Why people stay in your church

Why people stay in your church is a article by Pastor David Cox who is a missionary in Mexico and has pastored for 35+ years on his observations over the years. In this article, I want to focus on why people stay in a church.


If we bypass some of the obviously not important topics, such as people that are unsaved and they attend your church and stay in your church for popularity (the way others perceive them), or because it is convenient in some way for them (they want to appear religious but don’t want to drive more than 20 minutes to do so) then we can get down to the real issues that matter.

For the purposes of this article I am talking about saved people who stay in a church over a long period of time, years.

Your Church Offers Them what They Need and Want

Beyond any brainstorm rocket science type of thinking, this is very simple and healthy. You supply “good stuff” to them, and they enjoy that. Perhaps the best “pull” type factor for church growth is simply meeting a good Christian’s needs. What are the main elements in this then.

The key issue here is simply the intelligence of the pastor and leadership of the church. They must know what people want, and most probably what they really need. Let me be clear though, this is a poor reason for staying in the same church. Any social organization functions the same way, and their success or failure or mediocre status hinges on the group giving their people some “thing” that they want. A teen soccer team can be a great success if it provides what the parents and kids want. But soccer, baseball, volleyball, football, or just a reading club, all of these things are directed at and only successful if they can recruit members that are attracted to their particular element they are revolving around.

Spiritually, you must gather saved people, people who spiritual or not want to obey God, and if you can tap into these people, and you provide THEM with what they want and need, your church will be a successful church in the eyes of the Lord.

I am not talking about a church in the thousands, although that may happen. Size depends a lot on location, and the population of Christians around where your church is situated. But even a small church of 50 people in the country that has recruited truly saved people who want to serve the Lord can be very successful in God’s eyes. That is my point.

Buildings, Youth programs, Old folks programs, Social elements, etc.

I should say something here about these things. Most pastors worry excessively that some other church near them has all of these things and they are drawing a lot of people into those churches, and a pastor of a small church with limited workers and resources cannot compete.

Well, yes, those are drawing attractions. But we need to clear our mind of what is “good” in a carnal way, and what is “good” in a spiritual, God honoring way. Not to detract from the spiritual ministry that some or all of those programs do, but having padding on the pews is really getting carnal if that is what a person is using to decide where he is going to worship God.

The pastor and leadership’s focus should be on providing spiritual needs, good sermons, good counseling, good teaching, evangelism, etc. Every pastor just about is plagued with some near by church that has all these bright and shiny attractions. But we are not going to the circus when we talk about churches. Some churches are exactly a carnival  atmosphere. The masses that attend these churches help pay for all that show, but really, it is hard to believe that all those masses are really saved in the end. Their view is carnality. Maybe a few are really saved, but when a church bases its ministry on that kind of thing, we must entertain, then the saved, spiritual voices get drown out eventually, and the carnality tail wags the dog.

As ministers we must always remember that we are not in the ministry as though we invented it all. We are under the commission, authority, and direction of God in what we are doing. We must be responsible and accountable to our Lord, and that must overrule everything that doesn’t fit perfectly with the Master’s will.

Good Preaching

A church is very similar to a restaurant. When they offer good food, that sells the restaurant more to the world and makes satisfied returning customers more than any other thing.

As a preacher, I observe that the key element in preaching (whether it is biblical or not, I will not judge at this point), but that element is simply that the preacher connects with the people. They are good preachers who connect, and bad preachers who connect, and there are good preachers who do not connect, and bad preachers who do not connect.

“Connecting” is when the people agree with what the preacher is saying. They either conclude he is right, he is biblical, he sounds good whether he is right or not, and they agree with and/or like what he says. All of this is very delicate and fragile. The reason why it is fragile is because a good preacher in God’s sight is one who gives the messages of God that God sends that preacher for those people. When that happens, God is pleased. Only excellent and above average preachers really can trim down a congregation and keep them liking him all the time. To “trim down” is to call out their sins, and rebuke their lack of energy and trying to correctly, biblically fix their problems how God directs in Scripture.

