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Why People Quit the Church

July 6, 2015

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback and read a lot of heartbreaking stories the last few days from ex-church members...ex “christians” (notice that I use the quotations marks when I say Christians). I use those for a distinct reason. Because, like me, many of the people commenting here and emailing me with their stories of brokenness and their stories of hurt, are people who loved the Lord then and love the Lord now.

But, they don’t love the church.
In fact most of them utterly despise it.
And I don’t blame them.

Religion and Christianity are very different. You start talking to someone about religion and they’ll shut you down and walk away before you get in any kind of detail about Jesus. Why? Because religion is man made…led by sinners…filled with judgment…filled with hatred and self-righteousness.

I’ve been part of a church where people accused my daddy of arson when our house caught on fire. Sat in the pews when people at that church told my family that they couldn’t donate basic household items to us when we had nothing because “it would take away from the profit of the church.” I’ve been a member of the church when I was told that because I didn’t think tattoos on Christians was a big deal that maybe I wasn’t really a Christian. I’ve been part of a church where my husband and I were told we were an impressive couple until we both admitted that we were sinful and struggled with things that almost everyone else we know struggles with…like suddenly because we are human we are no longer impressive or “good enough.”

You see…with “religion” comes the idea that you need to be perfect. That once you’re a believer, your issues go away. Poof. Vanish. Praying that sinners prayer is supposed to be the cure-all right?


I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 12. I don’t remember much other than praying the sinners pray and “asking Jesus into my heart” at the foot of my bed. I didn’t know who Jesus was at that time. Not really. I just knew that I didn’t want to be cast in the fires of hell when I died. Knowing Jesus is a process. And it’s a journey that I’m still on. In fact, I was journaling last night and even wrote that I feel like-right now-I have had a misguided idea of Jesus really is; even after all of these years.

At 12 years old I accepted Christ.
At 17 years old I lost my virginity to my high school boyfriend.
At 19 years old, I contemplated suicide.
At 20 years old I got pregnant out of wedlock.

According the “religious” people that I know, I should have lost my salvation a long time ago. Shame on me for suffering with depression or alcoholism or pornography or lust or a love of beautiful tattoos or a love for ALL of God’s people regardless of race, gender, sexual preference or status.  Because if you asked the “religious” then they would surely tell you that I was going to hell. That I was a blasphemer (without even truly understanding the meaning of the word blasphemy) and surely destined for purgatory.

But, religion is stupid.

I just wish that I could shout that from the roof tops and help everyone see that. I’ve been reading Jefferson Bethke’s book Jesus > Religion and I am absolutely floored that someone other than me “gets it.” There’s a reason that this book isn’t being pushed on congregations’s by pastor’s. Because it steps on toes. It shoves the real Jesus in the face of the church and gets down and dirty with how “church” (the building on Sunday mornings) has completely and totally taken away from what God intended church to be.

Church is more concerned with the number of active members they have to truly and wholeheartedly care about the broken and the weak. When you stop attending regularly, you stop tithing regularly…and that’s just unacceptable.

Maybe I’m beating a dead horse over here guys. Maybe I’m running on repeat right now because my heart is literally in shambles over the emails and comments that I have gotten. Churches are HURTING people and it infuriates me. I have literally sat in my office and cried over the emails that I’ve been getting because I know how you feel. I know what it feels like to think that you’ve found a family among a body of believers only to have them throw you under a bus when you show signs of weakness. I know what it feels like to sit in a pew and feel the eyes on you because you made the mistake of opening up to someone about your past mistakes.

And it sucks.

And it hasn’t happened to me just once. But many, many times. It’s happened to my husband long before he and I ever got married. It’s happened to my mother-in-law and my sister and my parents. It’s happened to friends of mine and it’s happened to SO MANY OF YOU.

That’s why people quit the church.

That’s why church attendance is down all over the country. That’s why you seldom see “certain kinds of people” in a church. Because some people…the broken…the homeless…the lost…don’t feel welcome in a church. We feel condemned. We feel judged. We feel shamed and ridiculed and hurt. Those of us who own our brokenness and our weaknesses and aren’t afraid to confront them head on feel the stares and hear the whispers and see the looks we are given.

