Why I Don’t Go to Church
Posted by editor at 6:59 pm in workplace notes

So I’m one of those people who affiliates herself with a denomination (Unitarian Universalist or UU), but doesn’t attend church and isn’t a member of a church. I realize that in the larger picture, this is undesirable and “bad,” but, after a few years of guilt, I’ve ceased caring.

Before reading my reasons for not attending church, you may wish to read what others have written regarding recent Pew research that only 24% of those who identify as Unitarian Universalist (UU) in a survey are actual members of congregations at Philocrites, Transient and Permanent, The Journey, Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, Boy in the Bands, and The Chalice Blog. This will help you read what I’ve written within a larger discussion of affiliated but unchurched people.

And please note that I attended UU Sunday school and five different UU churches regularly from age 5 to 27, went to seminary, have been an employee of both a UU church and a Catholic school with required Mass, so it’s not like I haven’t thought about church, theology, religion, and spirituality. For the record, I’ve also written about when church worked for me here and here and here.

 Here’s my list of why I don’t go to church any more:

1. I don’t actually think church is important for me right now  It certainly has been very important in the past.  It might become important in the future. And it’s certainly important to others. I’m not denying any of that. But considering I’ve regularly attended UU churches all around the country, I think I have a sense of what church is about for UUs, and church isn’t for me right now. However, I don’t think that means I’m less of a UU or less spiritual or religious.

2. The time of day sucks   I go to the Sunday Farmer’s Market, and it closes by 11:30. I like the place a lot; I like vegetables and fruit; I like wandering around. I always run into someone I know and have a chat. It makes me feel really good, and I’m not willing to trade that for church right now. And my Sunday mornings aren’t limited to the market. This Sunday, my friend Beth is coming over for brunch. Next Sunday, I’m having brunch out with other friends. For people with standard working hours (many of my friends), Sunday morning is one of the rare times to socialize.

3. My needs don’t seem to matter much in church  This is a biggie. When I was single, I felt woefully out of place in the UU churches I attended so much so that I volunteered to work in the RE programs where people (and by “people” I mean the kids) were closer to me in age. I rather liked those experiences, but it certainly didn’t make me want to hang out with the adults in the rest of the church. More recently, I’ve found that the UU churches I’ve attended have seemed populated entirely with parents of young children and retirees, and served their needs pretty well with programming (at least to an outside observer), but left me with the sense that I would be more highly valued in the church if I reproduced (or retired). Along those lines, I’m never particularly interested in the additional programming at church. Social action often seems low to absent, and family game night and folk dancing seem everywhere. That’s just not what motivates me to join the club.

 4. Petty Dysfunctional Shit  As someone who has experience with petty dysfunctional shit (often on a daily basis!), I seem to be able to identify it fairly quickly, and, unfortunately, one place it thrives is in churches. I have no need to deal with an additional time-suck on my energy during my down time. Plenty of churches have let The Crazies take over.

All of these seem like selfish reasons, but I since not attending church my soul and life seem to be thriving. And it took a long time in order for me to learn how to take care of me, so I’m going to keep doing it regardless of perceived selfishness.

Let’s say you read what I wrote above, and still had some interest in me attending your church despite what seems like abject grumpiness (perhaps it’s just honesty?) on my part. In that case, I’d suggest the following:

1. Don’t make church the end-all-be-all-of-ministry and of religious and spiritual experience, because it’s not.  It’s a part, and not the whole. And there is a growing number of unchurched folks out there getting their needs met elsewhere. As people with liberal religion, and a growing number of unchurched folks, I think listening to why and how they ended up unchurched is a good first step.

2. Offer an alternative service time and alternative ministry to Sunday mornings.

3. Spend considerable time understanding how to minister to single people, people who don’t have kids, and people who don’t fit into the mainstream of the congregation. Ask them what they want. I’m guessing it’s not folk dancing and family game night.