But “good preaching” means that the preacher addresses the spiritual needs and problems of those in his congregation. A point of reference here is that many “good churches” (that really are not the best churches) give information about the Bible. This is different from biblical preaching. Nathan came to King David and gave him a sermon, and punctuated it with “Thou art the man!” Good preaching is not so much information about the Bible as it is carefully laid out information, correctly exposited and presented, and driven home with application that actually seeks moral change in the person.

Although good preachers will always preach from the Bible, not all preachers will draw out the moral principles that people have wrong and try to convince on those principles. Yes, the Holy Spirit will do this. But God uses his preachers, men of God, that will do this for people. A good sermon should always be a moral persuasion discussion. There should ALWAYS be application, or various applications of the information be pressed by the preacher into the morality of his congregation. It is difficult and painful in the best of situations. (to recognize, rebuke yourself, repent, and change according to God’s Word).

When I see churches over the years of my visiting churches trying to raise support, those churches with the best pastor congregation relationships are those where the pastor is giving his people something that they need, and it is very good, and very difficult to get by themselves or through other places, people, media, etc.

What really is “a church”?

So my question is, what really is a church? Is a church a building, a program, a doctrinal statement, a fellowship, or a prima dona pastor? Theologically, I would tend to say a NT church is a doctrinal creed and beliefs and practices, and a fellowship of saved people. But that is not what I understand from all the churches I have ever visited as a missionary. “We” accept only that the church is the prima dona pastor. That is unfortunate, but that is just the way things are.

In the New Testament, we do not know the actual name of hardly any church in and among those mentioned in the New Testament. Maybe the Lord’s half brother James was the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, and maybe Timothy was the pastor of Ephesus for a while at least. But the entire focus IS NOT ON THE HEAD PERSON RUNNING THE CHURCH. In our churches, it is.

I have also read arguments that the office of pastor is not biblical. I do not know how you can argue that when the word appears in Scripture exactly as that. 1 Timothy 3 uses the word bishop, which is supervisor. That is another concept, but basically, somebody particular in each church is in the business of spiritually leading the church.

Churches don’t even seem to function well if somebody isn’t in the leadership calling the shots, and that almost unilaterally has to be a single person. Presbyterians like to talk about their churches are not run by pastors, but by elders, of which one is a “pastor”. But he is under the board. But in truth and actuality, that equal elder among a board of elders makes the decisions and the rest of the elders generally just rubber stamp what he wants. Rare is the case that they disagree, and if they do disagree much, that head elder leaves for another church in time.

I am Baptist, so I see more Baptist churches than anything else. I commonly see Baptist popes. This is horrible. These guys ruin the church and drive it into oblivion and bankruptcy. Unbelievable how these act in the work of the Lord. But my point here is that people come to hear a man, and sit under his spiritual administration of the church BECAUSE THEY LIKE HIM. False prophets use this to get a foothold into churches and pervert them. Yes, okay. But in the end analysis, my people come because they just like me. I have to accept that as fact even though I fight against it greatly.

I know this because when I am gone and I ask one of my men to step into my shoes, they always complain. For goodness sake, it is for one or two Sundays, but some would make it the end of world. The guys that step in are good in their doctrine, can preach somewhat, and just sometimes say the wrong things and offend people. But when preaching and exhorting our congregation, I do that sometimes also. But it comes back to me, if you are friendly as a pastor, a lot of people will visit, and stay around, stick in your church.

Good Fellowship

As I have seen many churches, it is amazing to me how blind people are to the simple truth. On the one hand, we have those people who really do put a lot of stock in numbers, bigness, nice buildings, etc. To them, that is the only measure of success that they go by. Okay. I disagree, but let’s go with that for a minute.

Then there are other people. The “normal” church members. I have been a pastor all of my life, and as a teen and before I grew up in Baptist churches. Very simply, I identify many church members (way too many than should be) that are just ornery. These people look at the church as “their possession” (probably is in a real way), and they see everybody that visits or even new members as simply enemies to their possession and occupation of the church.

Over the years, this aspect has fascinated me as a preacher. The human body has an immune system, and one of the great problems with cancer is that the body misidentifies the cancer as being part of the body. It feeds it, it doesn’t send antibodies, white blood cells to attack, destroy, decompose and exit the body. The cancer is a tumor eventually that overtakes normal functions and kills the body.

