Why don’t Christians go to church?

Why don’t Christians go to church? You’d think, of all people, they would. But they don’t. Not all of them.

A recent survey by the Barna Group reported that though 83% of American adults claim to be Christian, they are counted among the 28% of Americans who don’t go to church. Four out of ten who were surveyed say that the reason is because they’ve had a “negative experience” at church or with “church people.”

This stood out to me because there was a time that I would’ve counted myself in the same group – claiming to be Christian but refusing to go to church. It’s not that I didn’t like my church growing up. I still have friends with whom I keep in touch (via. social media). However, the problem I had wasn’t so much the people but particular teachings with which I disagreed, but was told I couldn’t because “the Bible says”, foremost of which was that women couldn’t be ordained and that of a worldview split between the saved-and-going-to-heaven and the not-and-going-to-hell.

Consequently, I quit going. Period. And yes, college was to “blame” as some preachers are wont to warn their high school seniors before they leave. But if it was to blame for introducing me to different worldviews, lifestyles, religious practices, empowered women, social justice, and universal truths, then thank you, college.

But even as my worldview expanded, my sense of humanity, my sense of love and respect, I still felt something was missing, and that something was church. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to go back, because I believed that all churches treated women as subordinate males and preached in a way that scared you away from hell rather than led you toward the Kingdom of Heaven.

Still, my heart yearned to hear the Word of God preached, to sing the old hymns, to pray as part of a community, and serve a greater purpose.

Eventually, I found myself in a Presbyterian church, where I just so happened to be served communion by ordained female deacons and elders, and where I heard a message about salvation by Grace, and Grace alone. Where I was told that we aren’t all perfect, we’re just called to try and make this world a better place – where the emphasis in life wasn’t living in a way that got us into heaven, but that made it “on earth (and for it’s people) as it is in heaven.”

Today I find myself pastoring a Presbyterian Church because I realized that what had turned me away from the “church” wasn’t true of all churches. As Presbyterians we strive for a truly representative government that reflects the make up of our congregation – young and old, male and female, et al. And we believe that salvation comes through the Grace of God alone, such that we don’t worry who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell; instead, we strive for an evangelism and social justice that proclaims the the Kingdom of Heaven for all the peoples of the earth while condemning the hellish practice of the earth. Sure we look with hope to the fulfillment of that Kingdom, but as we do, we practice it in the here and now, not postpone it for the afterlife.

As I came to discover, it’s like this: Maybe you’ve just come out of a bad relationship. You move on to another, but it’s no better. So you stop. But you’re miserable. You want companionship. You want love. So do you stop trying? Maybe. But what do you do? Based on the hurts through which other individuals have put you, you miss out on finding yourself in the perfect relationship – you miss out on finding that one person who will love you unconditionally, who will bring out the best in you.

So you’ve had a bad experience at church. It somehow “hurt” you by telling you where your proper place was, silencing your voice, ignored your need. Move on. Find another, because just as all relationships aren’t the same, so too are those we find with church. I did. And I love being a part of my church as we encourage and pray for each other, as we serve together, trying to make the world around us a little more like that Kingdom we are called to proclaim.

Thus, let me ask you this:

If you’re an unchurched Christian, what keeps you away?

Do you miss it?

What would bring you back?

I’ve shared my experience. Hope you share yours as a comment below! (And if you’re looking for a church, check out mine.)

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7 thoughts on “Why don’t Christians go to church?

  1. Schmoo says:

    Fantastic post, Allen. I appreciate your candor and honesty.

    I’ve been a member of the Church Alumni Association for about 7 years now. I was heavily involved in church until about the age of 30. I left because of all the reasons you list here, plus a dozen more. I began actually reading and studying the Bible. Not “Bible Study,” but more of an analytical look at the texts of the Bible as historical documents. Reading what historians and scholars of the Bible have to say. Reading and learning about the history of Christianity and the Christian Church. Studying theology and apologetics and Christian philosophy.

