drives people away from church: church people. 

Why are there so many negative, gossiping, slandering, manipulative people in the church today? Why are there so many hypocrites in the church today? Share your thoughts below, and come this Sunday to Mt Vernon Church as we discuss this question, “why are there so many hypocrites in the church?”

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  • Meredith

    I hate this excuse of hypocrites being in church. I feel like it is a cop-out on going and facing your own junk. I will admit that I’m a hypocrite…. I was created and born as a sinner. I can try to live by God’s standards, but the only perfect man to ever live was Jesus. That being said, I WILL fail, I will fall, I will disappoint you, but all while not doing it out of meanness, but because I’m a sinner. Then, I will get back up and try again.

    • joshdaffern

      Agreed Meredith! I think we’re all hypocrites because we’re all sinners. I’ve seen both sides of this, where church people genuinely hurt others out of selfishness or meanness. But I’ve also seen people use “hypocrites” as a crutch for why they reject God. The church will always be full of hypocrites, because we’re all sinners. It’s like saying “I don’t want to go to the hospital because there’s too many sick people there.” Church is a place to go to get well spiritually.

  • David Miles

    Simple, a failure to make disciples. “They will know that you are Mine by the way you love one another.” But the church isn’t focused on this. Selling out to a Semipelagianism view of salvation, the focus is on reaching the lost and how to compel them to accept Jesus while those within the church are malnourished and starving. Sure, they get a little taste on Sunday and during mid-week services, but that’s about it and they are left to figure the rest out themselves. Shallow Christianity becomes the result and we never learn what it means to worship God and how to be His disciples even in our private lives. The failure to make disciples, I think, is the reason churches have lost their influence on the culture and the reason for the decline in attendance. The reasons given by most are symptomatic of this underlying root cause.

    • joshdaffern

      I think you make a strong point David. Bonhoeffer hits many of the same points. We’ve reduced salvation to the lowest common denominator so that our evangelism numbers look better. I would agree that discipleship is absolutely key. The one caveat would be how to interpret “discipleship.” Some interpret that simply as meaning more Bible study and more Bible knowledge. I interpret “discipleship” to mean living more like Jesus. We need more people not only to know the Bible, but to live like Jesus did.

      • David Miles

        Haha, yes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer has had a profound influence on this subject in my life. David Platt and Francis Chan raised much attention to this very subject with “Multiply” and it’s a great tool in the right direction. But you raised a very critical point: how to interpret “discipleship”.

        When I look to the Bible and the example Jesus gives us, there’s a few key things He did that are all but missing from most concepts of discipleship today.

        1) He lived with His disciples. At least the 12, He lived 24/7 as far as we can tell. Why is this significant? Because He taught them how to live as His followers both in public and in private. He taught them how to spend their private time, the area most of us are likely to live duplicitous lives. Having lived right next door to a guy who was trying to follow Jesus and being visited frequently by him, I realized how inadequately prepared I was to truly disciple him. It’s much easier when we have pre-arranged or limited time segments with those we’re investing in, but it’s a whole different thing when they’re constantly present and most of us have no point of reference on how to teach others on conducting themselves in day-to-day life.

        2) He showed them how to do it. We poor so much into teaching, the intelligible aspect of Christianity, which isn’t a bad thing, but we never demonstrate it and how others how to live it out. Jesus’ Apostles weren’t sitting around debating spiritual gifts, etc., but knew exactly what to do. Why? Because Jesus had not only taught them theology, but showed them it in a practical, applicable way in which they could follow.

        Why does this matter? Because it gave them a very crucial thing: A point of reference. Beyond the actions within the context of being a part of the body of Christ, many people today have come from broken homes, abusive backgrounds, etc. and know nothing about how to be a godly dad, husband, etc. Books are usually the prescribed remedy, however they are unable to answer questions nor do a critical analysis of the believer’s life to point out where they don’t quite have it right and to give them gentle instruction on a more biblical-coherent way of doing it. And to see a husband/dad who does have a much better grasp on it demonstrating it has a profound impact. But then again, we’re too busy with other things to really invest in people in this way because we don’t see the exponential potential in doing so.

