15 Reasons I Left/Stayed in the Church

Going to church can be painful. And I don’t just mean that you may have to get up early, surrender some “down time,” and possibly listen to a bad sermon. These are painful enough on their own. But for many, going to church is difficult for much more significant reasons. And, as a result, some choose not to go at all. Others stay, but only after extensive soul-searching.

Should you stay or should you go? That’s not an easy question for many people to answer. Especially when it’s not just a question of leaving one church for another. What if you’re beginning to suspect that all churches are broken? What if you’re not sure that any church will do? What if leaving means walking away from the church entirely?

Here two thoughtful, but very different, responses to those questions. On the one hand, Rachel Held Evans explains why she decided to leave. And, on the other, Hannah from Sometimes a Light tells us why she stayed.

Why I Left the Church

Earlier this week, Rachel Held Evans gave 15 Reasons I Left the Church, explaining why she walked away from the church several years back and is still struggling to find a church home. It’s an open and honest window into the thoughts and struggles that many Christians have at some point. As she explains:

I left the church when I was twenty-seven. I am now thirty, and after trying unsuccessfully to start a house church, my husband and I are struggling to find a faith community in which we feel we belong. I’ve been reluctant to write about this search in the past, but it seems like such a common experience, I think it’s time to open up, especially now that I’ve had some time to process. But let’s begin with fifteen reasons why I left.

The post is worth reading even if (especially if) you don’t agree with or understand her decision. (You should also read her next post on 15 Reasons I Returned to the Church, which talks about her commitment to the Church universal even as she remains disconnected from any particular church.)

Why I Stayed in the Church

And here’s a follow-up post from Hannah at Sometimes a Light on 15 Reasons I Stayed in the Church, even though she had plenty of reasons to leave.

Imagine the worst case scenario of church politics; add to that having to live on government support because the church won’t pay your husband (the pastor) enough to support you and your three children (“Nobody asked you to have another kid.”) Throw in some deputation experience and seeing first-hand how we’re often simply franchising American Christianity via missions. Stir until you reach mental, physical, and spiritual exhaustion, and you’ve pretty much got our story covered.

And yet we stayed. Even more, we subject our children to the weekly routine of church life (despite the fact that my five-year-old pouts every Sunday morning about having to go.) To top it all off, my husband just accepted a position as a senior pastor of a conservative church only a little more than an hour away from an evangelical Mecca.

So why have we stayed unlike so many of our peers? I hope it’s not because we’re co-dependent or that we’re blind to the problems. And I hope it’s not because we haven’t evaluated our position or because we lack critical thinking skills. Actually, to be honest, it’s probably those very things that have kept us in the church. So here’s my list in no particular order:

I’d strongly suggest reading these two lists side by side. Together they provide a fascinating entree into the church in all its brokenness, how difficult that can be for God’s people (when we’re honest), and two different responses to that reality.




  1. says

    After reading both, and with my own bad (read traumatic) congregational experience under my belt, I would have to fall on the leaving side of the table. It is most unfortunate that I have come to the conclusion that religion produces self-righteousness. Self-righteousness leads to judgment. Judgment leads to pain, not the commanded love (or service to others).

    Religion is not faith, although faith thrives in a framework of some type to worship the Holy One in community. Therein lies my problem. A problem I’m still grappling with.

    • says

      Your response is so interesting to me. I see the church as being overly lenient so as not to look judgmental. I agree that self-righteous judgement is wrong, however I also believe that real love is not afraid to correct the beloved. I think the self-righteous ones are those that believe they are above correction. We are all still human and prone to our own selfish desires, from time to time everyone should expect to need correction. It’s never easy to take, but it brings growth and new life. Righteous correction is one of the reasons I have stayed within the church. I want to become a better version of Christ, not a better version of me.

      I stand with you in hope that you soon find a good community of worship. Bless you.

  2. says

    Hendel, thanks for a very honest comment. It sounds like you’re struggling through exactly the same issues. As I’m sure you know by now, there really aren’t easy answer. But I’m glad to hear that you recognize the tension and haven’t given up on worshipping on community. As broken as the church can be at times, I do think we need to keep pressing forward in hope, recognizing that even in our fallenness, we are still God’s people.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. says

    Jennifer, I completely agree that the church does need to speak against sin, and probably should do it more than it does. And sometimes people end up alienated no matter how graciously the church goes about doing that. It happens. But I think the church also needs to realize that the problems often come from mishandling these very difficult situations. When people become alienated from the church, I think those on both sides need to take a very hard look at how things went wrong.


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