    I got to where I simply didn’t believe the way I had believed when I was younger, because a critical look at the Bible simply doesn’t support many of those ideas and belief systems. This, coupled with those “bad experiences” with congregations and individuals, has effectively kept me out of church ever since. I’ve even gone through periods where I have hesitated to call myself a Christian, simply because that word is so full of baggage and assumptions.

    I do miss church sometimes. Sometimes I think it would be beneficial for me, on a personal level, to get involved again. But the motivation is lacking, I think. It would definitely take a special kind of church to get me in the door, I think, at this point in my life.

  2. Allen says:

    I guess I’ve discovered the best of both worlds. In the tradition I’m in, we get to approach the Bible from all those perspectives you love so much. e.g. just the other day I was leading a Bible Study and I got to have the either/or conversation about how David came into Saul’s service — either he played the lyre, or he killed Goliath; one or the other, not both.

    And my critical study of the Bible kept me away as well, but then I realized that when it comes down to it, my belief is based on faith, not necessarily the “facts.” And though the Bible doesn’t always get the “facts” right, as you well know, it still gives us what we need for a rich faith, a perfect love, and an overwhelming hope not just for ourselves but the people of the world.

  3. Jane says:

    I have stopped going to church because I am sick of being told how much they valued community and yet would not include me in theirs. The currency of belonging to the churches I have experienced is how much you ‘serve’. Due to ill health and having a child with a disability I could not ‘serve’, so I was sidelined. The only contact I ever had with the ‘community’ was going on a Sunday morning and attending a ‘lifegroup’, outside of these meeting there was no contact with anyone from the church, except to bring charity packages. This was seriously weird because you would have people turn up on your doorstep with food packages ‘from your church family’ and I had never met the people who were bring them, they had never spoken to me in church and never spoke to me after dropping off the charity either. Over the summer vacation I could go the whole time with never seeing anyone from church, although I knew they were all vacationing, boating and picnicing together. I must admit I am hurt. That is why I don’t go to church, I don’t want to be the local charity case, I want authentic relationship.

  4. Allen says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your experience, Jane. And I hope God helps me as a pastor help my church understand that we are first and foremost about authentic relationship, starting with and flowing from our abiding relationship with God. People aren’t here just to help, they’re here to love. And I know I believe that people should NEVER be treated as charity cases, but as people in need — not just of casseroles dropped on doorstep and nothing more, but of agape love.

  5. [...] aren’t church members in her post,”Why Christians Don’t Go to Church.”  http://adiaphthoria.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/why-dont-christians-go-to-church/  Since I never attended a church long enough to have doctrinal issues, admittedly it [...]

  6. laurie says:

    I grew up in a Baptist church. We had a large family(eight kids, and mom and dad). We had little money and very little clothes. I never felt comfortable going there. We learned that salvation was the only way to Heaven. We also learned about Hell. The forever burning and the nashing of teeth. The Devil! We also learned about the Rapture, the Antichrist, 666, Armahgedon, and The Seven years of Tribulation. We also learned how to ask God to come into our hearts, because he gave his only son, Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, we were to admit we were sinners and to ask for forgiveness. So at the very young age of five, I raised my hand and admitted to not being Saved, (during Sunday School), “While every head was bowed and every eye closed, I raised my hand, because I peeked and saw other kids with their hands up. They had all of us five and six year olds with our hands up, go into another Sunday school classroom and repeat after them, The Salvation Prayer. I knew that I was just doing what I was told to do. I knew that nothing special happened to me that day.
    I prayed the salvation prayer because other kids did and because I was terrified of Hell! I didn’t even tell my mom that I was saved. She only found out after one of the other girls asked her, When I was going to get baptized? This did great harm to me because I knew that I did not get saved that day, but because of these ignorant adults I have been terrified and confused from that episode of “Leading Others to Christ”. P.S. Most of the members in my family claim to be Christians today. They just don’t act like it. Thank You!

  7. Allen says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Laurie. I understand most of that experience myself. And for a long time that’s all being Christian was, so I quit being one altogether. But realized I really hadn’t perhaps been one that much to begin with but have found a faith, I believe, that’s getting me closer … By God’s Grace.

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