5 Reasons People Are Drifting From Church

There’s a big difference between missing a Sunday and disconnecting from your church.

Life is busy! Vacations, travel for work, kids have travel ball, and the needed recharge at the lake or cabin is wonderful. That’s part of life. But when part of life turns into a different life, it may be time to re-think your new trend and the possible results.

A long-time friend and volunteer leader in his church had not attended in months. I asked him if something had upset him.

He said, “No, I love my church. We just got busy, started missing here and there, and then, well you know, it was just easier not to go. Oh, and we watch online sometimes.”

We talked for a long time. It was a great conversation.

He concluded by saying, “You know, I really don’t have a good reason for no longer attending church, I just got lazy. My family (they have three kids), and I will start again next week.” And they did.

As human beings, we follow habits and patterns.

When it comes to church, drift leads to distance and distance leads to disconnection.

The point of weekly worship is not attendance; it’s participation in the body of Christ.

Christianity was never designed to be an independent endeavor. God created us to be in relationship with Him and each other. He made us on purpose with a purpose, and we live that out best together.

If you’re not worshipping at your church much these days, I hope this post encourages you to return. People often come back, even after a life-changing year like 2020.

People return to church for a variety of reasons, including a direct prompt from God.

Sometimes they return because of their kids. That’s great! Sometimes it’s because of personal tragedy, that’s always heartbreaking, but I’m still glad they return. It might be a wedding or a funeral. And it’s often simply to satisfy an empty place in one’s soul.

Your church is happy to see you again, but I truly believe your life is more enriched when you regularly participate as part of the body of Christ.

If any of the following reasons ring true for you, perhaps this is a good time to return to church.

5 practical responses to the most common reasons for drift:

1) “The church doesn’t meet my needs.”

It’s possible that a church may not meet all your needs; in fact, it’s likely. Life is different after Covid, but our values are hopefully the same.

The question of expectations is usually at the core of this issue. What should a church, your church, be expected to do, offer, or provide?

What is the role of the church, according to the Bible?

This post would be far too long if I wrote a detailed answer to that question, but I can summarize the primary purpose of the church in two words: “make disciples.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

That means the church’s primary function is to help people mature in their faith, to grow spiritually. (And that includes first reaching those who are far from Jesus.)

After that, all “programs” are an option. Since no one church can do everything, it’s a choice the leaders must make.

The most common example of a church not meeting someone’s needs is a complaint that the sermon lacks in some way. It doesn’t “feed” them.

I’m the first to agree that the Sunday message should be well prepared, based on scripture and bathed in prayer. But as a person grows in their spiritual maturity, they become able to dig out biblical truth and wisdom from the Bible on their own. The Sunday sermon becomes a gold mine for anyone to find a nugget of applicable truth and wisdom.

Ultimately, the church is a place where you help meet the needs of others.

2) “I attend online.”

Online church is awesome. Technology helps advance the purpose of the church in significant ways. You might not be feeling well, traveling for work or on vacation. There are many times when online church is a great resource, and some people physically can’t attend.

A related online innovation at 12Stone Church is something we call 12Stone Home. These are community-based, outreach-oriented gatherings that meet in coffee shops, homes, and a variety of venues for our Sunday worship experience. They take advantage of the streamed worship service on a big screen and combine that with a smaller local neighborhood feel. I was recently at one where they baptized new believers! Its great!

One advantage I love about online church is sharing a sermon with a friend who is not a Christian.

However, let me offer an analogy. Let’s say a mom and dad’s kids are grown and live in another state. So, they make a regular weekly Skype call to catch up. That’s great. But my guess is that the family would rather be together in person. That experience is different. The connection is more personal, and they feel it. The result is memorable.

Let me push the point just a little with this example. No one wants a visit in the hospital, from someone online, you appreciate the visit in person.

There is something about being together in person that the human spirit hungers for at a soul level. Online is great when needed, but was never designed as a substitute for the body of Christ and meeting the needs of others.

3) “My pastor made a decision I didn’t like.”

I’m a pastor, and I make decisions I don’t like. Yes, I’m smiling, but sometimes leaders have to make decisions that are not popular. Further, sometimes, we make mistakes; all leaders do. That’s not intended to justify poor leadership; it’s merely a reality. 

