1) They were never really “there” in the first place. The church was a way station between soccer practice, scouts, and the other stops in our over-scheduled lives. Church seems, for a time, like the right thing to do. After a while, the incessant moralizing and demands to volunteer grow difficult for many people to manage. Other parts of their lives, like volunteering (at school) comes without the tinges of guilt and people talking about (however occasionally) heaven and hell.
2) Ritualized singing is awkward. The only other places on earth where people sing together, en masse, the same songs, are English football games. Church shares this unique commonality with football hooligans from Leeds and Liverpool. The strangeness of singing either repetitive praise choruses or 18th-century hymnody, in public, may rub the modern person the wrong way. If someone is hurt, broken, and seeking purpose in their life; enter our building and sing with strangers! That’s a big ask.
3) Have you seen what I wear on Sunday morning? I dress like Dumbledore. That may strike folks not used to traditional liturgical worship as odd. This could run a few people off. Harry Potter fans love it! My Ordinary Time stole is a Slytherin scarf.
4) We fight like cats and dogs in meetings over really inane stuff. Have you been to a church meeting lately? If people want to fight, they’ll eat dinner at home with their kids.
5) People find new churches. We have to compete with the gym church, the football game church, the golf church, the fishing church, the boat church, and any number of things people worship. These other churches provide community, potlucks, and they don’t ask you to sing.
6) Some people are fickle and mean. When their meanness gets exposed, people leave. I think this works both ways. People leave when they encounter meanness and hostility. Some also leave when they realize their meanness won’t be tolerated in a Christian community.
7) People join political parties, fishing teams, alumni associations, golf clubs, and social groups; yet they don’t like the idea of traditional denominations having a larger institutional identity. When the church becomes more than a bland, generic, or cookie cutter version of every other church, they leave.
8) It takes a boatload of money to keep us going. Even the smallest church is expensive to run. People decide to spend their money elsewhere. It’s the economy, stupid.
9) People leave the church because you didn’t cast their child in the Christmas play. Most times it is not unanswered existential questions about suffering, the preacher’s politics, or anything so grand. It’s the little things.
10) People leave the church because they read too many Dan Brown novels. They believe the worst about Christianity and we don’t give them any reason to think any differently.
Richard Lowell Bryant