5 Intriguing Reasons Why People Are Leaving the Institutional Church

Written by Frank Viola

Based on my experience and observation over the last 30 years, here are the five top reasons why people leave their local assembly (church).

1. It’s boring.

This is especially true for those who leave the traditional/institutional church. The service is basically the same show every week. There’s no room for spontaneity or creativity from the congregation. In our book, Pagan Christianity, George Barna and I demonstrated that the Sunday Morning Protestant Order of Worship (Service) was created 500 years ago and it’s changed little since. That’s true for virtually all denominations and “nondenominational” assemblies. The changes between them are minimal. I’ve often said the Body of Christ is dying for a lack of imagination. But very few church leaders would dare change this tradition in any significant way. So those who are bored with it end up leaving. And that’s no small number of Christians.

2. There’s no community.

Many complain that they don’t know the other members of the congregation, despite trying to forge relationships. A Christian can spend years in a local church and never develop any deep relationships with the other members. While sometimes this is due to the individual’s inability to reach out, oftentimes, the environment of many churches doesn’t foster face-to-face community. For them, getting to know others in their congregation is just as difficult as making friends at the local gym. Not easy to do.

3. There’s no place to function and minister.

Again, this is true in most traditional/institutional churches. The church is divided up into the professionals who function and the nonprofessionals who are spectators. You may reply saying, “But they can volunteer to serve in the church.” Yes, but many Christians have no interest in the typical “church” duties like being an usher, a Sunday school teacher, etc. They wish to function and share what God has given them in the corporate gatherings as envisioned in 1 Corinthians 14:26ff. To their minds, if they want to listen to sermons, they just find a good podcast and listen at home. If they want to worship with a worship team, they buy worship music, etc.

4. The institutional form of church is not found in the New Testament.

Over the last seven years, more and more evangelical Christians have come to the conclusion that the typical institutional church and the typical house church do not operate according to the principles of the churches in the New Testament, the teachings of Jesus or the apostles. This is a vast subject and many books have been written on it over the last seven years, but in short, countless Christians have come to believe that the ekklesia in the New Testament is something very different from what they’ve been involved in. So they leave their church out of a crisis of conscience. (Churches where the leadership abuses its members would also fall into this category because such groups are clearly unbiblical.)

5. It didn’t meet their expectations.

People leave churches for this reason, whether institutional, missional, liturgical, organic church, house church, etc. People in the West are used to having their expectations met. So they attend a church simply to get their needs met. It’s all about them and their needs. And when it doesn’t happen, they flee and look for another church to meet their needs. (These folks don’t understand that no church can meet a person’s needs, no more than a spouse can meet a human’s every need.) If a person understands that the church exists for God and for His Eternal Purpose, and that real church (face-to-face community) is profoundly difficult, they would never leave a church that they felt was biblical and had God’s life (meaning, Jesus didn’t remove its lampstand—see Revelation 2-3).

There are other reasons, of course, but every person I’ve met who left a local church stated that it was because of one of these five reasons. The only other reason that I’ve not listed here is that they stopped following Jesus altogether so they didn’t care to be around God’s people at all. Relocating to another city is an obvious one as well.

Frank Viola