Why He Stays Away: Confessions of a Former “Regular” Church Attender

Why He Stays Away: Confessions of a Former “Regular” Church Attender
November 27, 2018 Rick Chromey

By Rick Chromey

I enjoy conversations about church attendance.

I like to chat with people about why they go, what they prefer, and what they would change. The answers rarely surprise me, but some trends are interesting.

For example, I’m finding a growing number of former regular church attenders who now prefer to stay home. Most of these irregulars remain active in their faith through small groups, recovery ministries, church socials/events, Christian concerts, and religious radio and television. Surprisingly, their affection and devotion to Jesus remains strong.

But they’re attending church only once or twice a month. The question is why?

As one former-churched Gen X friend confessed, “I found myself attending mostly out of guilt, shame, or duty.” He’d been a deeply involved, high-profile leader, but needed a break so now only attends church to connect with someone, celebrate a baptism, or enjoy the “live” worship experience.

He’s found no other spiritual reason to go.

But there are other reasons to stay away:

He can stream the service at home.

He doesn’t need to shower, shave, dress up, and drive to church. He can also enjoy spiritual activities like prayer, Scripture reading, and journaling, then watch the online service. He already gives online, receives news online, registers for events online, views biblical teaching online, and interacts on his church’s Facebook page. “I feel ‘connection’ to my church,” he says, “I just don’t need to go to church to get it.”

Spiritual “community” is absent.

He attends a church of 2,000 people. “It’s a great church and I have friends who go, but it’s hit or miss if I see them,” he says. He feels his “church” experience isn’t community-driven as much as performance-driven. “We attend the ‘show,’ view the back of someone’s head, and go home,” he admits. “You don’t go to church to make friends…not anymore.”

Pastoral friendship changed.

If I seek to physically connect with anyone at all, it’s with my preacher,” my friend confides. He’s known him for decades. He served on his board, attended his small group, and spent time in his home, but as the church grew bigger, a distance emerged. “I sometimes feel the only reason I go to church is to ‘check in,’ ” he says. He understands his pastor’s duties have changed. He’s pastoring a huge church and my friend’s now a lower priority. “Sunday is the only time we shake hands and say hello,” he says sadly.

But the primary reason my friend stays away?

Nobody seems to care.

That’s right.

My friend isn’t missed by his church.

He’s still got his small group and other Christian friends, but his church hasn’t called, sent a letter/email, or personally checked on him. Not one person from the church, including the preacher, has reached out to wonder why he’s been missing.

That reality is also sad, he says. Church used to be about connection. We used to care more about the prodigals, marginalized, hurting, and absent.

My friend admits, again, that he enjoys going to church and says it’s better than staying home. But that “better” isn’t always enough to get him out of bed to physically attend church. “There has to be something more to get me to do that,” he admits.

Something more.

In general, my friend feels disconnected and forgotten. He feels the church experience is sometimes a waste of time and energy. But most of all, my friend feels guilt and shame for admitting those feelings.

“Maybe I’ll attend church this weekend,” my friend says, “maybe they do miss me.”

Maybe.

I sure hope so. He’s a good guy.

 

 

Rick has a Doctorate of Ministry and is the author of Sermons Reimagined.

11 Comments

  1. Benjamin Conway 2 weeks ago

    If he is so mature, and such a great leader, why doesn’t he go and make connections instead of having an immature sulk that no one wants to connect with him?

    He complains that church is just a show but he is the one who can only define it in terms of what it offers him, not what he could do to help.

    This guy is immature, and just wants to consume. Maybe regular, consistent, disciplined church attendance would help him grow up!

    • Author
      Rick Chromey 2 weeks ago

      Benjamin, I appreciate your comment. If I may gently feedback and kickback:

      First, he is a “regular” online view of the live stream services. He feels he attends “regularly,” He just doesn’t have to physically be IN the service to be “at” church. Does that make sense? He’ also tried to “make connections” but his particular church doesn’t exactly help that process (and you’d have to experience it personally to understand).

      Second, it’s a bit presumptuous on your part to judge him as “immature” or just wanting “to consume” or even as a “sulk.” I can guarantee you he’s none of those things. He is tired though. He has had some life circumstances that have challenged him, but he still loves his pastor and church (and doesn’t want to move elsewhere). He just feels a bit disconnected and forgotten…and hopefully that will pass.

      Finally, whether we like it or not, there is some truth to what he says (particularly if you’re in a large church like he is). I would gently encourage all of us to find that “truth” and how it applies to our specific context and then build bridges to these types of individuals. This individual remains very active in his small group Bible study and other church events. He’s just losing interest in “going to church services” (especially if he can live-stream and have the same experience at home).

      Thank you for sharing your takeaways, Benjamin. I also pray blessings upon you, your leadership and your church.

