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5 Reasons People Have Stopped Attending Your Church (Especially Millennials)

Ever wonder why generating momentum in the local church seems harder than ever for most leaders?

You’re not alone; the conversation about momentum and shifting attendance trends is happening at every level of church, including some of the largest and fastest growing churches in North America.

Everyone is feeling at least two realities:

First, even people who attend church have stopped attending as frequently as they used to (I wrote about how to reverse that here).

Even in communities that are home to growing churches, the overall percentage of the population that attends church continues to drop, especially among under 30s.

Recently, the Barna Group released a new survey citing (among others) five compelling reasons church attending continues to decline, particularly among Millennials (those 30 and under).

The good news is that once you spot the trends, you can work at reversing them.


5 Reasons People Have Stopped Attending Your Church

In the study, Barna cites 5 specific reasons Millennials have stopped attending church that drew my attention:

1. The church is irrelevant, the leaders are hypocritical and leaders have experienced too much moral failure

Yes, I know. That’s three reasons in one. But the Barna study groups all three reasons together as one reason.

And I think that might because that’s what most people do in real life. I mean, just have a few conversations with unchurched people.

They will go something like this: the church is irrelevant (why would anyone go) and full of hypocrisy…just look at the moral failure of so many of its leaders.

To some extend, I can’t blame people for this perception. I wince every time I see another headline announcing a new moral failure. And far too many of us have been burned by the judgmentalism of the perpetually self-righteous.

So what’s the antidote?

Just because many churches are like that doesn’t mean yours has to be. It’s more than possible to create a counterculture of integrity and grace.  It’s actually a bit strange to call things like integrity and grace countercultural (even within the context of church culture), but they are.

Jesus said that it would be by our fruit that people would recognize us.  Live a life of integrity with each other and outsiders, and your church will become a magnet, not a repellant.


2. God is missing in the church

People go to church looking for God but are having difficulty finding him.

This one hurts, but in an age where perception is reality, you can’t ignore this criticism.

The paucity of personal experience with God is disturbing. It would be easy to point at rock show churches and blame them (I lead one after all), but the truth is that people in all kinds of experiences from liturgical to charismatic have left the church in search of God.

Although some would disagree with me here, I’m not sure leaving the church for an individualized, personal or even home-based experience of church helps people any better. Although our consumer culture certainly applauds individually tailored experiences, what if the real paucity is that we had have even lost a sense of what true maturity and the experience of God is?

So how do we address this? Seeking a new definition of spiritual maturity (also blogged about that here) is a great place to start.  Andy Stanley also outlines the five ways people grow spiritual.  I taught through the same 5 principles recently here.

A clearer understanding of Christian maturity and experience could go a long way in better helping people connect with God.


3. Legitimate doubt is prohibited

Honestly, I simply agree with this criticism. It is very difficult to have an honest conversation in many churches today.

In many  conservative churches, legitimate questions get dismissed with pat—and often trite—answers.  In many liberal churches, there is often so much ambiguity that questions that actually can be answered are left unresolved—as if leaders were taking people nowhere.

Church leaders today simply have to get better with handling the tension that comes with questions.

At Connexus, where I serve, we’re heading into a 9 part series called Skeptics Wanted where we’ve actually invited people to ask their toughest questions about Christianity. I’ll certainly present some strong evidence for why the Christian faith makes sense, but rather than trying to ‘slam dunk’ every argument with Christian evidence, we want to series to be an invitation into a deeper dialogue.  (You can subscribe for free to the videocast of the series here. The series launches April 6th 2014)


4. They’re not learning about God

It’s amazing to me that people come to church seeking God only to not understand anything they’ve heard.

One couple that attends our church told me that they tried to go back to church when their kids were young only to give up in frustration after a year. The reason? They couldn’t understand anything the pastor taught. The woman said “It was like he was speaking a foreign language.”

After 5 more years out of the local church, they decided to give it one more shot when they came to our church. I’m so grateful they were willing to try again.

The truth is you and I can relate. Every one of us has listened to a sermon for 45 minutes only to walk out the door tremendously unclear about what was just said. And—preachers—come on, we’ll all given more than one of those message.

The solution to this is simple: clarity.

Speak in everyday language, not in church speak or in a meandering way. It takes far more work to be clear than it does to be confusing.

Have a clear point to your message.

Be clear about what you want to have happen when people leave.

 If you want to read more, I outlined how to write a message series for unchurched people here.

In addition, my friends at Preaching Rocket are offering a free online conference that can help anyone become a better communicator.  You can register for free here.


5.  They’re not finding community

The Barna study points out that despite a growing epidemic of loneliness, only 10% report going to church to find community.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s because people expect the church is the last place they’ll find community. And that’s tragic.

Of the many criticisms that can be levied at the church, lack of community shouldn’t be one.

Nobody should be able to out-community the local church.

You can make a legitimate argument that one of the reasons behind the explosive growth of the first century church was because of the way they loved each other and the world. Love should be a defining characteristic of the local church.

If we loved the way Jesus loved, people would line up out the door.

As your church grows larger, small groups become essential. For us at Connexus, everyone has a place in a group…from pre-schoolers right through to seniors. No matter how big or awesome the weekends might be (and they can be awesome), small group is where life change happens deepest.


Personally, I’m so grateful for research like this latest Barna data. It can only help us get better at being the church as Christ called us to be.

If you have to add more reasons, what would you add?

Any other ideas on what could help all of us in the local church better realize our mission?


By the way, join me and over 5000 other leaders next month in Atlanta at the Orange Conference.

I’ll be speaking along with Andy Stanley, Mark Batterson, Perry Noble, Jeff Henderson, Derwin Gray, Ron Edmondson, Geoff Surratt and many more.

Plus I’m hosting a special track exclusively for senior pastors, executive pastors and campus pastors You can register here.


  1. Rev. Jean Smith on September 28, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Best article I’ve read on the subject. Thanks so much.

