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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Why someone might not attend church

I met up with some old friends who’d brought along some of their friends I appreciated meeting.

It didn’t take long to get to that awkward point in the conversation that follows the “What do you do for a living?”

Well, maybe not awkward for most jobs, but typically for the ones I’ve held (funeral home manager, local church clergy, and now seminary professor).

At least people clean up their language.


At one point one of my new acquaintances asked why I still go to church.

I gave her my reasons.

Then she gave me her reasons…I didn’t find her rationale passed muster as reasons, more like excuses, really.

They reminded me of the list a pastor came up with after getting fed up with the excuses parishioners offered as to why they didn’t attend worship services.

He countered with “Ten Reasons Why I Never Wash” in the Sunday bulletin:

  1. I was forced to as a child.
  2. People who wash are hypocrites – they think they are cleaner than everybody else.
  3. There are so many different kinds of soap, I can’t decide which one is best.
  4. I used to wash, but I got bored and stopped.
  5. I wash only on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.
  6. None of my friends wash.
  7. I’ll start washing when I get older and dirtier.
  8. I can’t spare the time.
  9. The bathroom is never warm enough in the winter or cool enough in the summer.
  10. People who make soap are only after your money.
  11. I watch other people washing on TV.
  12. There are lots of clean people who never wash.
  13. We’ve just moved here six years ago and haven’t had a chance.
  14. I bought a bad bar of soap once, so I swore I would never wash again!
  15. I feel as close to washing on the golf course as I do in the bathroom.
  16. I never wash when I have company.
  17. Washday is the only day I have to sleep in.
  18. My spouse washes enough for the whole family.
  19. I know people who wash but don’t act very clean.
  20. Washing is the opiate of the masses.

The recent attention to “nones” and “dones,” suggest there may be legitimate reasons for not attending church.

This is troubling to many, particularly those whose investment to congregational life is a significant part of their spirituality.

For lifelong church goers, it can be almost inconceivable that persons of faith do not attend church (or, attend MY church).

As one who visits many churches as part of my work, I must admit churches tend to give visitors many reasons for not coming back: ignoring their presence (a lack of hospitality), poor corporate worship experiences, poor sermons, confusing church buildings (I once tried four doors before I was able to get into a church on a Sunday morning), no parking, etc.


Certain populations will find it difficult to connect with most congregations, or, to find what they need spiritually and socially: those married with no children, single adults, persons with transportation challenges, seekers and sages, spiritual misfits, etc.

Let’s admit is, not every church is for everybody.


Do you have legitimate reasons for not attending church?

Does your church make it too easy for people to make excuses for not attending?

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.

Dr. G. & Friends