When we speak of the church, I think it’s useful to remind ourselves we are not speaking about a building. We are speaking about people, Christians, who form a group or body of believers with Christ as the head, Colossians 1:18.
Church is an incredible place where likeminded people gather together to worship God and enjoy fellowship. There are many lifelong friends made as people share their life challenges with each other. It’s a great source of strength and encouragement for many and for others, it’s simply the social aspect of being together with God’s people. To put it simply, church is like a warm, welcoming hospital for recovering sinaholics and all are welcome.
There are numerous reasons why people leave the ‘church’, some don’t like the preacher, some don’t like the décor, and some don’t like the hymn books, although some may seem to have legitimate reasons. Ultimately when you get down to the crux of the matter, if those people who do leave are honest with themselves, they will see that most of the time, it comes down to their choice.
I believe there are times when leaving a church is legitimate, for example, if the church is teaching false doctrine or holding on to certain practices which the Bible either forbids or never mentions. The focus of this study is to look at some of the reasons people leave the church. Let me share with you, three of the most common reasons I’ve heard over the years as to why some Christians leave the church.
Everyone has expectations when it comes to church and being a part of it and there is no doubt that members have responsibilities toward each other, we are to love one another, 1 John 4:7, be kind one to another, Ephesians 4:32, be considerate of one another, Hebrews 10:24, and a whole lot more.
However, the problem comes when some people become Christians, and they have seriously high expectations, all they do is take, they become so demanding, they never give anything in return, it’s all take, take, take, Philippians 2:3-4.
Being a Christian isn’t a one-way street, but there are those who decide to leave the church simply because the church doesn’t give in to their every beckoning call. Over the years I’ve met Christians who have a lot of needs and I know that the church has met those needs over and over again but as soon as one need isn’t met, they decide to get up and leave.
Now they can say, ‘oh the church doesn’t really care for me’ or they can blame this or blame that, but it seems to me that some people become Christians simply because they want their needs met but fail to recognise their own responsibilities towards the other members who have needs to be met.
In my experience it’s usually those Christians who rarely attend worship, studies or any other special days the church has organised, who are the most demanding, they are so focused on their own needs. They fail to recognise that there are many others within a congregation who have needs too.
I remember years ago someone told me they were leaving the church because ‘the church didn’t help them move home’, but the truth is nobody knew they were moving home, they hadn’t been seen for months and didn’t answer their phone when the church called to ask how they were doing.
How could the church help them move home if they didn’t inform the church they were moving in the first place! They simply didn’t ask for help.
Someone once said, ‘you get out of something what you put into it’ and I believe the same principle applies in church life, Galatians 6:2-10. We must always remember that there is no ‘I’ in ‘Jesus’ but there is an ‘US’.
I’ve heard it many times over the years when people come along to our assemblies with their religious baggage, they speak about how ‘the other’ churches have treated them and how they don’t agree with their doctrine on certain matters. We sit with them and listen to them, we ask them to open their Bibles and show them what the Bible actually teaches on these matters and they are happy.
They tell us that ‘God sent them to this church’ and so they read the Gospel, believe it, obey it and become Christians. Most people are happy to be saved but they don’t want to live the kind of life Christians are required to live. The usual phrase they use to justify leaving is that the church is too ‘legalistic’, I totally understand this thinking and I know that in certain places legalism can be a huge problem.
But we’re not speaking about legalism here, we’re speaking about the simple truths where God asks us to live holy lives, 1 Peter 1:16 / Galatians 5:19-21 and how the Spirit encourages us to display His fruit in our lives, Galatians 5:22-23.
When they see how seriously we take the Scriptures and how seriously we take our Christian lives, it’s usually not long after this that they start all over again with the cycle of what ‘they think is right’ in terms of what the Bible teaches.
When they are confronted with Scriptures which speak about sin, the responsibilities towards each other and the commitment involved, Hebrews 10:23-25, they tell us ‘we take the Bible too seriously’ and then suddenly, they’ve gone from ‘God sent me to this church’ to ‘I’m out of here, God must have made a mistake!’ Proverbs 14:12.
The number one reason I’ve heard for Christians leaving the church is because of personal issues with someone within the church which never got dealt with or never got dealt with properly. Someone once said, ‘the church would be great if it wasn’t for the people’, but what they fail to understand is that the church is the people, Ephesians 1:22-23.
