Why Christians Don’t Attend Church (It’s Not What You Think)

August 4, 2011

A new study by the Barna organization shows that church attendance among self-identified Christians has declined by nine percentage points since 1991. Not that that’s news to anyone. Everybody who does attend understands that fewer and fewer people are attending larger and larger congregations. And many are not simply shopping for a new church—they’ve dropped out altogether. So while many local congregations are growing in size, overall attendance is declining—even among Christians.

Still, it begs the question: Why don’t more Christians attend church?

Over the same two decades that Barna studied, two standard answers emerged in our thinking. People don’t attend church because—

1. The music is outdated and not in keeping with current styles, and
2. The preaching is dull and not relevant to daily life.

It’s time to admit that those answers are not correct. Contemporary music is now the dominant model in the North American church, and life-issue sermons (“How to Have a Happy Marriage,” “Six Tips for Reducing Stress”) salted with media content are standard fare in the pulpit. The church couldn’t possibly be more contemporary, yet attendance is still falling.

The real reason Christians don’t attend worship is that they find the whole thing irrelevant to their lives—not their ordinary lives but their spiritual life and well being. They find no power in church, not authentic connection to God, no life change. As long as it is simply a pleasant hour of adult contemporary music followed by an uplifting talk, it will never compete with soccer practice or a trip to the mall as a weekend activity for families.

Church has to offer something more. It must provide a real connection to God every time people walk through the door. They must come with the realistic expectation that they will experience the Holy Spirit, hear God speak, and experience life transformation or see it in someone else.

In the next post, I’ll offer five things church leaders can do to help that happen.

Why do you think Christians don’t attend church?

Lawrence W. Wilson


I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.