4. Stand up to The Crazies. And every church has them.

I don’t feel particularly good about this post or proud about it, but I thought it was important to state the legitimate reasons that I don’t attend church regularly in light of the larger discussion on the people who affiliate as Unitarian Universalist, but don’t attend church.

Why I Don’t Go to Church has 27 Comments

  1. Amen, sister!

  2. Hehe; yeah. I can understand all of those things. The service times surprise me, really. Given my current situation (I’m not working, hubby is; we like to stay up late), I’m more likely to go to church on a Tuesday afternoon than a Sunday morning.

  3. This is interesting in conjunction with the article I read earlier this week, about how nearly half of Americans have left their childhood faith:
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=4339939&page=1

  4. “Social action often seems low to absent, and family game night and folk dancing seem everywhere.” Sounds like you’ve been to more churches than I have, but THAT is scary to me. I’m the social action and green sanctuary chair for a small church; without living our principles, UUism is just words. I wouldn’t want to belong to a social club either–with or without kids.

  5. did you ever get the “well God must have plans for you to serve in full time ministry because you don’t have children” ….?

    yeah sure, church might be a good place to serve people, but after many years of it, you wonder when it’s your turn to be served . . . but because you don’t have kids that never happens

    my dad’s a pastor, (although recently got a doctorate and is now professor in spiritual formation at a university) my husband used to work in a church school, i used to work in a church publishing house - so we were fully versed in church stuff

    we had a major life shift a few years back and are no longer employed by church organisations
    and haven’t been to church as a “place” since

    when you’ve seen a lifetime of religious obligation and observation that makes minimal difference to how someone lives their daily life, you can’t help but wonder
    now we prefer to live the life, rather than sit in buildings talking and singing about it

  6. We tried to start going to church when we had a kid, actually, but despite it being a pretty kid-heavy congregation from what I have seen, it didn’t work out for us, specifically because of the kid. Service 10:30-11:30, then some hanging around chatting afterwards, at a place that’s 35 minutes from home, doesn’t mesh well with nap time. Bad Things happen if naptime is delayed too far.

    Perhaps in another year or two we will all be ready to try again.

  7. […] exact reasons? Well, Ms. Theologian pretty well sums it up. Except that my farmers’ market closes at […]

  8. I still have guilt about not going to church (Mass, in my case), but this post has relieved a bit of that. I think about religion and God all the time, but Sunday Mass always bothered me. I’ve never worked out why. I always liked weekday Mass better, with lots of true crazies hanging out in the downtown cathedral trying to stay warm. There is something about a crowded service, with that ever-present handful of people who need lots of attention, that ruined the experience for me.

  9. Boo yah!

    What a great way to put this into words! I feel exactly the same. As an expecting parent, I don’t think I want my kids to be “programmed” in a church, and I’d much rather find a non-religious/spiritual way to teach ethics and morality.

    By the way, are people really contacting you via this site to convert you? That would be annoying…

  10. You are a wise woman. Thanks for stating your reasons so honestly. Yes, indeed, sometimes the importance of having a spiritual practice, living one’s faith in the world and working for peace and justice gets lost on Sunday mornings.

    At my congregation, lots of parents & kids love our Saturday afternoon service (4:30 PM). I don’t have children, but people usually assume I do. Spouse and I make sure to say,”We decided not to have children” rather than just “No.” This way, no-one is over-focused on the size of my belly or asking me “Is there anything to report?” ;-)

  11. I hate that church is at 11… it does suck up so much of the day. As for the crazies. They usually have clipboards! Beware of clipboards!

  12. The Unitarian Church of Montreal long ago let The Crazies take over. So I offer an alternative spiritual practice on Sunday mornings that stands up to The Crazies. . .

  13. This is the real downside of being a congregation-based movement. Congregations are great, except for when they’re not.

  14. My parents’ church offers an early service at 8am. They like it because they have the old skool hymns as opposed to the hippy dippy guitar and xeroxed pages modern music they have at the 10:30 service.

    I think some of the bigger churches offer similar.