  2. Scott Little 2 weeks ago

    As a pastor myself, I’m not unsympathetic to the complaints of the former “regular” attender, but after reading this article I think it needs to be said that more than anything else, his biggest problem is that he, like so many others, has been seduced into a “consumer” Christianity mindset. Note that almost all of his reasons for not going to church are about himself – his wants, his needs, his loss of connection, and even his convenience. Participation in the Body of Christ, which is by its very nature incarnational (and thus must be experienced in person rather than online), isn’t primarily about me. Yes, when the church is healthy and functioning as it should, it does meet attenders’ needs and cares for them, etc., but that isn’t the reason we gather for corporate worship, fellowship, and service, all of which are other-focused. I would encourage the author to gently but plainly challenge his friend to repent (literally, to turn around or change his mind) of an unhealthy, unbiblical, and unchristian view of what it means to be part of Christ’s body, because what he needs most of all is a fresh perspective on why Christians attend church in the first place.

    • Author
      Rick Chromey 2 weeks ago

      Hi Scott, thanks for sharing your pastoral perspective here. I agree with much of what you said.

      You’re right, it’s possible that this man has been “seduced into a ‘consumer’ Christianity mindset.” Although, I don’t agree “all of his reasons” were solely about himself. There’s some blame for how the church he attends connects people and handles those who slip through the cracks. That’s probably my big takeaway: sometimes we don’t have a clear strategy to understand why (or how) a person slips out the back door.

      You make an interesting claim about my friend, saying he has an “unhealthy, unbiblical and unchristian view.” Like I said, it’s NOT like he’s “not going to church” at all. He’s just not physically attending the large corporate (Sunday) worship but once or twice a month. When he’s not there physically, he watches “live” online. He still faithfully attends his small group (10-15 believers), gives sacrificially to his church, participates in the Eucharist (at home or with his group), encourages people to attend his church and attends various programs and events. He doesn’t show a rebellious spirit nor even laziness. He just enjoys the experience more at home. His church has an amazing, well-produced live-stream.

      Biblically, I think he’s in fellowship through his small group. That’s his “church” to be honest and he rarely misses that group. Still, as a pastor myself, I see your point. I would prefer he attend the physical services too.

  3. Brian Brady 2 weeks ago

    Every reason given as to why not to attend church started with an “I” or “me”. Church isn’t about how it affects you, but believers getting together to worship our God. If everyone went to church thinking of themselves, and decided that since they were not the center of attention than they would not attend, than church would be empty. What about those at the service that may have needed your friends advice or help with something. If it is only about your friend, than how is their attitude about church any different than someone’s attitude about church who does not believe in God?

    • Author
      Rick Chromey 2 weeks ago

      Brian, to be fair, every reason he gave did not start “with an ‘I’ or ‘me.'” (although I confess it could be implied from a couple reasons). I encourage you to read what I’ve posted elsewhere in this thread. My friend does go to church (physically) every week: it’s his small group of 10-15 believers. They are a dynamic group of Christians who study God’s word, pray, fellowship, give to various financial needs, and participate in the Lord’s Supper at every meeting.

      You asked a good question: “What about those at the service that may have needed your friends advice or help?” It’s a great question because that’s the problem. How would he KNOW there’s a need? Most churches today have little “fellowship” time and most people don’t just “meet and greet” and move to “advice and help” after a few minutes. People that know my friend can easily contact him through social media. He’s still available to minister in that way.

      You hit upon the core issue for WHY he doesn’t go on Sunday morning (preferring most Sundays to stay home and watch “live” the online service): he’s just not missed or needed. That was my big takeaway from this conversation. We need to create “sticky” environments where people sense connection and contribution, otherwise they’re gone. After all, if you don’t belong, it’s so long.

      Thanks for sharing, Brian. I pray blessings upon you and your ministry. God IS working!

  4. Lyndel Onions 2 weeks ago

    I must confess the first time I read this article I thought very much along the lines of it’s not about you it’s about others, this guys missed the point of what coming together as a congregation is all about, etc etc but then i re-read it – this is a guy who has served faithfully, served in positions of great responsibility – and I then thought of it in a different light – maybe this is a guy who is weary – people weary, passion has gradually been replaced by duty. For anyone who has worked in church life for any length of time that is something i think we all struggle with. Today we call it burn out but I’ve observed in my own life that when I begin to struggle with attending church its often because I am physically weary, I’ve given out and given out – I’ve served people and the church to the point that I have neglected my own relationship with Christ; and . . . sometimes the hardest thing for people in positions of responsibility is to feel they have the space the safe place where they can receive ministry, where they can be refreshed. I don’t care who you are in church life – we need friends and we need to know we are loved for who we are not just for what we do.
    Yes attitude is vitally important and changes a lot but sometimes we need to remember that people are human and that humanness needs ministry.
    Do I believe staying away from church is the answer – a resounding No!
    Spending time in God’s presence, reading the scriptures aloud, eating right and getting exercise and having one on one time with people you can trust and be real with are steps we all need to do, re-valuate and continue doing.
    But in staying away from God’s house we rob ourselves of the uniqueness and the added blessing of the corporate anointing.

