Poll: Why Have You (and/or your children) Left the Church?


Our parish (St. Clare’s in Berea, Kentucky) continues to be inspired by Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel” (JG).  Our pastor has embraced its letter and spirit.  So has the growing number of parishioners attending Sunday evening discussions of the document during Lent.

All of that is significant, because (as in the church as a whole) there is a lot of discontent among us. It’s like the pope says at the beginning of apostolic exhortation: there believers are described as often “resentful, angry and listless” (JG 2).

Those are the sentiments that surfaced during discussion of “The Joy of the Gospel” last Sunday evening.

The spark that caused them to rise came from an unexpected source, our pastor himself. At one point in the meeting, he said, “I have a question: Why is our church losing people?”

Our jaws dropped. A door had finally swung open to meaningful discussion.

Our pastor identified three causes for parish attrition: (1) parishioners have not felt invited to truly participate in parish life; (2) many have moved away from our town, and (3) we’re just not a welcoming enough community.

Parishioners around the table offered alternative analyses that probed a bit deeper. They said: (1) our community lacks effective leadership; (2) liturgies are boring, lifeless, and lacking the “joy” centralized in the pope’s exhortation; (3) homilies are disconnected from the world, our lives, and from the day’s burning issues. In general the church is out-of-touch.

In the midst of the conversation, someone said, “If we want to know why we’re losing people, we should ask our children. Most of us brought them up in the church the way we were supposed to. We took them to Mass every Sunday, sent them to catechism classes (and even taught some of them ourselves); we introduced them to the sacraments. And now virtually none of them go to church. We must be doing something wrong. We should ask them why they’ve left.”

So that’s what I’m doing here. I’m asking any young people who read this blog, why have you left the church. Just a sentence or two will do, though longer responses are welcome. I’m asking parents why they think their children no longer “practice” the faith.

In the meantime, here are a few of my own thoughts:

A Church in Crisis!

Our church has fallen into deep depression.

Even our pastor asks

“Where have all the children gone?

Why are the pews empty?”


His question admits that

We no longer appeal to young people.

We have lost touch with the world

And its problems

Of poverty, systemic dysfunction,

War, Michael Browns, misogyny, and abysmal income gaps.


A fearful church – the Ratzingers among us –

Defensively retreats to an imagined past

Where young people were “moral”

And still came to Mass

And confession!!

Where “reforms” meant rehabilitating words like

“Consubstantial,” “chalice,” and “under my roof.”

And where everyone cowered

In fear of the Lord

And of the Reverend “Father.”


Those days are gone

For good,

Francis says.

Thank God!


He’d have us address

The real problems of the world.

Globalism does not work.

It’s destroying the planet.

“War never again,” he repeats

And “Who am I to say?”


This father

Does not pretend

To know best.


He looks to the wise

Young carpenter from Nazareth

Who loved the “lazy” poor

(And was one of them!)

Who loved the whores and drunkards,

The lepers, fags and pimps.

Who cursed the rich

And blessed the ragged.

“The Kingdom is yours!”

He promised them all.


Our globe needs that Spirit today

More than ever!

But few find it

In our churches

Where we should.

That’s why the pews

Are empty!

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

10 thoughts on “Poll: Why Have You (and/or your children) Left the Church?”

  1. I have lots of thoughts on this but I’ll keep it short. I find the Catholic Church, especial pope Francis, more action oriented and I respect that. However I find Christians in general to be judgemental, mean spirited, obessed with guns and war and exclusionary. It didn’t matter to me if I was different than the rest of Christians or not. I do not want to be associated with any group of people like that. Please also know I think you are much different mike! And I hope you know I love and respect you so much!


    1. I know you think a lot about this, Mindy. I recall lots of exchanges about this sort of thing when we worked together in Costa Rica. I find myself agreeing with what you write here. And the love and respect is mutual — as you well know.


  2. As you mention in the blog post, we were all more or less forced to attend mass on a weekly basis. The community aspect of seeing your friends, their families, and being a part of a larger identify was nice. But apart from relationship and community building, I never felt a real connection to Christianity and frankly always found church to be an inconsequential chore. When I have my own family, community building will be important, but I will find it outside of religion.


    1. So grateful for your comment, Patrick. I know what you’ve been through, and my heart goes out to you. Don’t forget what I told you in our phone conversation about Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God. If you don’t get it on your own, you can expect to
      receive it as a Christmas gift.


  3. Your parishioner’s summary of the church being out of touch sums up all the reasons why I quit parish council and often attend a UU church on Sundays. Our pastor would attend the P.C. Meetings as a spectator instead of a participant. And his homilies often focus on his personal daily musings (YAWN!).


    1. Thanks for your comment, Brian. It sounds all too familiar. I too find the UU meetings quite meaningful — frankly more so than what I described in my post. I’m still hoping that the many others in my parish who feel as I do can bring about change. We have plans . . .


  4. Off the top of my 82-year old head, I can think immediately of five reasons why people have left the Church (I assume you refer to the RCC) or are planning to leave, or have children who are not at
    all interested in any Christian affiliation at this time, despite what they may or may not have learned or seen among relatives in their homes or in Catholic education institutions. These five items are listed in no specific order of importance:

    – Hypocrisy – at all levels

    – Elitism – at all levels, but more pronounced and cleverly nuanced among the hierarchy

    – Use of lies and scare tactics re attitudes of our God-given gift of human sexuality (includes but
    not limited to loving sexual relations between committed male and female partners; mandatory
    celibacy for ordained clergy and for others in religious orders; birth control; divorce and
    remarriage, especially for serious and legitimate reasons. Most of these are man-made laws
    that continue to be used as a cudgel against Roman Catholics especially

    – Hundreds of years, or more, of the denial of women as equal partners in the Church – from
    the local parish and dioceses up to and including the Curia and the Magisterium

    – Failure to emphasize Jesus’ teachings and His message first and foremost and to put such
    into concrete action. Our tireless missionaries and other committed persons (male and female)
    cannot do this alone. They were never intended to bear the burden alone. Jesus; commission was
    given to each and every person who claims to be a Christian – a follower of Christ and all
    that he stood for and for which he ultimately died a gruesome death splayed naked upon a tree.

    And these five reasons are just off the top of my head!


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