Here’s a good question for you to ask. Was the decision sinful or subjective? My hunch is that the decision that bugged you was subjective, and not your preference.

Perhaps a better approach is to consider the big picture – with the following questions.

  • Does your church teach the Bible?
  • Is it loving and friendly to people?
  • Are people saying yes to the invitation for eternal life from Jesus?
  • Are people’s lives being changed?
  • Does it make a difference in the community?

I’m sure you could ask more questions, but candidly, if all that is happening, it’s probably a great church, and the pastor a great pastor!

4) “I don’t need church to be a Christian.”

It’s true. You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. But as I mentioned, Christianity was never designed to be a solo deal. From the garden of Eden to the covenant with Abraham, to your walk with Jesus, it’s all about relationship.

My experience is that the more independent and isolated a person is in their faith journey, the higher the likelihood they will stall out spiritually. As I stated in another post, “You tend to drift spiritually when you are not connected relationally.” You can read that post here.

As I read scripture, the role of the pastor is not to “do” the work of ministry, but to train and equip the congregation to do the ministry God has designed for them to do. (Ephesians 4:11-16) I’ve written a post on that subject, and you can read it here.

God has a purpose for you that is part of His church. Don’t miss out.

So, let me say it again, a little differently.

You don’t need a church to be a Christian, but maybe the church needs you.

5) “The church is all about money.”

The church does need money to operate, and that won’t change. However, I can tell you that no church I know of charges you to attend. It’s free. That’s a great deal!

You can experience, enjoy, and benefit from all your church offers for no charge at all — not many places like that.

The pastor may talk about money, but it’s an invitation to give, not a mandate. You don’t have to, and you really don’t. 

Your pastor is just talking about what the Bible says. If the church has a strong vision, I’m certain they will seek financial resources to fulfill that vision, but that vision is all about reaching more people.

My strong hunch is that your church really isn’t all about money.

Here’s a helpful suggestion for you. Read what the Bible says about giving, and ask God what He wants you to do, and do that.

Make it about you and God. No one else. Tell God what you think about giving to the church, He will listen. Then listen to what He says to you.

I genuinely hope this has been helpful and encouraging to you. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

32 thoughts on “5 Reasons People Are Drifting From Church”

  1. I think your perspective on why people are drifting from church is very simplified and naive.
    Often people make intentionally a decision not to go to church anymore because they find it hard to make any genuine connections with other Christians at that church. By calling the reasons ‘excuses’ you dismiss the people who turn away from church because they are disillusioned by it. Why should they keep going if they don’t even connect relational with the other people at church?
    The church as an institution does not seem to change much but people and society do. As the same message is declared: You should do this or that as a Christian, it becomes apparent that the focus is on behavioural influence on people rather than a spiritual influence on their faith.

    1. Oh my, friend…..I dear that you are deceived. The purpose of church is to reach others for Jesus with the gospel and then equip them to reach others as Christ commanded us as His children!!

    2. Brandon Johnson

      I believe Dan called these, “excuses,” because Christians are told to not forsake the assembling ie. church. Thus, to not go to church is to act of disobedience, as God knows what is best for us: Being a part of His church!

      You are right that some may intentionally chose not to attend church due to a lack of relational connection. However, who’s fault is that?
      Sure the church can facilitate opportunities for connection, but at the end of the day, it’s on you as a believer to be a self-feeder and make connections with other believers ie. getting into a small group, helping with outreach, fellowship opportunities etc. It’s spiritually immature to call the writer naive, then make an excuse, justifying your actions. Excuses don’t draw us closer to God, living in obedience to God does.

      2 Quick observations:

      #1. Almost every believer I’ve met that has an issue with church has had either a major pride issue in their life and or they have not forgiven someone in the church that hurt them.
      #2. Virtually every Christian I’ve met that is on fire for God is a part of God’s church!

      Church is far from perfect, but that’s kind of the point. We need God and each other to stay strong and live out our faith.