    • Peter Lagasse on October 20, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      I understand what you have written but I also see where people don’t want to come to church because of the underlying desire to put themselves first before God. Other issues, activities, and even hobbies come before God. They thank God for what He did for them but they don’t want God’s will to encroach on what they want to do.
      Moral failures have been happening for centuries. Some Pastor’s sermons have been going over people’s heard for years while at the same time some very deep sermons were understood because the listener had been studying God”s Word over the week
      We do need to make sure we are being relevant for the people and make sure we are meeting their needs. Sadly some people want their desires met instead of their needs.

  2. Glenn Powell on July 10, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    The article was excellent. Lots to contemplate and apply.
    <<< You can register for free here.? for Preaching Rocket, but when you look at the video , the guy is selling me a 99.00 course for 79.00 , so I was disappointed. I thought this was for free, but it's a business. I can't imagine Jesus charging for wisdom, especially if the "Free" tag is used to get me in the door and then a guy is telling me what a deal he is giving me. Thank you again for the article

  3. Rad on July 9, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Some reasons I think young people aren’t coming to church:
    1) they are taught atheism (evolution) in schools.
    This is the foremost reason
    Evolution is presented as fact.
    Under 30s just simply don’t believe in God so why would they bother attending a church?

    2) Access to information:
    Do a quick Google search for “Bible contradicts itself” and see how many pages pop up. Giving lists of hundreds of ways the Bible contradicts itself..Starting right at Genesis : God created man then animals yet he created animals first then man. 2 different chapters of Genesis two different account. So which is it?

    I’ve heard it argued that ” if the Bible is the word of God how come God doesn’t even know in which order he created man and animals?”

    Forget the “big philosophical questions”… Young people want to know how these contradictions come about and if you can’t give a SOLID answer… You’ve lost them right there. It doesn’t matter anything else you say because now – the Bible “doesn’t even know what it’s talking about from chapter to chapter”

    Add to this list, pages which give numbers of times (often with scriptures cited) of how many times the Bible talks about incest, rape, murder etc… And now they can easily present the Bible as some sort of “ancient middle eastern horror story”

    I think (well I know..Because I discuss this frequently with people and I’m quoting what they tell me) people have a hard time seeing Jesus message when the OT gets mixed into it.

    3) Love God? In an age of internet dating and social media people are accustomed to getting to know someone else through written description before experience. (Even myself at 38yo I met my husband (51 yo) thru mutual friends..On Facebook)

    Everyone knows that Jesus taught the first law is to Love God with you whole heart mind and strength
    The problem for people (not just young) is that they aren’t finding enough in the Bible that reads as a good “profile” for God.
    They see “the God of the Old testament as a God of war who’s killing children, sending plagues and generally just “not a very loving God” (see end of point 2)
    That doesn’t read like a very nice profile.
    Not only that but the Bible doesn’t give much Description of God … He’s usually depicted an an old man in the sky and “aside from causing plagues and death, he’s just resting”.

    Compare with eastern traditions which give full description of God’s appearance, his daily routine, his likes and dislikes (right down to what he likes to eat, what games he likes to play) and it’s easy to see why young people who are spiritually inquisitive and more inclined to look to the east in order to “get to know God”.
    You can’t love someone if you don’t know anything about them.
    And much less if they appear very negative (or at least if the internet is making a very strong case against them)

    All the other points in the article are very valid points also. But rely heavily on a presumption that young people who aren’t coming to church do believe in a Christain God.
    Absolutely I would state most young people are either atheists or believe in a different religions version of God.

    Perhaps the Christian churches need to refocus on how to present Christ , put more emphasis on Jesus 2 laws instead of OT teachings (“he came to put an end to the old law so why do churches still have billboards with the 10 commandments in the front yard?” – I’ve heard this one a hundred times)
    And find a way to present God as more personable.

    Thanks for sharing this article, it’s informative and I like the discussions it is generating.
    I’ll be sharing it.

  4. long time believer on July 2, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Important topic, but just touching on the tip of the iceberg. Now, most USA young adults do not have time for *any* social interaction (supposedly) but instead sit in front of their tablets, phones, computers and televisions for 10 hours a day, while being paid too little to survive…this doesn’t just affect church, but just about every social institution in the country is being affected…

    • Loretta Lee on September 4, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      Love the article and the posts. As a lifelong Christian, my husband and I tried several churches. At one, We went to eat with the pastor and his wife. She told me that church isnt about the social piece. This contradicts everything I was raised to believe in and what is in the Word. No social piece? That’s what it is all about!
      A second one we attended for over a year, we made multiple attempts to reach out. We went to a community group, but it didn’t feel like a community. A close neighbor committed suicide, and none of the six on the pastor team were available to talk or meet. As I have done my whole life, I had to go to my childhood pastor.
      The issue with churches as they aren’t reaching out and trying to gain souls. Churches have become country clubs and there is mo place for the lost sinner to go. There is no comfort to Christians in a warm community. Honestly, I have met nicer and more reliable people that aren’t in church. We have quit trying, but the Lord continues to bless us and direct our lives.

      • Matua on November 8, 2017 at 7:09 pm

        I agree with you. Went through a difficult period in my life last year and the only people that came to my paid were non-Christians. I no longer attend church, it’s the best thing that happened to me. I still believe in God but choose to walk my own way.