    Me, I just read PostSecret.com then go to Dunkin Donuts for coffee. It is a very religious experience. :-)

  15. My girlfriend certainly entertains many of the same viewpoints you do. I attend meeting and she does not. Despite being raised Jewish and considering herself Jewish from a cultural standpoint, she is firmly against any organized religion just on principles and, as might be familiar to you, she thinks Sunday mornings are for tending garden and practicing yoga. :-)

    The reason I go to church/meeting is quite simple, I believe in a unique 21st century spin on Christian anarchism. Naturally, I don’t throw that term out much because it’s highly academic and bound to be a) understood by a very few b) utterly disregarded c) misunderstood to mean I am advocating for chaos and disorder, which is the last thing anyone wants from a congregation setting.

    By that I mean that the Kingdom of God is within each of us, a term co-opted by Trotsky, but what I interpret to mean that we are our own salvation and that the motive for going to church or growing a faith are intrinsically similar. We will lead by example and we ourselves will be our own redemption.

  16. stand up to the crazies!

  17. […] and all the ways we could expand our reach and ministry. Ms. Theologian links to the various posts here and also eloquently writes about why she is Unitarian Universalist but does not go to church. But, […]

  18. Chuck in Harrisburg wrote:
    February 29th, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Hmm.
    I appreciate your post, but I would ask you this: If your church had a series of social events in connection with other UU churches in the region that was geared not toward just families, but had families in mind would you go? I’m thinking of annual jamboree’s or the like where you could meet other UU singles to just hang with.

    I would theorize this, however, about having young families. I would guess that singles and empty nest baby boomer couples would probably spend less on their church than young families. While young families tend to have less discretionary income than singles, they are more likely to want to spend time in church activities with their kids so the children will have access to a moral legacy. Therefore, those families have more invested in the church, which should result in a greater consistant net gain. I’m shooting from the hip here.

  19. “Ask them what they want. I’m guessing it’s not folk dancing”

    Why pick on folk dancing? Did you have a traumatic folk dance experience as a child? Were you frightened by a freilekh? Did a square dance make you squeamish?

    I’ve attended several UU churches and have not yet been to one that hosts folk dances, but, if one of them did, I hope I wouldn’t hold it against them. :)

    I can relate to the “what’s in it for me?” stuff, but it also frustrates and disappoints me. Being a part of any community requires a certain amount of inconvenience and discomfort, right?

  20. God, you get it SO right here.
    I keep telling people till I’m blue in the face that late Sunday morning is quite possibly the worst imaginable time to have a service.
    People tend to go to yoga, the gym or meditation classes after work, weeknights - why not try that out?
    And the mania for attracting children and “youth” - in Australia, with one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the world, where the average age is 35! No-one at church seems to have noticed that. Yong people in general just aren’t that interested in spiritual life, but most everyone somewhere in their mid 30s starts to get a little twinge of spiritual longing - and there is almost nothing out there to cater to them.Most churches (of all descriptions) have their priorities all wrong, and are dealing with a 1950s kinda social structure that exists only in the realms of myth and good intention.
    This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time.

  21. Born&raised UU here, about to take a break from my church too. The congregation is driving me crazy. Too many uptight WASPy know-it-alls, the programming doesn’t have much appeal for 30-something people like me and lately all they seem to do is ask for more money. I already tithe and volunteer my time but yeah, it’s never enough. Bottom line is there are way too many assumptions about my politics and beliefs, and I get impatient with the whole socially awkward, wishy-washy white liberal vanilla vibe. I’m married to a Latina and for all the “welcoming” stuff the church dishes out, neither of us really feel it in any real sense. I mean yeah they fall all over her because she’s brown but it seems a bit phony and weird.

    This is definitely not a very UU comment is it, ha ha! Anyway, it’s not like I have it all figured out, this is actually a difficult decision to make and I definitely feel like there’s gonna be a hole in my life, starting tomorrow morning. But for the last 2 months every Sunday I find myself asking, “why am I even here? Where are the people like me? Is this really my congregation? Do I really belong here?”

    The answer seems to be no, for the moment.

