The Internet is full of articles about why people are leaving church—or never attending church in the first place. Some are called “nones” and recently many people are using the term “dones” for those who are finished with church—at least for now.
A great deal of focus is on the generation known as Millennials. This fits the pattern that every few years church leaders, prognosticators, and the parents of young adults express the concern that the current generation of young adults are not as active in church as others think they ought to be.
My response—perhaps contribution—to this dialogue is that I wonder why people are NOT leaving church. Why do people stay in their church even when that church gives evidence it is not serving them well and proactively helping them connect with the Triune God?
As I began pondering this question I realized I had a few ideas about this, but not a broad enough perspective. I decided to ask people in my network for help. I sent out a first round survey asking people to tell me the reasons they believe people do not leave their church.
I asked two questions. First, what are some healthy, positive reasons people are not leaving your church? Second, what are some unhealthy, negative reasons people are not leaving your church? I heard from four dozen people in response to these questions. They provided some interesting insights.
From the responses, I came up with the top ten positive and top ten negative reasons people are not leaving church. I sent out a second survey and asked people to prioritize the top positive and negative reasons. This time I heard from almost seven dozen people. The result was the top ten healthy, positive reasons in perceived priority order and the same for the top ten unhealthy, negative reasons.
Let’s be clear. I do not claim this is true scientific research. It is a beginning. It is the start of a conversation. It may actually be more hard data than many prognosticators have when they express an opinion on a subject.
Enough of that background stuff. What did I discover? In this article I share the top four positive and the top four negative reasons. In subsequent articles I will share the full list of ten positive and negative reasons.
Healthy, Positive Reasons People Are NOT Leaving Your Church
The top positive, healthy reason by far is relationships. People who have deep, strong, long-term relationships that exhibit openness and acceptance within the church are not leaving your church. This is home to them. They want to be a continual part of this church. They are unlikely to consider going anywhere else because of the depth of the relationships they have in your church.
Second, when there is high quality, exceptional preaching and teaching in the church people want to continue to be a part. This is coupled with the third reason which is when there is genuine, exciting, engaging, and uplifting worship people want to continue being a part of your church.
Fourth, is a strong sense of community, love, and unity. Obviously this compliments the top priority of relationships. I suspect the difference is that relationships are talking about the close network of a person, and community is talking about the overall sense of the congregation.
Unhealthy, Negative Reasons People Are NOT Leaving Your Church
The top negative, unhealthy reason is comfort. This was significantly higher than any other answer. When people have been in a church most or all of their lives, they are afraid to leave this comfort zone. It is not that they do not want to go anywhere else. They are afraid to leave where they are comfortable.
Second, is that people have a part in controlling this church. A lot of things in their life are beyond their control, but at church they can control things. They may even be seen as a matriarch or patriarch within the church. They cannot be sure they could control their next church.
Third, is personal complacency. Beyond being comfortable, they have no motivation to go anywhere else. They can passively participate in the church, hide in the fellowship, and feel they fit.
Fourth, is low expectations from their church. It is easy to be a member of their church. The church is complacent and does not place many expectations on them. Why leave? For example, their church never confronts people individually with the need to grow spiritually.