  5. Paula on June 25, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Loved your post. I’m an in-betweener. I go/went to a small church & am struggling to reconnect. We’ve been there for 17 years – through seminary and 5 births. Small churches burn out their volunteers trying to be church. The church has a thriving homeless and free clothing ministry. We sit side by side with scruffy homeless. If someone snores during church we smile and bless them. We wear our everyday clothes so anyone off the street feel a part of our church family.
    I brought in clothing for homeless quietly & faithfully for several years (multiplying our meager funds into bags of clothing, it was tiring but to be that close to God’s work there is a deep peace – it was all him. We were only faithful). When the church found out they asked if I would join the homeless leadership team and gave me a budget. That became managing 2 of the closets. And heading up the art group, curating art shows and community art outreach. My mom thought I’d have a nervous breakdown down. I managed to finish out that season & I stepped down from all but the kids closet – I like the customers & it’s something I can do with my kids. My stepping down blessed the church with others who stepped in with new ideas so it was the right decision.
    In all of my selfishness of this time period my middle son lost interest in the kids Sunday School, there are no kids his age for him to connect with. We’re not sure what happened but he exhibited just total dread of going down there, for a full year.
    I’m an independent thinker so I left split up our family and took the younger ones to a better church program for the school year, not fancy, but where kids can sing kids songs and learn a Bible lesson, that’s all I ask. The little church was loosing them because it’s overreaching and attenders/volunteers are burned out. I’ve come back for the summer but my heart is still gone. It’s not my church. It hasn’t been for a year.
    To make it worse during the year I was gone a dog attacked my youngest and there was no support just emptiness. I don’t hold that against them, or anyone, it’s a part of me they will never be able to understand. My anxiety and depression over his recovery was so high my doctor thought I’d commit suicide (3 months recovery – failure to get over a traumatic event).
    The church folks don’t know what to do with me I’ve been there so long I’m not a newbie they want to get involved and connected. I’m a burned out oldie who may continue to take my kids to a better church program. Im an odd ball.
    As Christians only get our kids when they’re young & I want my kids to know God – not the flashy, Churchy God or everything’s fine fake smile God, but enjoying fellowship with one another God of the Bible.
    Andy Stanley got in trouble for a comment about little churches and parents. He apologised but he wasn’t wrong. Sometimes sacrifice is needed for our kids to learn God & what real church community should feel like.
    I’m fine… My heart is just in-between. There was something completely freeing to go anonymously to a church and soak up beautiful music with no burn associated with it. A large part of me doesn’t want to dive back in to a volunteer burning church again. Not just yet

    • M-A Russell on July 7, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      Oh Paula, I am so very sorry for your son’s traumatic event and your own as he had treatment. I have nothing much to add except my prayers and virtual hugs to you. You are carefully treading right now it seems and I agree you need the relative anonymity of a larger congregation for at least this season. Family comes first and if your children are being nurtured at the larger church than that is where you should indeed be. Lots of love in Christ from a Sister in the Lord 💗💗💗

    • Annmarie Leon on August 12, 2017 at 8:09 pm

      Ive felt alone myself and left a church that my kids had nothing for them kids have to know that they have a valuable place in the church other wise we loose them when they are young adults.y ou are not alone Much Love your sister in Christ💖

  6. Kim on May 28, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    I still go to church but skip when needed. It can be very emotional since I’m going through infertility. Church is NOT setup for a person like me. I don’t fit into the community and most people there don’t understand me or what I’m going through. At best they’re ignorant, at worst malicious. Many people use prayer as a form of gossip. Church “Friendships” from my experience requires some sort of mission work verses actually getting together for enjoyment. Mission work being getting more people in the church, not actually helping people in need which I enjoy. The only exceptions are the baby showers I’m invited to….joy. people are insensitive in church (with a few exceptions).

    I never really found God at church with a few exceptions. I enjoy the music and worshipping God with it and I enjoy learning about God which often includes things i miss reading it myself. I actually had a near death experience and real God verses “church” God is completely different. Church God is very strict, harsh, etc. Real God is extremely loving, more than comprehension….like a father who loves his child no matter what you do. You could literally do nothing I life, die and God would welcome you with open arms. More than that it’s not even held against you. I think that’s a hard idea for people and especially christians to understand. God looks at us like we are complete, gods, his child, Jesus. You get the idea. Church doesn’t teach this concept.

    Speaking of judgemental… pastor once said he doesn’t believe it’s God when people dream of angels unless they’re asking for something since that’s how it is in the bible. Huh? Does God need anything from anyone? Needless to say I’ve never told my near death experience in church. I wonder who else keeps quiet. You would think church would be the place you would talk about it….. but it’s probably the same reaction you would get with atheists. Also God talks to us all at night. You can even teach yourself to lucid dream (wake up in the dream) and astral project (pull your spirit out of your body) like I do. I can’t talk about this ether with 1/2 not believing you and the other 1/2 telling you your going to hell. So not an open, accepting community at all.

  7. CP on February 5, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    Well, my experience has been strictly dealing with hypocrites. No offense to anyone reading this. But, I was invited by a man at work to attend his church and the invite was for the whole family, next thing I know he states “Well, you don’t have to really invite your husband do you?” I thought that was odd. He said the kids could come. Then a few weeks down the road the garbage started about how he “couldn’t stand his menopausal hag rag bag wife.” All the problems in their marriage, then what do I like to do after church? Next thing I know he’s wanting a full blown affair and sexual favors, now mind you he is involved with all the counseling, baptizing, community outreach, choir/band, extra activities the church does and acts like a little lost innocent sheep of a man to the whole general public and it’s all a farce. Come to find out he made it a habit of bothering women at work before me and after and bothering multiple single women also at church. The church was the New Age type and loud cranked up music, more setup like a bar scene and a perfect place for men to pick up women. Then for everyone to deny what the heck really goes on is a joke. The wife of this man turns the other cheek and enables the behavior as long as paychecks keep coming in and she ain’t left alone at her age. The whole experience was a joke. Then for them to claim everyone at their church is NEWLY baptized and at one with God and don’t act out and they don’t lie, drink, abuse porn, steal, covet, abuse $, is also a joke. I mean come on people, I know none of us are perfect, but give me a break. If these men are so dang miserable in their marriages get a DIVORCE or do something about it, don’t go ruining lives in the process.

  8. Ellen on September 4, 2016 at 7:18 am

    A lot of reasons flood through my mind as to why people would leave a church and don’t want to go to church. The biggest reason would be the hypocrisy. Just about every church that hears it responds with, “We are all hypocrites, we have room for one more.” Do churches not see that this a problem? Who wants to spend their time every Sunday with the same rehearsed lines every week only to see the people act in a different way? Whenever a problem is addressed, the response is usually, it isn’t our problem, it’s yours. I think another problem is people try to offer solutions to other people’s problems by digging up Bible passages as the reason. I have never found that to be helpful. Anytime I would try to say something, people would either cut me off and say that this isn’t the time, or just look away.