  2. I read and agree with your reasons and answers and examples.
    I share some of the same excuses:(
    But there is conviction in my heart.
    My question was to my soul, myself?
    Why have I drifted but still love Jesus very much and it almost hurts, and brings me to tears, I desire, I want , I pray but do not do:(
    I thirst, and God knows it, and because He loves me He will get me back on track, I can’t do this alone, and I’m not ashamed to say it.
    I agree and believe every word from the Bible. I don’t have to like it I just have to obey God. That’s all I know.
    “Jesus is the truth, the way and the life” and without Him, I have no life, no purpose I feel hopeless and lost with no direction. I need to pray and go back to church and do my part as a member of the body of Christ.
    Thank you, I appreciate your posting. I am clearly no theologian but I am a child of God who is seeking her way back to the church, the body of Christ.

  3. PASTOR DAN,THANK YOU FOR THE TRUTH,many times we receive messsges and take offense because we ,come to church allready wounded, angry,offended,or even carry old grudges….that keeps us from comeing to church,(haveing fellowship together fellowshiping with Jesus Christ and one another) it becomes idol,(sin)your message said it all ,let go of our old ways(old man) of doing,thinking, and let God renew his spirit in us…

  4. Not all of this is true. We are also in a pandemic. But the hypocrisy and judgment of the church is why I stopped. It didn’t matter when or where I went. As long as I was single and no kids, I was wrong. I still have neither and everytime I went to a church, no one speaks to me, I’m the monster. So why should I go.

    1. Ro,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and you are right, we were deep in the throws of a pandemic. I’m so grateful that we are finally seeing our way out. And of course, any one who remains concerned for their health should wait longer before returning.

      Let me say i’m very sorry you have experienced churches that didn’t treat you well. I can promise you there are many churches that would welcome you, love you and care for you. I hope you will try again.

    2. Ro,
      You are correct we are in a pandemic and everyone is very worried with health concerns .I am so thankful that the pandemic is very close to being conquered . As a medical professional , I feel everything went a little overboard , but that is just me. Proper hygiene , hand washing , and cleanliness would prevent a lot of spreading of pathogens .

      I was raised in a very religious family. My grandfather was a minister and a few family members were and are in ministry . I have attended several churches in my life, several different dominations as well . So I speak from my past experiences as well as my experience with God.
      Church is nothing more than a brick and mortar building . Church is filled with all sorts of behavior types and lead by the minister whom has their own behavior type. God tells us to gather and learn his word . It also tells us to love thy neighbor . Pastors , ministers , etc …are there leading and teaching the congregation or followers of Christ Gods word . However let me share this with you. We are all imperfect people that are loved by a perfect God . We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. When we die , we are going to be held to our own judgements that we pass on others. . There are many seasoned Christians that attend church that do not think of their actions before speaking . I always try to ask myself before speaking to anyone , on any subject , what or how would Jesus react or say right now . Would Jesus approve of my thoughts, words , or reaction to this person or situation . I wish more people would think way but unfortunately they don’t .
      Sometimes you have to attend many churches before you find your right fit .
      When attending church , you are there to learn gods word , and I feel a person should leave church feeling as if the message was just for them. The entire congregation should feel this way after the shared message of minister.
      As a Christian , I try to follow Gods word . We all fail daily on this . That is what makes us sinners . This is why Jesus died on the cross for us . He gave each of us a way to be forgiven of our sins . I’m so sorry you have had bad experiences with churches . Don’t give up on God because you feel a human being has placed judgment on you. Think of how Jesus must of felt . Jesus was good . He hurt no one , he didn’t hate . He treated everyone the best he could . Jesus was a great counselor and the most gentle , kind spirit . He taught Gods word. He taught us how to be forgiven . He taught us how to live a righteous life . He taught us how to pray. He and only he was perfect . Take a look at how Jesus was treated by us , human beings . He was absolutely hated for being a good person. The people hated him so very much that they spit on him , they mocked him, they abused him , then nailed him to a wooden cross with a crown of thorns on his head . Apparently people thought of him as a monster as well. They killed him , they allowed him to die on the cross. Why? Well because of hatred , because of jealously . Imagine or try to how he must of felt . He did that and he endured all the pain because he loves us that much. He loves us so much he knows every hair on your head . He died on that cross to pave a way for us to be forgiven of our sins . We did that to him , yet he still forgives us. He said as he was being tortured on that cross “forgive them father, they know not know what they do” we all should love each other that much. Pray for those that do you wrong , pray for those speak badly of you. Because they are going to be judged one day as well . Remember again , we all are imperfect people loved by a perfect God.
      The Bible tells us to pray for those that trespass against us. It tells us the unjust will make the just suffer. Don’t give up on God because I assure you he will never give up on you.
      Keep trying different churches , pray to God , he will lead you to where you need to be . God answers every prayer we send up. Sometimes it may not be the answer you wanted or were looking for but he does answer .
      There are a lot of really good churches out there . A lot of churches have single groups , divorced groups , counselors . Speak to some friends , see where they go. I’ll be praying for you that you find your fit and start loving going to learn gods word . I’ll pray that you find a church that you can learn his word and feel comfortable as well attending .
      Not all churches are bad . Yet do know more than likely some churches are going to have the gossiping groups or judgmental groups and when this happens reflect back to this message . Respond with “I’ll pray for you”. And forgive them .

