The church has been a mainstay in people’s lives for centuries, and now, there’s a downward trend in attendance. One study found that membership is below the majority for the first time since measuring attendance.

Why are people leaving the church?

You may be shocked that people leave the church for a lot of reasons. Church leaders are trying to pinpoint why this trend is moving in the wrong direction. While some believe everyone is turning away from religion, others think that there’s a deeper concern with messaging that is causing people to lose interest.

Every sanctuary is different, but we’re going to explore some of the main issues facing churches worldwide to shed some light on this trend.

The Phenomenon of Declining Church Attendance

Why do people leave churches? It seems like a phenomenon, but throughout history, people have been joining and leaving church. Societal changes certainly play a role in membership, with people:

  • Moving away from cities, impacting membership
  • Becoming online viewers who no longer attend service
  • Changing religions

Atheism is certainly on the rise in certain age groups, but it’s challenging to know if more people are simply vocal about not believing in God or if it is an up-ticking trend.

Reasons Why People Leave Churches

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What are the top reasons to leave a church? While there is no 100% certainty for why your church may be losing members, the following are common reasons:

Changing Societal Norms

Non-modern churches are now seen as being too “stuffy” for some members. Good design and a fun environment are becoming more important to members. Church chairs are replacing pews, and interiors are changing to help keep people in their seats.

But there’s no denying that there are societal norms that lead people to:

  • Attend online
  • Seek spiritual fulfillment elsewhere

Many people don’t like the idea of an institutional church, and they have decided that religion is personal and something they want to pursue on their own terms.

Lack of Relevance

Relevance is one of the factors that religious leaders struggle to understand. How can a church ever be irrelevant? People feel like many of the scriptures and teachings do not relate to people in modern society.

And this is a trend that is hard to dismiss across religions.

For example, some text may mention removing sandals before stepping into the church, and while hyper-relevant two thousand years ago, the concept is not relevant today. Some of the concepts may also be seen as outdated to younger members or not fit in with the general landscape of today’s youth.

Religious leaders are left having to understand how to turn scripture into:

  • Modern concepts
  • Relatable text to today’s members

Scandals and Controversies

Leaving a toxic church can cause members to stop going to church entirely. There’s no denying that there are scandals and controversies in the church. Unfortunately, some of the church leaders in people’s communities have engaged in abuse.

Church leaders do not know how to react to these scandals and controversies.

So, what do they do?

Often, they try to brush the scandal under the rug and completely ignore its existence. Younger members demand justice for these scandals, and if leaders do not acknowledge them, it’s a major concern that will only worsen.

Church leaders must stand up in many ways:

  • Completely distance themselves from abuse and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. The more scandals that occur, the greater the risk of losing members.
  • Remain vocal about the scandals and controversies. Discuss these issues with your congregation and even engage with them to learn about the solutions that they would like to be integrated into the church to stop such abuses.

If church leaders do not address the scandals of today – and the future – people will continue to leave the church.

Busy Lifestyles

People are busy. In the past, Sunday was a day of rest. Stores and restaurants were closed, and people were allowed one day to recuperate from the hectic week that they had. The concern is that people are filling their days up with:

  • Overtime
  • Errands
  • Side hustles

For someone who is working 70 – 80 hours a week, they may not want to give up their free time on the weekend to go to church. It’s unfortunate, but many church members are valuing their free time over practicing religion.

Disillusionment with Organized Religion

why are people leaving the church

Studies have shown that there’s a growing number of people becoming disillusioned with organized religion. They had false impressions about the religion, and that false impression has been exposed. In other words, they have seen the truth. For many, this drives them away from the church. Disillusionment is a major contributor to the decrease in church attendance.

But congregations should instead view this as an opportunity to bring these members back to the church. Having been stripped of all illusions and false truths about God, these members can finally make progress spiritually. Often, these members feel lost, and this is your opportunity to help them find God once again.

Generational Differences

One of the top reasons why young people leave church is because of generational differences. Having a mix of members from different generations can be beneficial, but it can also make it challenging to appeal to all members.
It is crucial for churches to find ways to bridge the generational gap. It’s possible to bring people together through:

  • Mentorships: Mentoring can help connect younger and older generations. Older members can guide and disciple younger members, or younger members can challenge the older generation.
  • Small groups: Organizing small groups can help bring more members together to find common ground. Teaching and fellowship should be the primary focus of these groups.
  • Outreach: Missions and service work can also bridge generational gaps. Participating members will work alongside each other for a common cause and goal. Outreach can create bonding opportunities that strengthen your church community.

It benefits the congregation to have members of all generations, as there is something valuable to learn from every age group.

Spiritual Exploration

Thanks to the Internet and social media, we’re more connected than ever. People from all over the world can share a conversation with the tap of a button, and the average person can learn about any spiritual path they want.

Despite evidence of the connection between church and mental health, many people are engaging in spiritual exploration. They’re learning about and experiencing different paths to see which one may be the right one for them.

Some choose to explore their spirituality on their own, which can also drive them away from the church.

Community Disconnect

Many churches are struggling with attendance because there’s a community disconnect. If a member does not feel connected in the church, they won’t be moved or motivated to return.

Encouraging members to be proactive in getting involved and providing opportunities to create a deeper connection can help churches overcome this issue.

Hosting community events and getting involved in helping local families can also help create a stronger connection that motivates community members to return to the church.


With more people leaving church, it’s more important than ever for congregations to focus on improving attendance and the community together. Understanding the key reasons why people are leaving is a great place to start. Finding ways to be more relevant, connecting with the community and making it easier to access services can help your church improve attendance and keep members around.