That key element of discerning friend or foe is what makes or breaks a person’s health. On the flip side, many churches hear the pitch for some false doctrine, unbiblical conduct, some sin that is presented as being a morally good and necessary, obligatory thing, and they fall for it. Again, a bad thing taken in as good.

The Bible speaks of us giving deference to our brethren, of supporting and giving weaker brethren “a break”. Not being so cruel and opposing to those that are different. Paul explains these issues USING THE BODY AND MEMBERS as his illustration. The hand cannot say to the foot, leave, I will cut you off from the body because you are not a hand. Many members, but those members have different functions and uses, so do not identify as enemy what is just different from you.

This key point is what so many churches get wrong. The people just don’t accept new people, or one faction in a church “hates” another faction. As pastor of a local church, I hate to admit this, but the issue of people coming to me conditioning their continuing attendance and support of our church on me “running off” somebody that they hate is all too frequent. It has happened with totally different sets of people about 4 times in my ministry.

These people misidentify others in the fellowship as dangerous, as enemies, as bad. I ask why they see them that way, and every time, the issue comes down to a single always reason, because I discern that they are bad. I don’t need any more reason than that.

I read a book about Fundamentalism and compromise a long time ago. I forget the exact title. But the author made the point that the Bible says THERE MUST BE HERESIES. His reasoning was that God demands their existence because these heresies are like lightning rods for unbelievers walking and ministering and participating in our fellowship so true Christians can see this and discern who is really saved. In every case in our church, these people eventually leave. I have never given in to these requests so that might be part of it. But over the years, when two people are fighting among themselves, usually both will leave, no matter how you work it to try and resolve things between them.

A good warm welcoming atmosphere and environment IS THE MOST POWERFUL DRAWING ELEMENT any church can have to grow the church. That costs time, money, energy, etc. But the pastor is extremely limited in this aspect. It is the people of the church that must pay for this and do this. If they do not, no amount of “good will” by the pastor will smooth out rough words from some member to a visitor. They are condemned to not grow and just have internal problems.

A Scandal Free Community

One of the issues in Christianity is that we are a moral community. That being the case, we strive among ourselves to follow Christ, and imitate God and Jesus Christ specifically. God does not reveal as much about the Father, and the Spirit is ephemeral (a spirit being), but Jesus is God incarnate so that we can study his character in detail and have a better idea of how we should be.

There is a rule of thumb here in the things of God. This always has to be if God is going to work freely, fully, and to the extent of completing God’s will as God wants.

You can only modify moral character by principled teaching by a teacher that lives the example of that desired morality.

You cannot be a drunk and try to teach others not to drink. If you do that, you are a hypocrite, and you are not really teaching them to free themselves from the moral sin of drinking, excess, escapism from problems through alcoholism. No, you are teaching them to switch from alcoholism to hypocrisy, therefore, quit drinking (except for sometimes like your moral example).

God wants his leaders and teachers to teach through principled, studied, expository preaching that is lived in the lives of those who are the leaders.

So many times, there are churches where some of the leadership is okay in their moral example, and other members of the church leadership team are not moral examples for the rest. Somewhere we must find grace in our hearts for those who were unsaved, who got a divorce, and then found the Savior, and are suffering because of past sin. But that is a far fetch from people who are supposed to be saved, and then instead of living for Christ, their lives are a long growing history of failures and bad examples. Falling into sin constantly. These people need to humble themselves and step out of leadership roles.

1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour…

The basic most character of any religious leader that seeks to lead and help others in any context is that they are blameless. They are not perfect, but their life should correspond much more to that of Christ than failing to live in Christ’s example.

Although this article explores why people stay in your church, the topics of participation and financial sacrifice to the Lord’s work in your church are totally apart from just attending. There are a great number of people in some churches that simply are what I call “tourists”. They come to watch and no more. Tourists are generally of the mind set of free is the best thing, so they want to go where there is no obligation to give, participate, or involve themselves personally. It is like they want to be present to watch and definitely never set down any permanent roots in your church.

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Pastor David Cox is a missionary. See my ministry updates here.


Why people stay in your church