In the book High Expectations, Dr. Thom Rainer shared reasons people gave for dropping out of evangelical churches. The reasons given in order of frequency were:
- Transfer of Job
- Apathy toward the church
- Not being involved in anything
- Not being fed
- Not having friends
- Interpersonal conflict/wounded feelings
Other reasons were noted, but these three categories were the leading causes identified in that research. In one church I served, we contacted people who joined other churches in our city to see what we could learn from them. If you are wondering, those were some of the most difficult conversations I have ever initiated. The same things were expressed by those who were willing to talk to me. I realize the High Expectations research is now 20 years old and times have changed, but those “exit interviews” with former church members lead me to believe these reasons to be universal and timeless.
Why would we want to know why people drop out? So we can fix it! Dr. Rainer and his research team also found out that an effective Sunday School ministry was a critical factor in overcoming at least the apathy reasons (pp. 128-129) and could also minimize conflicts and wounds (seen in the person’s involvement being an impetus to stay instead of leave, p. 161). A healthy ongoing Bible study will not fix every woe, but the research indicates that a healthy ongoing Bible study ministry like Sunday School can clearly make a difference.
What other reasons for dropping out have you encountered? Do you think these reasons are universal? Why or why not?
What have you done to strengthen your ongoing Bible study ministry in light of the reasons you have encountered?
Dwayne McCrary is a project team leader for ongoing adult Bible study resources at LifeWay, including the adult Explore the Bible resources. He also teaches an adult group and preschool group every Sunday in the church he attends.