  5. Jason Raitz 1 week ago

    Great article! We’ve got a lot of work to do as Church leaders and this is a big problem. We live in the day and age of social media where everyone is wanting/seeking/needing (whether they admit to it or not) constant affirmation. Now, I’m not saying this is what’s up with your friend. I know as a Church Planter and Pastor, my heart BREAKS…GRIEVES…ACHES over every single person who has either ‘taken a break’, ‘disappeared’, ‘got busy’ or maybe their preferences weren’t being used as much and they got upset. I know in my five years of leading my Church, we work incredibly hard to reach out to everyone who has slipped away. I found that a high number of people just want to slip away. Phone calls, texts, emails and facebook messages go unanswered and then I hear from someone else that they’re upset at the church because no one reached out and I’m like…hmmmm. I think we have. That being said, many people, ashamedly, have slipped through the cracks and I know we have hurt some people. And that breaks my heart!! This was a GREAT reminder to be crazy steadfast in reaching out and reminding people that they’re loved and wanted! thanks!

  6. Lucas 1 week ago

    He wants connection. He still has his small group and Christian friends. He attends a church of 2,000 people. He has not been attending, says no one from the church has contacted him, nor has the pastor.

    While I appreciate the sentiment of this article and all of our need for connection, let me offer what I feel actually happened. He was once a leader and a servant and well connected. His commitment wavered and during that time, he likely turned down opportunities to serve (because a church of 2,000 has incredible systems for this process that connect to people). He was likely asked if he was ok by those he served with and contacted initially by those who noticed the change.

    Those are connections. The common pattern is those connections waver when a person over a long period of time does not return and eventually, the “church” side of the contact gives up. We are a medium-sized church and make regular connections within the first two weeks if we see a noticeable change in a regular attender. But if messages are not returned, engagement is not achieved and attendance ends, there comes a point where the church moves on and realizes this person is not going to be attending on Sunday.

    If he attends a small group in a church of 2,000 (a megachurch by statistical standards), then his small group SHOULD be his community, should be his connection, should be the ones who evaluate these very things for him. If the small group doesn’t notice he’s absent then there’s a very unlikely possibility that in a crowd of 2,000 anyone in leadership will either.

    Man, I feel his heart but I also feel the arrow shot at the church in this article that seems to be repeated over and over. We are fighting a battle sometimes of blame against the church when we do all we can for unwilling people and sometimes just HAVE TO move on and let go when they don’t respond back.

    Recently, we lost a person who was a fill-in for us in ministry leadership roles and very active serving and attending. They were contacted every week for six weeks by multiple people in the church reaching them. Within two weeks of the decision, we found out a spouse was angry and that spouse blocked some church leaders on social media and refused to reciprocate attempts to contact and reconcile. Now, over four months later, we hear criticisms return to us from friends that they were never missed, never contacted and never wanted and so they left. That simply is not true. But the narrative blames the church and their circles in community believe the story.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but personal experience says there are stories like mine that church leaders can’t always publicly tell, but happen every week as we try to reach those who don’t feel it’s important to be there any more.

    It’s sad, it’s tough and it’s hard when it always seems like it’s the church’s fault.

  7. Citizen 1 week ago

    I attend a small Church where we have for the most part abandoned “feel good” sermons. We have Bible study. We have the written words of several of the best ‘scholars’ on monitors with our Pastor, who is our District Attorney, explaining the Bible as a literal document. It is not ‘symbolic’! It is the literal word of God. And we all come to learn so that we may go out and teach. Our Pastor goes twice every year to India or Liberia on mission trips to teach their Leaders how to share the Gospel. We all were so tired of feel good or fire and brimstone Evangelizing. Church, for us, is not for justification. Church is for Sanctification. We should witness to the lost,,,let the Holy Spirit convict and justify,,,then take them to Church for continued Sanctification. Do we take care of our own? Certainly. I am disabled yet five days ago I put handrails on a friends house as he was coming home from the hospital after 21 days away being treated for esophageal cancer. Not looking for praise here. He is a sanctified member of our group. I would NOT do that for a visitor to try to impress them with “our” good intentions. We do not give an invitation nor do we pass the plate. Yet we now have more money than we had before our focus changed. Everything we do,,,we do for Educational purposes. I agree with the interviewee. If CHURCH is not teaching ME something to use when I leave everyday. I need to just spend my time using the knowledge and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to teach someone else what I know. Church is not a social club. Church is a family of believers in Christ. Why would anyone go sit and look at the back of a Family members head without saying “hey I Love you”? Forsake not the gathering of the Saints. Are their really 2000 Saints in one building? I hope so. But they are not that many around here.

  8. Todd Scranton 1 week ago

    Is the consumer mentality some are so critical of a product of the people in the pews, or is it a product of the way too many churches are functioning? In my time in ministry (17 years – second career) and even in my experience as a lay person in the church I have seen a LOT of leaders and materials that treat the gospel more as a product to be sold than a way of life to follow. I’ve gone to seminars that stressed having an “elevator pitch” about my church; church growth training that is all about marketing via social media, and classes on worship that are mostly about the effective use of technology. None of this is bad in and of itself, but at some point I can’t help but wonder if people don’t leave the church feeling like consumers because the church treats them like consumers – one of the hundreds it takes to maintain the programs and facilities that we associate with being a “successful” church.

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