    I will be honest and say that my mother did not raise us as church goers We didn’t go to church that often. When a friend of mine invited me to come to her church, I asked my mom and she said that it was OK. Only after a few months, it was not OK. It wasn’t OK because my friend was always pushing me to attend her church and the activities. Whenever I would say no, her mother would get in my face and talk to me in belittling tone on why I have to go to church. Sadly, my mother allowed this, even after I tried to put my foot down. What could have been a good church turned out to be a church that represented all five reasons that Carey mentioned in the blog.

    When I went to church with my friend, they would always throw God’s name around, and use Satan as an excuse for being sinful, only to say that it’s no big deal because Jesus died for our sins, so we are saved.

    I haven’t had much positive experience with church community. I have always felt alienated whenever I went to a group function. These groups appear to be more exclusive and don’t want anyone new to come in. Another problem is the frequency of attending events or activities. If a person choose to go to an activity one a month vs. every week, they should be allowed to do that, not shut out because the church group is not always a top priority or a first interest. The reason why I feel this way is because even after going to church groups for a few months, I have never felt any kind of closeness with anyone. With a lot of groups, there is no contact or connection unless you attend every event or activity. There is no feel of family or love in these groups.

    When teaching about God, the tone should not sound vain. I have found that when people use the name of God in everyday issues or occurrences, their tones are more arrogant, as if they know more than the next person. We all need to remember that we do not have the all the answers. We might not have any of the answers.

    As far as having legitimate doubt, the churches have always judged and condemned people for having any doubts. One of the things that our Sunday school teacher would always do is ask all of us if we would die today, would we go to heaven or hell. The response always was, I will go to heaven because I believe in Jesus Christ, or Jesus Christ died for our sins. I will say something about the pastor that was at my friend’s church. When he came to our house to talk to my mom. He asked her if she were to die today or tomorrow, would she go to heaven or hell. And she answered, “God, I don’t really know.” The Pastor responded that he was glad that she felt that way because too many people are confident in their salvation just because of a profession of beliefs, yet never really having to work at it. I thought that it was profound to hear a pastor say that. He wasn’t at the pulpit when saying it, so I don’t know how he would answer the question if he were at the pulpit. Maybe if more pastors used profound statements, it would make people think more about their faith and their way of life.

    • Brenda lott on November 2, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      I feel the same way about people in the church some of them are very fake and if you are very attractive with a nice shape they think you are not save and also jealousy is high in the churches they have they clicks with each other and also try to whole you down if you have gift and talent and say they need you only to win what they call member to me there is know different than people that don’t go they become more of a buniess then doing what god say I remember I was homeless the church was not there for me but they say pay tithes and offering it was my own faith that kept me and god bless me I deeply believe god word but I don’t go to the building because god is with me everywhere I go and I am the temple of god I’m just sick and tired of fake phoney people who just want to be in your buniess and use the word as a weapon against and what I see is s bunch of control freaks who thinks they have god and talk nonsense over the pull pit I just do not go anymore I was marry to a fake pastor I’m just done god still provise s for me I have been in church all my life and find that the church don’t deal with everyday issue we are not in those day any more we need to touch people where they are and be able to show them the way through reality and let people be who they are we are all sinner saved by grace we need to speak to people in the times we live and point them to scripture s that identify with time for example god said that it would be rumors if war look at the terrorist that attacking new York and other place so I say until next time my friend you are not alone god is love and your everlasting king so let not your hearts be troubled

  9. Yaca Attwood on August 1, 2016 at 5:20 am

    You have got to be kidding.

    Churches DO NOT WANT people LIKE ME.

    – I am a Boomer widow, which makes me the carrier of a filovirus (eg: Marburg, Ebola); I’m not part of a Vibrant Young Married Couple With Children, which is what 99.5 of pastors and church leadership pursue.

    – I don’t “fit in” church cliques or “in-groups” – I am a black woman, a Database Administrator (Oracle on UNIX), I like astronomy, astrophysics, science fiction and my favorite NFL team is Whomever Is Playing The Dallas Cowboys….if I actually walked into a church and met someone who knew what a sonic screwdriver was and understood: ‘find . -name “*.log” -mtime +7 -exec rm -f {} ;” (on a UNIX system, this deletes all log files older than seven days) – I would be finding out how cute the local paramedics are, because I would be in complete shock.

    – Churches are not interested in people DISCUSSING, HASHING OUT AND WRESTLING with the Scriptures. Churches are not interested in people that aren’t “peachy-keen”, who dont want to sing praise choruses all day.

    I’d love a church that allowed TIME to be SILENT, to have LONG PERIODS where NO ONE SAID A SINGLE WORD, to simply be QUIET before God. I’d love a church that would have praise songs AND Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor……I’d love a church that has ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE, where there is something for OLDER, SINGLE PEOPLE (never married, divorced, widowed), and SINGLE PEOPLE are, mirable dictu, ACTUALLY VALUED

    Not likely.

    • deepblue9 on August 8, 2016 at 6:55 pm

      Very good :-). P.S. I know some of that unix!

    • humbledbyobedience on November 2, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      This is the best response to an article like this (regarding church attendance) that I have ever read. It is spot on. And, while I don’t know anything about those computer program-y words and random characters that you’ve got typed there, I find the fact that you typed them there fantastically interesting and real, more real than anyone I’ve met in at least 2 decades of regular church-going (to standard American-ized churches). Furthermore, I… would… be… absolutely thrilled, perhaps beyond words, to find an assembly of Christians which resembled your last paragraph, Yaca Attwood. To be able to worship God in that way would be so good for my soul (which was nearly stripped from me by domestic violence… which was known about and ignored by my church leadership though I was a leader, and a member of that group.)