  5. The church is no different today than when Jesus walked the earth and when Paul was planting churches. The early church was infected with those who listened to the Gnostics. Today we still have people who are claiming people are spiritual because they know the Bible. The pendulum is always swinging. There are those who think they need to make change and so they emphasize something different to balance what they see as existing problems while they create new problems by their emphasis and so their teaching and ministry is one of dealing with problems rather than teaching people to know their Bible well and live it out as they reach others. One who lives only one side of the Christian life is deceived (James 1:22).

  6. I didn’t intend leaving my former church 15years ago,l was just attending PROGRAMMES in another church on Tuesdays for spiritual growth, but when my husband and I come to church on Sundays the messages on the altar was to abuse those who are attending PROGRAMMES in other church,then all eyes will turn to us,so much that I cry home every Sunday,meanwhile we were believing God for a second child then

    1. Agbeke,

      That must have been a very difficult experience for you. I pray God’s love and peace for you and your family.

  7. Tom Pendergrass

    Incredible article Dan, especially the second point regarding online attendance. Loved the analogies of skype, hospital, etc. Thanks for investing the time! It is greatly appreciated.

  8. oladiran Olanegan

    Thanks for this inspiring article. The truth you mentioned are the reality of today church. More grace.

  9. Thank you Dan as always for encouraging the Body of Christ.

    I have been on both sides of the camp and this is what I learned.

    When I left the Church, my expectations of man drove me away. Now when I am disillusioned, I asked myself these questions:
    1- Who am I expecting to provide my needs? Philippians 4:19 says “My God will meet my needs” so if my answer is anything outside of Him, I lay it down at the Cross.
    2- What does God say about the matter? Taking the problem to scripture always gives me a God-view of the problem. Yes, there will be times when I am offended, but Proverbs 19:11 tells me that I don’t have to live offended. It’s a choice. 🙂
    3- What does God want me to do? This was a doozie. For years, I was waiting for someone to serve me. But the honest truth is when I started serving was when I truly began to feel God’s presence and the Body of Christ working within Him. What a concept that operating through obedience would bless!

    No Church is perfect. We aren’t supposed to be, that’s why we need Jesus. But if we keep reaching to and connecting one another to Him, then we will see God’s glory move in a way we could never think or imagine.

    Praying for the Church today!

    1. Hi Eve,

      Good to hear from you and thank you for sharing these brilliant and mature questions.

      You are right, no church is perfect, but together we can make it better!




      James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

  10. Churches that provide genuine community, love people, preach the gospel, and bring in new believers are out there. Keep looking for the church that God has called you to. Get involved by joining a small group, and Sunday School and see if the story of your past can be used by God to encourage some one else who is discouraged and needs your friendship.

  11. Dan, as a pastor I really appreciate your posts and use a lot of them in my staff meetings. However, I’m not sure you can be a part of the body of Christ and not assemble with them. We’re admonished to “not forsake”. I hope everyone makes heaven but to make a decision to not worship and honor a Sabbath is in direct opposition to the Word. Again, thanks for all your leadership posts, they have helped me be a be a better leader.

  12. Hey Brian,
    Glad you find the content helpful and I appreciate you taking time share your thoughts and comments.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.