You will never find a church where everyone believes the exact same thing on all matters, that’s called a cult. You will never find a church that doesn’t have problems, after all, when we read through the New Testament letters, all we read about is problem after problem which the writers are trying to deal with. So, problems and personality clashes aren’t the problems, they are to be expected, the problem is the way we deal with them.
Jesus gives us the solution and if Christians simply followed His Words, Matthew 5:21-26 / Matthew 18:15-20, a lot of the problems and issues between us would be solved much quicker, rather than letting them fester for months or even years, Ephesians 4:26. The Bible says that the responsibility for maintaining peace lies with us, Romans 12:18.
Paul even encourages the church to get involved to solve issues between members, Philippians 4:2-3. Sadly, problems arise because the wrong people try to deal with the issues which others have, Galatians 6:1 and all too often saints fall out with each other over issues which could easily be resolved by speaking to each other in love, Ephesians 4:15.
Before you know what’s happened, pride has kicked in and no one wants to back down, the ‘I’m right and your wrong’ attitude comes along. People fall out with each other on issues which aren’t even ‘salvation’ issues. You’ll be amazed at the number of issues saints fall out over things which have nothing to do with salvation, but everything to do with opinion.
The church would be a great place if the people learned to ‘agree to disagree over opinions’, Romans 14:1, sadly for some, this is asking too much and before you know what’s happening, they leave simply because they didn’t get their own way, or they feel they would be compromising their faith.
I’m sure you’ve heard many other reasons for people leaving the church but these three are the reasons I’ve heard the most over the years. I don’t claim to understand every single reason and I’m certainly not putting everyone who leaves in the same category for leaving. They themselves know why they left and no matter how they try to justify their reasons for leaving, rightly or wrongly, God knows exactly why they left.
I’ve spoken to many Christians who have left the church for various reasons and to be honest when you listen to some of their stories, some seem very petty, some feel the church let them down, but others have been really hurt by their church family. They often speak about the way they were treated by their brethren and even though it happened years ago, they still carry the scars and so, to a degree I can understand why they don’t want to come back.
Why would anyone want to go back to a place where they’ve been mistreated and hurt over and over again?
It’s heart-breaking when people leave the church, they are our brother or sister, they are our family, they were Mr and Mrs reliable, they were the source of encouragement to many but for some reason, they decide they’ve had enough.
The whole church goes into mourning as they feel like a part of the body has been cut off. I believe the church has got a responsibility to do whatever it takes within Scripture to restore the fallen, after all, we’re dealing with people’s souls.
Those who leave usually end up doing one of four things.
There’s nothing more refreshing when fallen saints come to their senses, Luke 15:17, return to the fold and are greeted with love, Luke 15:20. Obviously, something has happened which has made them change their mind. More often than not, it may be a simple thing such as an apology from someone within the church who upset them in the first place.
A simple letter or phone call asking how they are doing can make such a difference for those who have fallen away. Oh, how the church could do with some humility at times! Think about it! How would you feel if you left and no one cared?
It’s a sad part of church life to know that some will leave and give up on their faith completely, despite the church doing whatever it can to restore them back into fellowship. I don’t know all the reasons for people doing this, maybe the road was too narrow, Matthew 7:13-14, maybe the cost was too high, Luke 14:26-33, maybe the world was just too tempting, 1 John 2:15-16.
I’ve spoken to a few people who have said they will never come back because they simply don’t believe anymore, this is usually, but not always because something has happened in their lives, maybe a loved one passed away, maybe their health took a turn for the worse or they lost their job, and so they feel that the God they once loved and put their trust in, has let them down, Romans 8:28.
Whatever the reason some will abandon their faith completely and forfeit their soul.
I’m all for new congregations being planted in various places to help reach out to those who need to hear the Gospel if it’s prayerfully planned and organised properly. However, I’m not in favour of the way this is done sometimes. All too often we hear about church splits, we hear about racial division within the church, we hear about people falling out over opinions and the list could go on. The problem comes when new churches are planted because of these
The new congregation wasn’t planned, it wasn’t prayed for, there was no support network from other congregations nearby, and it began because of issues within the first congregation. In other words, there is still unfinished business to be dealt with, and issues to be settled in order that the body of Christ remains united and at peace with one another.
Some may not establish a new congregation when they leave but they will place membership in another congregation, to avoid any further conflict, ‘church hopping’ is the phrase I use, Ephesians 2:16.
Jesus died to make our unity possible, He died in order that peace will reign within His body but when people leave ‘under a cloud’ so to speak, what kind of message is this sending out to the world? What kind of message does this send to our young children and young Christians?