  10. Amber on June 3, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    Okay, adding another thing–I wonder if Churches are experiencing an epidemic of bad manners? Another Church we visited we walked in, we were early, only the pastoral team and leadership volunteers were there, they were meeting in a gym. A teenager who looked like he had just rolled out of bed miserably shoved a bulletin in our hands, didn’t tell us where to go. So, we walked in, took a seat, all of their eyes were upon us. No one smiled. No one said hello. They went about their business of preparing for the service. I was watching the clock coz at that point I wanted to bolt so badly. Literally, it took over 15 minutes before anyone came to say hello to us, when clearly we were brand new. Again, in the Kids’ Department, no one introduced our kids to the other kids. I mean, would you treat visitors to your home like that? Would you treat colleagues at work like that? Kids in a school classroom? Where else can you find the worst manners but at Church? And when you complain, oh, the defensiveness. . .really, who cares about “Care Group”–why would you ever want to hang out with people like that? (let alone bring your “unChurched” friends and family, you’d feel so embarrassed to introduce them to that)

  11. Amber on June 3, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Just want to reiterate something about small groups–I think small groups have made Churches lazy. Why would anyone want to join a small group if the Sunday morning is utter agony? The music may be fun, the message inspiring–but if your own congregation isn’t happy to be there, if they don’t want to get to know newcomers, why would anyone want to join a small group? At one Church we visited, we were invited to go to “Small Group”, yet, no joke, after the Sunday morning service every person in that Church bolted for the door, running for their cars like school was out for the summer. People with dead eyes shoved bulletins in our hands. Our kids weren’t introduced to the other kids in the lavish kids’ department. We can miss the basics: good manners, a smile, authenticity, honesty. Also, sometimes leadership in small groups is shockingly bad. I don’t know, I think we really, really need to re-examine the small group model. Perhaps it’s hurting the Church’s growth more than we think.

  12. nick hodge on November 1, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Isn’t the Sabbath day outlined in the ten commandments? Isn’t the true Sabbath on Saturday? I’ve been wondering for a long time and the Vatican changed it to Sunday around 550 a.d. If we go on Sunday, aren’t we then following under Vatican law?

    • Peter Tefft on February 27, 2017 at 2:16 am

      No. Dig deeper and you will see that Sunday was significant when Jesus came and made the Lord’s day not the Sabbath. You must look a little deeper to find the truth about anything. God Bless You to find the truths you desire.

  13. grace on July 25, 2015 at 11:38 am

    I have a question. My parents decided to start a home ministry almost 7 years ago. I have read most of your posts and as I do agree why churches don’t grow… I don’t understand why our ministry doesn’t. We do hold services in my parents home, Wednesday’s and Sunday’s. We hold events in parks, at the beach, etc. The teachings that are taught are thorough… True, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Really the intent of our ministry is to teach others the word of God, and not just teach but instill and live it. I live in an area where we have about 3 power churches. Filled with lights and awesome buildings, and some are great and powerful churches. Then there are those churches that are huge but then a lot of the congregation are spiritually dead. I guess what I don’t understand is that if we’re doing what we know we are being lead to do… Why hasn’t our ministry grown? I guess I struggle with the idea that a big church is the normal and a small church is not really a good thing, because supposedly a small church that doesn’t grow is not healthy. But I don’t know if I can say we are not healthy, I really do believe we are. Should I accept that this is what God has for our ministry right now and that we need to be patient? Or is there something else we should be doing?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 27, 2015 at 11:32 am

      Grace…I love your question and I love that you are passionate about your parents’ church. That’s awesome.

      I think you’ll understand that it’s hard for me to guess from the outside. But a few thoughts.

      What’s your 1 year vision of where you’re going, and do you have a plan to get there? A house church is great, but if people can’t see past the 12-20 people in the living room, the drive to create something bigger will be almost impossible to grasp.

      I’ve never started a house church, but I did lead one with 6 people that could have been in a house. My vision from day one was that this was never about us, but the community. And we grew.

      Of course if you want to stay a house church that’s great too, it’s just that will limit your size.

      So I would cast a big vision and then lay out steps on how to get there. But that’s me. Hope this helps.

  14. Rockerfeller on January 19, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    This is a very interesting post. Thanks for linking to the study.

    “People go to church looking for God but are having difficulty finding him.
    This one hurts, but in an age where perception is reality, you can’t ignore this criticism.”

    Whose fault is it that one can’t find God in our churches, the people who come looking or leadership? It is not a perception, it IS clearly the reality in a lot of churches though certainly not all churches. If people can not find God in our fellowships, WE, not them are the problem. Any solution to this must start with what it is we are doing and offering and work out from there.

    “It’s amazing to me that people come to church seeking God only to not understand anything they’ve heard.”

    This assumes that anything worth learning is actually being communicated.

    I know that sounds harsh, but I have seen it over and over and over again. Pastors speaking and not doing any exegesis, teaching out of or even reading the Bible. If a message isn’t based and thoroughly saturated with God’s word, then it is just one man’s opinion. Just because a pastor gives his opinion for 20-30 minutes on a topic of his choice does NOT mean he/she is saying anything worth understanding.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 19, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      Whenever there’s a problem, it’s the leader’s responsibility. 🙂

      • Nimblewill on November 30, 2015 at 10:29 am

        Christ in me is the hope of Glory, the manifestation of God, not Christ at Church.

        • Carey Nieuwhof on November 30, 2015 at 11:14 am

          Yes, that’s partially true. But the scripture says the church is Christ’s. He created it, not us.

          • Hondo Stone on June 11, 2016 at 9:05 am

            Carey, the “church” that God created is His people whom are “Living Stones” built up a spiritual house not made with hands!
            When His “church” ( the true born again believers ) are all come to the faith of salvation in Christ alone, then the end will come!
            We are living in that very time!
            Praise God!
            Come Lord Jesus!