  22. hallelujah! these are the reasons i’m working dilligently to bulk up young adult ministry inside and outside of UU churches

  23. I think you sum up really well the issues so many people have regarding the church, and, more specifically, “Christian” church. I was raised in a very traditional church with some wonderful hearted folks, but also a lot of hypocrites as well (as I heard someone say once “just because you call yourself a hamburger doesn’t make you one!”). When I got to college, I explored a lot of different paths and had a bad taste put in my mouth by a church that was very unhealthy. It took me 4 years to even enter into a church community again.

    I can sincerely say that it was only by the grace of God and his love and healing that I’m able to be part of a really great Christian community of faith today (with its faults, of course, with humans involved nothing is perfect, but that’s part of the way God grows us and helps us understand His forgiveness-by forgiving one another and maturing together in Him).

    I really do understand where you are and respect that, and I believe there are seasons of life-it’s a journey-and God’s constant heart is for all of us to draw near to him. As a kid, I’d experienced the truth of Jesus and the message of salvation by his loving sacrifice, but mostly religion and the archaic structures and social clubs you and many of the commentators mention. However, as a young adult, God really gripped my heart, and once Christ did, I was never the same-I was in love. As a relationship of love, it has its ups and downs like anything else, but by God’s very communal nature himself, He draws you into community with other believers for the support needed to continue in Him in this fallen world, and also for the very desires He places for social justice that He calls us to by His nature. It’s sad to me that there truly are lots of wonderful people out there following Jesus, doing the “stuff” (ie feeding the poor, recycling, being good stewards of the earth, volunteering in tutoring programs, shelters, etc) in the name of Christ, interspersed in many different denominations, and yet so many people have had that bad taste in their mouths like I had because of those out there-as you say “crazies”- who might follow in name but not in heart (not that I’m trying to single anyone out-it’s for God to judge, but He did say in scripture that there would be weeds growing alongside the crops until the day of harvest…it’s always been that way…to give everyone maximum opportunity to know Him). God suffered and gave everything so we could have this amazing relationship of love and know how precious we are to Him, and I think there are a lot of young churches out there that are totally changing the way they do “church”-they’re creating authentic, loving communities-not service and program oriented clubs, whose focus is to reach people with the love of Christ, be agents of change in a hurting world, and minister to each others’ needs of all ages and marital statuses…God is still very much at work, no matter how much brokenness exists-He’s always been a pro at bringing good out of bad.

    Also, I remember being single and, at a critical point in my faith walk, God just loving on me so much through lots of married couples at the church I went to at the time, along with other singles. I felt very cared for, and though I’m married w/ kids now, it’s important to me to be that for others now and be a part of friends’ “extended families”.

    I hope this is not in any way “preachy”-that’s TOTALLY not my intent and apologize if it’s come across that way at all. I more wanted to share what God’s done in my life and I’ve seen in my walk with Him, as I felt it relevant to your insightful posting.

    I’m glad that this is a time of growth for you and pray that, especially in this Easter season, you’d experience more and more of that passionate love He has for you and bless you with His presence and direction for the season ahead. *BTW-a friend of a friend sent me this link bc he thought your posting was really good-in case you’re wondering who on earth this person is! =)

  24. Marmota Monax wrote:
    March 15th, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Whose responsibility is it to make your local UU congregation fulfill you?

    Four years ago, I first walked into a UU congregation, 26 and single, and discovered I was literally the only person there between ages 16 and 36. (By the way, it has no folk dancing and no family game night.) After about a year, I decided that someone had to stand up to the crazies, and organize a weeknight service, and be the driving force behind some activities I would enjoy, including more social action. I rolled up my sleeves, volunteered, and got started.

    Of course it would have been easier to walk away and just blog about why I was washing my hands of the whole thing. But it has been fulfilling to stay and help my local congregation implement those changes. There are now more than twenty active single 20-and 30-somethings in a congregation where four years ago there was one. And now some of them are now taking over the leadership roles I initially took on, so I can sit back and enjoy the spiritual feast myself. If I had just whined about how somebody should do something, I’d still be waiting. Good luck with your blog and your sense of entitlement.

