4 reasons Christians skip church

August 8, 2018

Many people who profess Jesus as Lord have tapped out of church. Pew Research recently released findings that reveal that 61 percent of people who consider themselves religious rarely or never attend church services, while 82 percent of people who call themselves somewhat religious or somewhat spiritual or both rarely or never attend church. As many as 37 percent of responders say they choose instead to practice their faith in other ways, while the remaining non-attenders cite reasons such as time constraints, dislike for the church, or the pastor’s sermons as reasons for neglecting church attendance.

Pastors and churches in post-Christian America (previously known as the Bible belt) are watching the unraveling of Christian fidelity ripple into every area of life. Some of our unraveling is a gift from God, though. The church-centric model found in cultural Christianity that equates faithfulness to Jesus with box-checking legalism never advanced the gospel. The idea that church attendance alone, or even service to the organizational needs of the church, proves genuine life change is foreign to the gospel.

Recent pivots to empower and unleash Christian disciple-makers into every domain of our cities represents a fresh wind of God’s Spirit. There’s a growing understanding that we make disciples in the community throughout the week more than we do in a Sunday morning event. A strategic enthusiasm for disciple making that celebrates both gathering and scattering, and that values both the reaching and sending is growing. These shifts in our thinking are not only faithful to the New Testament, but they rightly energize the modern believer.

In this encouraging renaissance, however, it seems we are overlooking at least one essential practice of the faith: attendance at the weekly church gathering. It’s no longer just fashionable to be late to church. Many Christians in post-Christian America simply do not see weekly church gathering as a necessary part of their spiritual formation. These four realities help explain why Christians make skipping church a way of life.

1. A misinformed ecclesiology

The word “ecclesiology” means the study of the church. For centuries, evangelicals have both affirmed the universal church, or “Big C” church, as it is sometimes called, as well as engaged in the local church. The universal church represents all believers of all times who name Jesus as Lord. In Christ, we are unified as one global, or universal, body. The local church, while a part of the universal church, is a smaller assembly of believers who are not only united in Christ, but who are geographically proximate and relationally accountable to one another to walk with Jesus alongside one another.

The letters of the apostle Paul were written to local churches in local communities, therefore, much of the New Testament not only describes the local church, but prescribes how each local church meets together and joins the kingdom mission of God. Recent trends, however, find Christians who claim loyalty to the universal church, yet who are uncommitted to the local church. This is not only inconsistent with the expectation of the New Testament, but it doesn’t work. Only in our physically present, relationally invested, and financially committed engagement in the local church is the universal church populated and mobilized for kingdom influence. In other words, outside of active involvement in the local church, we miss the kingdom of God altogether.

2. A relational exclusivism

As we read the apostle Paul’s letters to the churches in Asia Minor, we discover an expectation of diverse people, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, educated and uneducated uniting together in Christ Jesus. As believers in Galatia were arguing about who’s in and who’s out, Paul wrote, “For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28).

He also wrote to the church in Ephesus:

“But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. . . . So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:13, 19-22).

We naturally gravitate to people who are like us. That’s natural, but in Christ, the chief source of our identity is not our hobbies, our socio-economic status, or our season of life. The chief source of our identity is Christ who abolished the walls of separation that once put us at different tables in the seventh-grade lunchroom. Yet many modern Christians have never embraced this Christ-centered intimacy with other believers. Instead, they have looked for a church where people are most like them in ways outside of their faith in Christ.

Rather than removing the walls of separation, we have simply replaced the old religious walls with new socio-economic ones. The result is Christians who build their most significant relationships with people who are outside of Christ, and not for the purpose of missions and evangelism, but rather for identity, acceptance, and affirmation. Any disciple-making lifestyle prioritizes genuine friendships with people who are far from God, but Christians who relationally exclude their faith family do little disciple making at all.

3. A forgotten calling

When talking about the church, I often tell people, “It’s very difficult to follow Jesus by yourself.” We don’t just attend church on Sunday. We do that, but we are also the church everyday. We are a people on mission with Jesus wherever we live, work, and play. But that’s more than a slogan. It’s actually an invitation into spiritual warfare that pits us against forces intent on either killing us or killing our witness. Again the apostle Paul wrote, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Eph. 6:10).