I don’t hide behind a perfect mask. I don’t walk around acting like I have it all together. Because quite honestly? Most day, I’m a wreck. I need Jesus a whole lot more than he needs me. But I also need him a whole lot more than I need those kind of people…those who condemn and judge and ridicule. Because the problem I have is that most of them are a lot more broken than me; they just are too ashamed to show it or admit it. And call me crazy, but I don’t want to feel like I’m alone in my brokenness. I want people willing to admit theirs, own up to theirs and embrace theirs surrounding me.

Because that’s what church is supposed to be.
You pray for me, I’ll pray for you.
You encourage me, and I’ll encourage you.
You battle brokenness and weakness and whatever your sin is,
and I’ll be right there beside you battling too.

Based on the comments that I’ve gotten, this attitude from church members is doing more harm than good. It’s pushing more people away from the gospel than it is bringing it in. I’ve heard people say “Be the Church” and I say NO. Don’t “be the Church” because the church isn’t what Jesus Christ created it to be. It’s rules and doctrines and other sinful people reveling in their self-righteousness.

Don’t “be the church.”
Be the Jesus that someone needs to see.
SHOW them who Jesus really is…
who he was, what he did, and how he has called us to love one another.

Loving one another doesn’t mean agreeing with one another about everything. It means being there to encourage, lift up, listen to, pray for and cheer on a fellow sinner when they fall.

It’s on my heart to change things. To change so much. I want to shout from the rooftops just how much Jesus loves you. Brokenness, mistakes, sins, tattoos and all. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie. You don’t have to sit in a pretty building. You don’t even have to have a Bible. Because Jesus loves you for YOU. And he wants nothing more than to show you that YOU ARE ENOUGH.

I am not a preacher. I am not even a certified counselor yet (70 credit hours to go till then…). I’m a lowly mama of two little boys and a husband living wherever the military tells us we have to live. I am a self-taught Photoshop addict who stumbled into Photography and Graphic Design by God’s grace. I drink more coffee than I should and I yell at my husband and my kids over things that are idiotic. I cuss more often than I care to admit. I have a tattoo on my wrist with intentions of getting another. I have anxiety and battle depression periodically throughout life. I don’t have a perfect life or a perfect family.

But I serve a perfect God.
And for whatever reason, He thinks I’m enough.


I would love to tell you about my Jesus. Not about religion…not about church. But about the one and only one who can and will forgive you of whatever mistakes you’ve made. I hate religion. And so did Jesus. It was the religious people who put him on the cross to be crucified. Let me tell you about Him…not about them. My inbox is always open to anyone who is curious!

End Note: I am very, very aware that not ALL churches are like this. I get that. I’ve been reminded of that headily in my inbox since my post blew up on social media when I said I didn’t want to be a “Christian” anymore. And if you are one of the very lucky few to have found a legit church accepting and welcoming and opening arms to people of ALL kinds, then STAY PUT. Because your church is few and far between. I’ve been a member of many churches and been active in many churches during our time as a military family and before…and I can attest that most churches are not like that. This is my experience and based off of the stories that have come to my inbox in the last several weeks. So please, no comments on how “not all churches are like that.”

End note two: ugly, rude, hateful comments will not be approved and are not welcome here. Not to me, not to anyone else. Healthy debate and disagreement is welcome and encouraged. But rudeness is not. Don’t be a jerk.

  1. Craig says:

    Your post affected me as I could relate to it in a very personal way. I feel and process information much like you and although I haven’t healed completely from my church damage, I can tell you (As well I’m sure you know on a certain level yourself) that I know that the church IS Jesus’s bride. My prayer after reading this is for people like you and I to be and understand that we are called to be the foundation of that church. “Church” isn’t a building. It is you and I. It is inescapable when you have “The truth”. I believe with ally heart that you indeed have the truth. As I’m writing this, I am praying for your family and asking God to give you a special family blessing for you and your children. God is pleased with your honesty with yourself. He also wants you to know that you also can’t do it alone and to assure that you don’t put yourself in bad company that can lead you astray. Even the elite can be fooled by false teaching which is why we are called to pray with more than one believer that doesn’t “Tell you what your itching ears what to hear”. I am asking God to bless you. Your children will be healed the ways you are asking. Your husband will hear your heart and come together in your heart’s wishes. Don’t forget there are people that feel and hear God deeply. Continue your works and remember that you will be tested for your courage. Do not feed the controlling spirits. Simply say nothing and stand true to your convictions. Forgive yourself when you screw up and move on. You are and will always stay under warfare when you allow yourself to feed negativity. People like that cannot help but control others. Beware the Jezebel spirit when you make a stand for God. Bless you.