I believe it sends them a message that says, ‘if you don’t get along together, don’t worry about it, just get up and leave, start a new congregation or place membership elsewhere!’
Leave all those issues behind, ‘out of sight out of mind’ some may say, but this attitude is totally unscriptural in every sense of the word. Christ died in order for us to be one. He told us how to deal with our issues. He gave us an example of how to deal with our problems. The apostles always admonished the first Christians to unity, patience, love and brotherhood in Jesus Christ. Why didn’t Paul or Peter say, ‘you know what, in order to help calm things down a bit, why don’t we establish one church called ‘for Jews only’, they can meet at this house and one church ‘for Gentiles only’, and you meet in that house’!
Or, ‘we’ll have all the people that like to eat idol meat meet at 10 o’clock. Then you’ll leave and all the people that don’t like to eat idol meat, they can meet at 12 o’clock and no one ever gets together!’
I’ve never read anywhere in the New Testament where Paul says, ‘hey, if you’ve got issues with one another, then just leave the Ephesian church and place membership with the church at Corinth’!
We don’t leave a congregation for the sake of peace, we deal with our issues to maintain the peace within the body, Ephesians 4:2-3.
I’ve met a few Christians who have left the Lord’s church who end up joining some other organisation, and despite them knowing that this new church they are a part of isn’t the Lord’s church, Matthew 16:18 / Ephesians 4:4-6, I hear the same word being used over and over again, it’s the word, ‘compromise’.
Someone once asked me, ‘if a person who believes in God is trapped in a cave but has no access to water to be baptised, will he be saved?’ Sounds like an honest question doesn’t it? Well, I simply replied that I’m confident The Judge of all the earth will do what is right, Genesis 18:25.
The truth is this wasn’t an honest question, this was a guy who wanted to justify why he didn’t need to be baptised to be saved, Acts 2:38 / Acts 22:16.
In other words, if the man in the cave simply believed and wasn’t baptised and could still be saved, then he didn’t need to be baptised to be saved either. The part of the question he failed to understand was that he wasn’t trapped in a cave, he didn’t have any excuse, he was surrounded by water.
The point I’m making is that many people leave the Lord’s church and have reasons to justify their decision to join another church. They compromise their faith, they hear things being preached and taught that they know aren’t Biblical, 1 Timothy 4:1-2, they’re now involved in worship practices which they know God doesn’t approve of, John 4:24. They know but convince themselves that these things don’t really matter, they’re not important as long as they still love God and worship Him in some form, 2 John 9.
Many Christians fall away for various reasons, some abandon their faith altogether, others leave to establish new congregations, or place membership elsewhere and others compromise their faith by joining some other religious group.
It’s not my intention to lay the blame here, there and everywhere, but I think it’s important for the church to look at herself and honestly ask if we were the reason for someone leaving, Matthew 18:6, if we were, what are we going to do about it?
Could a simple call or visit restore your brother or sister back into fellowship? Could a simple apology for the way things were handled be enough to maintain the unity which Christ died to create?
If you are a Christian who has fallen away, what would it take for you to come back into fellowship again? Maybe you now recognise that you were possibly too demanding on others, maybe you now realise the importance of following God’s Word and the seriousness of sin, maybe you now understand that you should have dealt with an issue a lot sooner and dealt with it in a different way.
Don’t let anyone get in the way of your eternal salvation, John 12:42, and please know that the only thing which is stopping you from returning to the fold is you. If there are any outstanding issues, then settle them and the church should and must extend her arms to you with love, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. We all have to do our part; our souls are precious to God and we should see everyone’s soul in the same light.
I don’t claim to know all the answers to everything we’ve discussed in this study, I understand that some leave the church for what seems like petty reasons and others may have good reasons for leaving, I’ll leave all that with God.
All I know is that we’ve made such a mess of things at times, especially when it comes to dealing with people, and because of this people are losing their souls. Yes, they are responsible for working out their own salvation just like we are, Philippians 2:12 but it’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? It feels like we’ve lost one of our arms or legs, doesn’t it? Some people leave the church, and no one notices, some leave and no one cares, how sad.
We all know people who have fallen away, we all know people who have lost their faith, and we all know people who have jumped ship and placed membership elsewhere or joined another group. We pray they come back so that body of Christ can be whole again. The question is, what will you as a Christian do to help them make that decision?