  15. Lisa on January 18, 2015 at 8:18 am

    A very good article indeed! I left the church three years ago because of abuse by leadership. It wasn’t the first time I had endured it, but it was so blatant that I was embarrassed and hurt.
    For me to even comment on an article on a ministry website is something that even surprises me, but I could feel the spirit in which this article was written in and its one of love, not judgement or finger-pointing. To be honest, I didn’t think that existed anymore. For 15 years I endured a very legalistic, harsh, abusive church environment. Make no mistakes about it, I was part of it, probably the Saul of the legalism and harshness. I know how messed up I was and I don’t ever forget that. But God graciously opened up my eyes. Am I still hurt? yes? Do I question my faith daily? Sure! But, maybe its because I have seen to much, or studied the bible for to many years to completely walk away. who knows?
    Thank you for the article, nice to read something that admits there are somethings that need to be worked on by us all!
    Lisa Ranieri
    Alexandria VA

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 18, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      Lisa…thanks for sharing your story…and for leaving a comment. That’s a huge step.

      I am so sorry for the environment you were in…it sounds oppressive.

      There are some things we all need to work on, and thankfully, I know many church leaders who are. I hope and pray you find a church community which is everything it was designed by God to be. Don’t give up!

  16. lynn on January 14, 2015 at 2:46 am

    Hello. Everyone. ….I. See and read. All your. Comments. And. I. Agree ….church. Is. Not. About. God any. More. ….it. The. Bishop. The preacher. The. Deacons. The ushers. And. That. Clique. In. The church. That. Drives people. Who. Wants. Needs. To. Be. Feed. Spiritually. …….now. Has. Anyone. Heard. Of. Spiritually. Drained. That’s. What. Churches. Are doing. To. People. Whom. Really. Wanna work. For god and serve his will in. His holy. House. …god. Has the first. Middle. And last. Word. ……look. In. Scripture. Johnah. …..he. Didn’t. Wanna take orders. From. God nor hear. From. God. ……and he got. On a boat. To try and flee. From. God. And when the fish did what god allowed. To happen. To. Jonah …..he prayed and when he was. Delivers from what god allowed to happen. …he. Become and. Obeyed. God. ……he went. Into. The city. That god was going. To. Destroy. And he preach. ….to. The city. Like a double edged sword …….he feared god with all he tried to run from gods will. For him. ……..people. In. These. Churches. Are. Sick. They. Are and have not. Submitted. Themselves. Fully. To. God. …they still in. The world .and loving. Worldey. Things. ……they. Are spirituly. Sick. If. They had reacieved god. Then. His house. Would not. Be divided ……its not. God who divides. His house ….its the devil and the love of Worldly. Things … God …and yes. Satin. Sits. In. The churches and he knows all their weakness ..and. He knows how to devide. them. ………until. Churches. Stand. Of. One body. in. Christ. ..the foolisheness is never ganna stop. And churches are becoming. The devils. Playground. ….why. Distractions…. He knows. …and. As. A. Person. Of god when I go to church. I .sit. In. The back. Why. I’m. Not. There for distraction. I’m. There to be spirituality. Fed …amen. ….and preachers. Bishops. And all whom.Are concercrated . ….are acting. Up. Having. Babies. Aids sleeping. Amongst. Each other …god is not. A god. Of. Confussion. But. …the work. Of. The devil. …and he enjoys. It. ……spiritual. Warefare …churches. Have gots. To. Come together. And have spiritual warefare. Everyday of the week even when things are good …..its not. The church. That is built. Thats. Bad. ….it. The evil. Wickedness deciet. Rebellious hate sexual. Evil. Deeds. That. Dwell. In. It. God. …bless. And don’t. Give up. Beloved. …verily verily. I. Say. To. You. Jesus is the truth. And the light. Amen. …be. Faithfull

    • Drood on February 22, 2015 at 8:37 am

      What are you even trying to say?

    • Jim on March 13, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      Your “smart device” is adding all those periods because you’re hitting the space bar twice between words. Remember, one space between words, and two spaces to end the sentence. Or. You. Will. Get. This.

  17. latebloomer on November 16, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I’m tired of the cliches. People who don’t go to church aren’t bad people. We need people who aren’t afraid to take time to listen rather than pull out the stock Christian cliche answers. Also I think we need not fear being ourselves and being real. You know what I find funny strange is that non Christians seem to be more honest than Christians.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 17, 2014 at 9:14 am

      Thanks so much for this late bloomer. I want to be one of those Christian who’s listening. And I agree, sometimes non-Christians are more honest than Christians. Let’s cut through the hype and authentically follow Christ.

  18. Jimmy on September 29, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I have too say, I really appreciate the openness of this conversation, it voices some honest opinions and insight on just a few essential reasons why many people do not attend church. Although there can be so many reasons why church is not the most attractive venue to attend, it remains to be my deepest prayer that the facility or the people do not meet every need or the expectation of every individual. I continuously pray that Jesus himself exceeds the needs and expectations of any & every believer who calls apon the name of the Lord.

  19. Bob on August 22, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    I go to church but struggle with the current trend of finding this to be more of a drop-in, drop-out for an hour or two on Sun. mornings. I have even met with the minister and expressed frustration at the lack of Christian relationships or community beyond going through the motions here on Sun. mornings. There seems to be no real caring for one another as the N.T. Christians did, no sense of beyond the walls on Sun. mornings. This is a small congregation with a lot of older people. I have no doubt it will die as a church in the not too distant future. I found a mega church to be even more distant in their lack of community, lack of real Christian relationships, and was more entertainment than anything else (in reality). Just frustrated with it all, with organized religion now. I have a deep faith in God but not much faith in current trends in churches overall.

    • Hondo Stone on June 11, 2016 at 9:16 am

      The churches are apostate now just as the Bible tells us that there would be this great “falling away” in the very end of time.

      Stay the course and trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not unto your own understanding, in all your way acknowledge Him and He will direct your path!

      We art to worship Him 7/24

      After spending many years in the church, involved with committees, teaching Sunday school ( which was a real blessing ) I came out of the church 10 years ago ( for a number of legitimate reasons, and have never regretted it because just as I know the Lord brought me to that church, He also brought me out of it.

      I spend my Sundays passing out gospel tracts that I had printed up and know this to be my part in what time the Lord has given me till He comes, for the great day of the Lord is very near.

      If you’d like to read a copy of it, just drop me an email and I will send it to you.

      Peace Brother!

