Recently, in a study conducted by ACS Technologies on National Beliefs, individuals were asked how many common complaints of the church influenced their decision to participate or not in a religious congregation. Reasons people do not attend included: seeing religious people as too judgmental, religion being too focused on money, individuals not feeling able to trust organized religion, not being able to trust religious leaders, and not believing it to be relevant to their lives.
For these reasons, seeing religious people as too judgmental was the most influential sentiment in deterring individuals from participating in a religious community.
In general, individuals who regularly attend church or do attend church less and less. Culture and habits are changing, and although the word of God never changes, there are things we can do differently as a Church to reach the people of today better. Let’s look at the 5 common reasons people choose not to attend their local church.
Seeing Religious People as Too Judgmental:
This is a common complaint and one that is born from feeling unwelcome and unfamiliar with the church. As a church, we are called to welcome newcomers with open arms and find ways to connect with new faces. Loving others is always the best approach. Equipping greeters to meet newcomers warmly and making them feel valued is important. Another reason people may be feeling judged may not be as direct as you think. The people new to church may be more aware of their lifestyle choices. And if they are not proud, they could be associating those feelings with judgment from the congregation. Even if that is not the case. Reminders from the pulpit that we are all sinners and that is why we need Jesus in the first place may help alleviate some of these self-judgment feelings.
Religion is too Focused on Money:
While many churches require a generous congregation to keep the doors open, it should never be the focus. Asking for donations is fine. But maybe better accepted if you show your congregation exactly where their donations will be spent. This can either be done online or once seasonally. By promoting the missions of your church you may be helping with donations to support them. The habit of giving hard-earned money to an organization may be an alien concept. Especially to those who have never been to church. But helping them understand how their donations will be used may help bring clarity to what your church’s overall mission includes.
We all know God does not need our money but instead wants for us what sacrificial giving does in our hearts. That said when every other sermon is in regard to raising money for the church itself vs for others in need the misconception of religion being too focused on money can spread. For many individuals, this may have been the reason they left their previous church and may have made the assumption that this is the way all churches are.
Don’t Trust Organized Religion:
As noted before, American culture, norms, and patterns of social behavior are constantly changing, and organized religion is no exception. Americans’ confidence in many institutions has been declining in recent years, and religion is also a part of this trend. A Pew Research Center survey found that 29 percent of U.S. adults said they had no religious affiliation, an increase of 26% from 2016. In the past, individuals would feel uncomfortable remaining Christian while having difficulties with church teachings. Today many feel it’s best just to leave the church rather than address their questions or distrust of organized religion.
Solutions to alleviate this include being open to challenging questions and transparent with your congregation. Welcoming questions, even difficult ones, opens the door to a healing conversation and allows members to gain trust in the church again. Another way is by getting more of your church involved through volunteering. This gives them a “look behind the curtain” and shows that you trust them and they can trust you.
Don’t Trust Religious Leaders:
Preachers who are involved in their members’ lives make them appear more human. It’s difficult to form relationships by preaching once a week. Only to disappear off stage, reappear Sunday morning again, and share another sermon. To trust others is to believe they are honest and sincerer. Show your congregation that you are open and accessible. Attend church events. Or meeting with individuals over coffee to address their concerns. This will break down their artificial walls and help you grow closer.
This is especially true for new members. Set up a time for first-timers to meet the pastor and team. Doing this gives you 15 minutes to meet the new people in your church and share your vision. It also goes a long way in building trust and relationships with these new families.
Wasn’t Relevant to My Life:
Many who leave the church believe the church and Christ’s teachings weren’t relevant to their lives. Encouraging daily prayer, quiet time, and small group participation can help them craft a more intimate relationship. By opening the door to a deeper relationship, those seeing teachings as irrelevant to their lives will hopefully have a clearer understanding of how necessary and important the Church is in their lives.
Above all being present, available, and patient with those struggling with their trust in the church is the best approach to helping them better understand the church’s mission and genuine love for others. By reflecting Christ’s love on them, they will be more apt to return and grow in their relationship with Christ.
Andrew Esparza is the founder of Kingdom Analytics. This company has served over 300+ organizations. Doing good in the world by helping better connect them to their community, congregation, or customers using advanced demography research. He also has experience in the church world, working for the largest high school ministry in the country at North Point Community Church. Andrew graduated from Arizona State University. His degrees include Design Management and Tourism Development and is CITI certified in Social and Behavioral Research.