Because of the intensity of the work of ministry and the spiritual battle involved throughout the week, believers who are engaged in it view the weekly gathering as much needed care for their soul. They eagerly anticipate reuniting with brothers and sisters who too have been sharing the gospel, serving their neighbors, and sacrificing to seek Jesus and his kingdom first. They need the fellowship with other people who love Jesus. They need to hear the stories of God’s faithfulness. They need the encouragement of the Word. It’s not a calendar event to attend. It’s an essential requirement for full-of-faith living.

Unfortunately, many believers disconnect from the local church, not because of the music, or the schedule, or the church leadership, but because they are simply not living on mission with Jesus. They have forgotten their calling in order to pursue their self-interests, and as a result, they see little need for the soul care of the local church.

Our rhythms and routines actually shape the heart of our children and set the spiritual trajectory for our grandchildren.

4. A new parental rhythm

The biggest question is not, “Do our children follow Jesus?” The better question is, “Are we investing in our children in a way that will make it likely that our grandchildren will follow Jesus?” That question changes how we view the church and how we lead our children to participate in the mission of God.

Our patterns prove our priorities, and priorities reveal our passions. We all get this. I still remember as a kid sitting around the TV on Saturday afternoons with my family and watching University of Tennessee Volunteer football. The garden still needed attention. The lawn still needed to be mowed. But everything stopped for Volunteer football. My grandparents are gone now, and I haven’t watched a football game with my extended family in years. But I still root for the Vols. Our patterns prove our priorities, and those priorities are transferred to the next generation.

Make no mistake about it, our rhythms and routines actually shape the heart of our children and set the spiritual trajectory for our grandchildren. Many Christian parents, however, still assume that a nominal commitment to the local church will give their kids just enough Jesus to get into heaven and just enough to keep them out of trouble on earth. We assume the primary goal of parenting is to produce well-rounded, socially-elevated, academically-stellar, and athletically-accomplished children who will give a nod to the moral framework of Christianity. Nominal Christians, however, do not produce nominal Christians. Nominal Christians produce nonChristians.

One current illustration of how this new parental rhythm plays out is in the decision of many Christian parents to enroll their children in programs that routinely take them out of church on Sunday mornings and keep them relationally disconnected from their church family. Parents are, in essence, catechizing their children to prioritize and pursue excellence in other endeavors to the neglect of the body and mission of Christ. Too often, parental motivation at this point is not to lead their children to live for eternity, but to encourage a pursuit of a feigned significance that will leave them wanting.

Do athletics, arts, and academics play an important role in the lives of kids and families? Absolutely. Are there enormous opportunities for Christian families at the ballpark? A thousand times yes! Is any of it worth sabotaging your child’s view of Jesus and their opportunity for a multi-generational impact in the kingdom of God? Not on your grandchild’s life.

It’s the local church that took shape in Jerusalem and spread throughout the known world in the pentecostal power of the Holy Spirit. It’s the local church that Paul instructed and in whom Peter trusted to pass down the faith once delivered to the saints. It is seven local churches of Revelation that remind us of our calling and of the dangers that woo us away from Jesus and his mission. It’s the church for which Jesus died to establish as light in the darkness. And it is the church that signals the mercy of God to all who are far away.

Organizational demands, schedules, and people problems in local church life can weigh heavy on us. Left unchecked, churches can become so internally focused that we are no longer salt and light in the community. The routine neglect of the local church, however, will never win souls, multiply disciples, or expand Jesus’ kingdom. Instead, it is through the local church that we make a difference on earth or in heaven. By God’s grace, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:10).

This article originally appeared here.

Daryl Crouch

Following 28 years in pastoral ministry, Daryl Crouch now leads Everyone’s Wilson, a community transformation initiative that helps churches bring the whole community around every school so that every student, educator, and family can live whole. He’s married to Deborah, and they have four children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24