  20. […] the church, I feel I know enough to say that these reasons are certainly more legitimate than “They’re not finding community.” Churches, I’m going to tell you what so many other blog posts won’t. If you want to […]

  21. Ron on July 6, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Your article says:I taught through the same 5 principles recently here. It then opens the iTunes list but I don’t know which sermons you are referring to. Can you help me with the sermon series title. Thanks so much!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 12, 2014 at 7:53 am

      Hey Ron…my bad. It’s the Pivot Series. Hope that helps!

  22. Nathaniel Hudson on June 16, 2014 at 9:58 am

    The reason why I don’t go to church anymore is simple: I never found God in church. I have a Christian community of friends that I talk with concerning my spiritual identity. However, church has always pushed me away from God. And a lot of this is not due to any of the five reasons you listed.

    One reason is that you go to church and listen to one man’s interpretation of God, the Bible, and spirituality. I don’t need that man’s interpretation. I am well more than capable to read the Bible and make my own interpretations of what it means. I would rather spend my time building my relationship with God by simply doing things myself and asking controversial, theological questions regarding the Bible. “What does this verse mean?” “Does this verse really have much relevance to today’s society?” etc. That’s a huge reason. I prefer making my own opinion, rather than sit idly and listen to someone else’s.

    My second major reason is that with my experience in the church, asking questions is a sacrilegious act. In my view, the Bible is a finite representation of an infinite idea. Based on that alone, the Bible can’t fully elaborate on the being that is God. It’s impossible. So, I hate how the church acts as if they know everything in the Bible and know God’s reason for saying something, or better yet, what verses we should pay attention to. When, in reality, they have no idea just as much as I do. I find the church hypocritical simply because they pretend to be something that they know they can’t. They are no the know-it-all source of biblical wisdom that they claim to be. And, again, they are afraid to ask questions (at least in my experience). Asking questions is how you strengthen your faith, and they discourage that.

    These are some of my reasons. But, some people are just not churchgoers. I understand the importance of church in people’s lives. I know people whose lives have been changed insurmountably, for the better, upon going to church. I know others who have been hurt by the church. Churches need to realize that not even Jesus Christ attended church regularly and not judge people for simply not finding it appealing to go to church. I have a relationship with God, and it is not because of church.

  23. Billiewilliesillie on June 1, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Reasons why I don’t want to go to church anymore. Lots of people are very fake, very hard to have fellowship with anybody as everybody cant wait to leave after services is over. People and clergy dont have the time and don’t want to talk with you. No love, and sermons that you have heard over and over. Little talk about spiritual warfare and the deeper things of the faith.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 3, 2014 at 5:43 am

      So sorry you’ve had this experience. I hope and pray you’ll have the courage to try some other faith communities. I promise you they are not all like this. Not at all!

      • Elaine on November 10, 2014 at 2:50 pm

        I have attended a church for 22 years, and it seems as though the culture of the church has changed. I awoke one Sunday morning anticipating to go to church;
        However, the Ebola outbreak hit the United States pretty hard in Dallas. We have had
        Sporadic outbreaks in certain cities. I having a problem going back to church. I am
        Spirit filled and have the fruits of the Spirit. I don’t have the spirit of fear, but I feel as though the culture of the church has changed and I know longer feel like going there
        anymore. What is the Spirit of the Lord saying to me.

  24. […] And another one.  […]

  25. Mark on April 17, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    I am glad you are tackling questions. Dr. Patrick Mead is another minister who answers questions online from people who have no one else to ask. It is tragic that so many questions can’t be answered without bitterness or just the same old answers.

    The one I would like to add to your list is the lack of pastoral care. I do not begrudge the elderly pastoral care especially with end of life issues. However, it seems that they and the sick are the only people who get any. There are plenty who aren’t sure who they can talk to when they really need to. Too often the only time that younger people get to be around or talk to real clergy is when their parent or grandparent dies, and they will likely be asked if they are attending church regularly, which leads them to think that attendance is all that matters. Even then the “next of kin” is the only person who gets the concern.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 3, 2014 at 5:44 am

      Mark…a little late to the comment here but we do care for our church through groups. It’s fantastic. We have 400 adults who gather in groups of 8-12 people each week and hundreds of kids who do the same. It allows us to be a larger church with great pastoral care.

  26. JTapp on April 13, 2014 at 8:30 am

    I think I agree with #4 but would propose a different antidote. Arguably
    the most important thing a pastor can do is teach his congregation to
    read the Bible for themselves. And there should be an expectation and
    encouragement in the church to do so. If a person isn’t “learning about
    God” from their church, then perhaps it’s because the pastor isn’t
    adequately doing this.

  27. What Keeps You Up at Night? | Stehr Steps on April 11, 2014 at 12:06 am

    […] Carey Niuwhof’s post entitled, 5 Reasons People Have Stopped Attending Your Church (Especially Millennials) he reacts to some research recently released from the Barna Group on declining church attendance. […]

  28. Reginald Gabel on April 9, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    A very sad statement in your article… “if we loved like Christ… they would line up at the door”. You are guilty of your own words, making statement about people, or attitudes that are correct. Jesus loved the people and most walked away or stood in line to approve of Him being crucified. Yes we need to reach the younger generation… but the younger generation has to really want a relationship and not just knowledge. We can say the time is different, we are brighter, smarter and on and on. But Christ is the same, and church is to worship and praise Him. So many come in the front down expecting to have their own needs meet, to hear their kind of music, their kind of sermon, their kind of class and teaching without think about who church is all about. Yes there needs to be change, but instead of pointing the finger, complaining, how about joining in, start by worshiping and praising God, falling on your knees and ask, “God, what is it that you want me to do?” In Isaiah’s words… “Here am I, use me”. I remember a sermon title from my wife’s grandfather that was dated 1942, “Where are the Youth? if we don’t change they will be gone in 20 years” 72 years ago, wow… it is not about us, it is about God.

  29. Mark Weaver on April 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    I’ve always felt that the world is filled with great non-profs. And millineials, like myself, gravitate very quickly to the mission behind these non-profs: TWLOHA, TOMS, Warby Parker, NOH8.