    • Thank you, Craig! I really appreciate that! As a military family, we move so often and have seen and been part of SO many churches. It’s always a rich blessing when we come across a church that feeds our spirit and our soul and a gut-punch when we find some that aren’t. I personally think that the trials within the churches have grown because we are too focused on building a “building” and “ministries” than we are on building the kingdom. I will pray for you as you continue to work through your own hurt and church disappointment.

  2. […] you are looking for another great post on this topic, check out Courtney Kirkland’s, Why People Quit the Church. It pretty much sums up how I feel, and I’m sure how a lot of others feel […]

  3. DDailey says:

    Exactly. When another human needs strength, my God does not require me to ask what church he belongs or what he believes in. My bible says “judge Not Lest ye be judged”. Not twisted to fit however interpretation
    Fits a monetary agenda. Thank you and bless you for your shared perspective.

  4. Lynda Greene says:

    Please tell me how I can forward this to my daughter (NOT) for the world to see because I think she would be mad at me. But she thinks like you! I want her to read some of your stuff I’ve been reading. Thank You! Concern mom who daughter left the church and doesn’t (at this time) plan on going back.

  5. Richard says:

    Hi Courtney,

    I really like this post. I was super involved in church from 18-40. At 40 I simply felt there was no place for me at my church anymore. I was missing more than I was there and nobody that I was supposed to be close to said a word, which included a close friendship with the pastor. I got a Facebook message from my pastor after I’d been gone for three months telling me how disappointed he was in me missing. I messaged back and said I was disappointed that nobody cared about me as a person enough to see if I was ok. I had been very involved in youth and then music ministry before leaving. I came in to talk to him and lay out my heart. To let him know I felt like I didn’t know where I fit any more. Instead of helping me find my way, he said there were jobs at the church that I should be doing. There was work to do. It felt like someone saying they were starving to death and being told they should start a food pantry. The bible says God so loved the world, and I’m part of that world. But at church, I felt like I was only a worker bee that needed to do things. I was important and valued as a worker, but that was all. There was no place where I fit in to receive, only give, give, give. The Lord is good. But that church…I went one last time about 2 years ago and saw for myself that I could keep coming back to work, but that’s all there was.

    It’s funny. I spent 22 years faithfully working at churches and now I’ve not been to church for 2 years. I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the people or the activities. I believe in God and I pray with people at work, but I don’t miss the church. I worry at times that I’m just hard hearted. I just was tired of being treated like my only function was to work at church. We are called by God to do good works, but in my heart I can’t believe that’s the Only reason the Lord wants me to be part of his family.

    Again, thanks for this article. 🙂

  6. Kerri says:

    I couldn’t agree more! You have poured MY thoughts and feelings onto your page. I am so happy to have found another ‘kindred spirit” who just wants people to know that they are enough. That Jesus thinks they are enough warts and all. You have been blessed with a wonderful gift, Courtney. Never stop sharing your heart.

  7. Crystal says:

    You are gifted beyond measure Courtney. I love reading what you write, I love how truthful you are. I love that you love Jesus and most of all I love that you understand many different view points of different situations. I am not a perfect Christian, I should try harder…..I’ve struggled with lots of different sins, I know Jesus loves me the same. He has never let me down. I’m not a full time church goer. After 3 tries I found where God speaks to my heart and they are an amazing church family but you see…..I can be ME around them, why….well judgement is why!

  8. Lucy Cox says:

    Amen. If we were perfect Jesus would not have had to die. We would not need Jesus (after salvation) if we stayed perfect. THANK GOD FOR HIS PERFECT SON, and our salvation.

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