        From what we can tell based on the Scriptures, Jesus lived every moment of every day focused solely on fulfilling the will of God. I don’t see any instance of Him partaking in the entertainment and recreational offerings of His day. But if we look to Facebook/Google+ for what we should fill our time with, those things appear to be the answer. I think we would lack the time for them if we poured ourselves into others by making disciples and live far more fulfilling lives that those things can never provide.

        How far can we deviate from the example Jesus demonstrates for us? I don’t know. It seems impractical to live with our disciples, but maybe that’s just my lack of creativity. Whatever the answer is, we at least have some basic concepts that seem to be far removed from our practice of making disciples and I’m persuaded that if we were to seriously re-evaluate this and embrace a more biblical model of discipleship, we would see a radically different “church” and have a profound impact on our communities and culture at large. That’s just my thoughts on it anyways and something I really long to see in practice at some point in my life.

        • joshdaffern

          Great words! I agree with both of your points. I heartily acknowledge that we are sidetracked by too many meaningless entertainments that take us away from our primary calling, which is to make disciples of all nations.

          One of the very practical things that separates Jesus from most is that he lived a single life and had no spousal/parenting responsibilities. For me at least that consumes the majority of my free time.

          As technology has sped up the pace of life, we have increasingly lost the depth of relationships needed for true discipleship. And I totally agree that discipleship can’t just be teaching knowledge but application as well. Jesus taught/showed them not just what to know, but what to do and how to live.

          I think every honest church struggles with this tension. One of the reasons Mt Vernon has at least tried to simplify our schedule and not pack out the calendar is to create the margin where relationships can flourish. A worship service may be a starting point for discipleship, but lasting and deep discipleship happens when people do life together. We may never be able to reach the ideal of moving in together, but we ought to make strides towards meaningful daily interactions. (In a small way, my daily blog is one attempt to harness technology to help keep an ongoing conversation going throughout the week).

          Jesus discipled the 12, but he continued to preach to the masses. For a church to fill its potential, I think it needs to do both, however much she may stumble in that pursuit. Thanks for commenting!

          • David Miles

            Thank you for taking the time to reply and to entertain the idea. I somewhat realize what enormous pressure there is on pastors like yourself and to even consider rethinking how we approach different subjects within the church is usually met with stiff opposition. It’s inspiring to see you weighing these things though and allowing Scripture to evaluate our practices and not the reverse. This is usually what we find at the start of great movements of the Holy Spirit, such as the Reformation, the Great Awakenings, etc. Godly men willing to follow God no matter what challenges arise. We need such men in times such as these.

            Small groups seem to be the common idea on cultivating discipleship, but putting people in a group doesn’t necessarily mean they will develop deep, loving relationships. I’ve experienced too many shallow/superficial relationships in small groups because we’ve been conditioned for such by society.

            You’re completely right about needing both in regards to the 12 and the masses. It’s not an “either/or” but a “both/and”. Yet the intentional investment in the 12 compared to the masses is significant. It was those 12 that were capable of repeating what He taught them and as they went and repeated the process, it spread rapidly and with great results. We put too much emphasis and expectation on a pastor when it should be the pastor making more as capable of discipleship as himself and sending them to do the work, not doing it all himself. Evangelism and discipleship can happen in their workplaces, in their home life, etc. and that’s something only they can do. If properly equipped (ie, discipled), they will be very efficient and effective all to the glory of God. I pray and hope you are one of many willing to put off the excess and strive for a healthier body of believers that will have far greater impact than the latter. Thanks again.

  • Andrew

    The logic behind not going to church because of all the hypocrites is the same logic as “I’m not going to a hospital because if all the sick or injured people.” This logic applies because that’s exactly what a church is. A “hospital” for spiritually sick and injured. (some may view it as an insane asylum, but whatever!) Nonetheless, church is a place where people seek, and in many cases find, healing.

    • joshdaffern

      So true!