    Regardless of what the the organization is FOR, the people who see their mission and passion are quicky to allign themselves with it…and put their money, time, facebook statuses, clothing, etc, to it.

    I feel many people are fleeing the church because they sense a lack of mission/passion within the church, which should be the most missional.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 6, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      So true. Millennials in particular resonate with larger causes. I totally agree with you diagnosis Mark. Thanks!

    • Youth Culture Report on April 7, 2014 at 11:12 am

      Mark I do see a lot of millineials putting their faith into action through non-prof groups. I would love to see this as a missional focus out of the church, but the good news is they are still part of the body of christ

      • Mark Weaver on April 8, 2014 at 9:52 am

        I really feel the church has two incredible options: create strong partnerships with the groups that exist or create missional communities that have a desire to make a specific impact like influential non-profs

    • Mark on April 17, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      Yes and Habitat for Humanity and soup kitchens welcome them. A lot of churches only want to serve certain people and then don’t want new participants and so they run off the people who want to volunteer.

  30. […] 5 Reasons People Have Stopped Attending Your Church (Especially Millennials) by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  31. Lawrence W. Wilson on April 3, 2014 at 6:50 am

    These are dead on, but there’s one to add. Some people leave not because church is done poorly but because it’s done well; they simply don’t want what the church is. People abandoning the faith may be a minority of “leavers,” but it is a growing one.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 3, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      Actually that’s very good point. People do walk away from Jesus…then and now.

  32. Gary Davis on April 2, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    What if we simplified this?

    Be a Church based on the Truth of God found in His Holy scriptures. If a person is seeking Truth (which by the way is the only way to find life), they will not only find it, but experience it as well and join that Fellowship. If a person is looking for something other than Truth, they will be disappointed and most likely not join that Fellowship.

    It’s always been about the Truth of God’s Word – After all, it is ‘Living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’ [ Hebrews 4.12 ]

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 3, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Gary…appreciate your heart for the Word of God. I share your commitment to biblical authority. That is assumed in this post. Without it, nothing matters. Ditto with prayer and other core essentials of the Christian faith.

  33. Brent Dumler on April 2, 2014 at 11:58 am

    OK, I absolutely love this post. All 5 points are dead on, but a little voice inside of me screamed “Preach it, Carey” when you said ‘Just because many churches are like that doesn’t mean yours has to be.’ Too many churches have simply given in to the idea that church/life/ministry is messy and will always struggle with these issues…so why try to change it? God’s Church is the most powerful and influential institution on Earth. Church leaders/pastors need to recognize this, tap into it, and BE THE CHANGE in their churches. My prayer is that every church leader/pastor would be more excited and passionate about God’s Church today than ever.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 3, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Thanks Brent. Me too!

      • Katie on April 27, 2014 at 2:23 am

        Hi! I’ve read similar assessments. I don’t think these reasons are all that accurate. I will speak from my own experiences here but social anxiety played a big part in me staying out of church. And I do believe there are millions of Americans who suffer from social anxiety and panic disorders.
        How about all the PTSD vets out there? Is church comfortable? Probably not.
        I’ve also noticed when I do go a lot of people sit way in the back. This tells me they are not comfortable in front.
        The social butterfly personality can’t fathom people who don’t want to mix and don’t want attention and don’t want to shake hands ( the worse for me) and don’t want to talk about themselves.
        Also, I never go to the movies (can’t stand it) and I don’t join clubs because people make me very nervous.
        I love to pray silently and that can be hard to do in a large church.
        Also if you are raised in a certain Christian doctrine and you go to another church that can be stressful to hear a different doctrine.

        • Carey Nieuwhof on April 27, 2014 at 5:19 am

          Katy. I’m sorry to hear that you struggle with that. For sure that would be a barrier to church and so much else. I’m sure that’s a percentage of the people who don’t attend but likely the other factors also weigh in. — Sent from Mailbox

          • katie on April 27, 2014 at 4:14 pm

            Thanks Cary for your kindly reply.
            I heard the priest say at mass the other day that we had to fight
            against laziness as the reason for not going to church.
            He said he too had to fight his own inner laziness.

            I think this is probably a common misbelief among the clergy. The belief is that people do not go to church frequently because they are lazy. I think this is a stereotype and a great misconception. Actually, people are being overstimulated more now than ever in our “modern” world of social demands and requirements.
            The adult life has a faster, louder, more demanding pace than ever before.

            The demands of social media to keep up with tweets, blogs, Facebook, emails and the like is very draining and time consuming. Work requires many jobs that demand ” customer service skills” as we are not a production economy like we were.
            Our kids have soccer, tutoring, piano, dance, scouts and they too are getting socially burned out. Us parents are paying and taking them to all of this and adults too are getting socially burned out! How could we not?
            When you are over stimulated as an adult, and you get one day off on Sunday, do you really have the nerves or energy or desire to socialize at church with more people? I always tell my husband that church would be great if there weren’t any people there.

            So the church’s response to falling attendance is they need to “reach out” and be more social! I think this is a misdiagnoses to the real problem. I think if church became more about being a relaxing quiet community through prayer this would be helpful; with less socializing and more praying & smiling!

            I look at the high attendance to baseball and football games and I recognize how comforting it is to be at a ball game. Nobody is demanding you to walk up and down the park isles and shake hands with Everybody! Nobody is asked how much you will be giving this week. Nobody at a ball game wants to know if you will be coming to the next ball game! Nobody is angry because of donations. Nobody even knows your name and yet people like to get together and view a ball game TOGETHER! This is human behavior that the “social butterfly’s” will never understand. Never…because they are not “in charge”.
            You can relax at a ballgame more than most churches because the church has become too social and energy draining.

            And that is why I truly feel most people are avoiding church. It is way too social and demanding. And if you have any PTSD most church members are just too upsetting to your nervous systems.

          • katie on May 5, 2014 at 8:16 pm

            Just to add a note to anyone who might be interested.
            The NIMH ( National Institute of Mental Health) says Americans with anxiety disorders are about 40 million people.
            To educate yourself about this disease go here:



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