  25. Wow this is very cool. I stumbled upon this wile looking for info why kids dont want to go to church. Iv been raised in church my whole life. I sat in a youth room ware it was just me and the teacher, no one else. I was the the whole youth group. Talk about boring! I didnt understand God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and or how the bible even related to me. So i just stoped carring. Ya my parents made me keep going to church. But when i hit 16, ow my life changed. Never would i cuss. Then heck im talking like a sailer! Was i ever pushed in to drugs no cant say i have been that stupid. But since im not in church and the free time. Iv had so much temptation on other things as who i started to hand out with! Whitch was a ripple effect to WOW um Girls, every guys down fall. Sex and perversion took over my life. Thats all i thought about. Psh and wow, all from not going to church? Na cant be! Right? So at 17 years old i started to pay attention in church! Started to ask questions as in why are we hear? Whats the point Christ and the whole church thing? Hm seems to find out while i was gone my youth group finly took off and had about 40 kids going there. Why? We had somthing called prayer meetings were the kids would come and pray. I found out that the church was set up and ordainded by God him self. He gives us teaching and understaing. Fellowship with each other and to be inspierd to keep going hold the faith! I asked Christ in my life. Not becouse my parents made me! But becouse i seen my life out side of Christ not church. And it was stupid. No meaning, no goal, nothing but lies and death! So i guess to make a long story short. Man has so many rules that just dont make any since. Remember, God made the church not man. So if ur not happy with the church u go to. Mabys its becouse God realy isnt in it. Maby its becouse its so religous that God cant work there or move to show you who he realy is. There are thousnads of churchs in the United States. Psh maby hundreds of thousands. In my city there mite be almost 70 alone. So to say that church just dont work for you. That just dosent make since. Becouse if your a christian saying this, that dont add up. The bible says in Romans 12:2 And do not be confromed to this world, But be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. There is so many churches out there that you can find one that works for you! I dont want to tare any one down. I want to lift them up. But Church is for every one! If there is fault with in the church. Its becouse were human! The bible says there is not one rightous before the lord! Meaning… we make mistakes! But i totaly understand were you all come from been there my self. I just urge you to pray and to find a church thats has young adults your age. Im 19 years old, is very inportant to have people my age around me so i can relate to them and them me! But thanks for hearing me out! God bless!

  26. Ben Whelan-Morin wrote:
    February 12th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I’d love to have a conversation with you regarding this, not because I’m trying to get you to go to my church, but just because I want to find out more about the reasons those go go and why those who don’t don’t.

    To give you some background, I’m a member of Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, VA. I just turned 29 on Wednesday, I am married, but my wife and I do not have kids nor do we plan on having any in the near future. We’ve been attending MVUC since 2008 and we love it there.

    This summer, I plan on doing a lay service on young adults and motivations for coming to UUism. I came into UUism because I was a paid section leader in a choir in a different church, but after moving to a different part of the country, I decided to become a member of MVUC. I agree with you very much that the church is predominantly either married couples with kids or retirees. We still love it there anyway because of the spiritual centering we get from going, but we want to find out what our congregation can do to attract more people our age and circumstance to it.

    Anyway, email me any thoughts you might have. I’d be fascinated to talk to you.

  27. My two boys (30’s) also have a problem attending church for similar reasons……maybe not put the same way. It always goes back to one basic reason with many different facets……I, ME, MYSELF
    (1) The church isn’t meeting MY needs
    (2) I’m only going to church to get something for myself
    (3) It’s inconvenient for ME
    (4) It interferes with things I want to do

    Consider this approach

    Can I plug into the church to use my gifts to help others
    Can I give of myself to God and others through the church to help others
    Go to church to praise and thank God for my blessings
    All the good things you have come from God, Including your time.

    Sounds like you’re still in the selfish mode of life. It’s all about you….not thanking God or helping others. Give God your schedule and heart and He will change and bless you.

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