we stopped going to church

Why We Stopped Going to Church and What We Learned…So Far

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Last Updated on April 6, 2024 by Sarah McCubbin

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When we stopped going to church, I thought the sky might fall. It was something I was NEVER going to do. But we did 11 years ago and I would do it all over again today because the journey it took me on is the one where I found a true and living faith in Jesus.

Good Little Christian

I grew up in Sunday School. My parents were new believers and we attended church regularly…Sunday morning, night, and usually Wednesday too. Their faith was alive and my dad often taught classes. I was saved at 4 years old when I prayed one night by myself. Growing up, I would say I had social anxiety..so church was stressful unless I had a buddy…a friend I could sit with. As a quiet, introverted kid, I was often just observing how church functioned, and over the years, all those observations added up to a lot of confusion.

Why did we dress up for church? Why did all these churches have different names…Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist etc? If we followed the same Jesus, what was that? Why one man standing in the front and everyone sitting in a half circle facing him…when the Bible said we should all bring a word, or song or tongue. It was just that…lots of observations.

Getting Married and Having Babies

But I was a good Christian so I knew I would never “fall away” or “backslide.” I married my husband Mike when I was 20. We had both gone to Christian high schools and met at a Christian University. My experience was a lot of rules… A LOT of RULES…that governed everything from the clothes you wore, to your haircut and color to the movies you watched and how often you went to church.  We went to “church” or chapel 8 times a week in college…it was just a LOT.

We married in 1999. My father-in-law was a pastor, so my husband had been around church his entire life. As a young married couple, we attended the church I grew up in regularly and plugged into a young married’s class where we made great friends. Everything was good…we were doing all the church things and it was great.

However, I would say my church “realizations” really started to connect when we started having children. 

I was 23 when our oldest son was born in 2002, and 3 years later our 2nd son was born. During that time, I began to realize just how much our lives had changed. It was so much harder to connect with people. We couldn’t just go off whenever we wanted to hang out. My husband was working as a nurse which meant he worked every other Sunday and many evenings leaving it to me to get the kids ready and take them to church or any social functions.

By 2008, we had 4 kids ages 6 and under, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to do church solo. It took a lot of effort to get them up in the morning, get them dressed and dropped off. Of course, someone didn’t want to go to their class…and I always had a baby. Sitting in the cry room…or needing to step out with a disruptive child was getting old. It just seemed like a lot of effort and chaos to just keep showing up. With a bunch of kids running around, it was really hard to find time to just socialize without someone needing something.

Pagan Christianity Was the Beginning of Freedom

stopped going to church

It was during this season that I read the book, Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. My husband and I would drop the kids off in Sunday school (free babysitting) and sit in the church cafe and read or discuss this book. It was essentially an explanation of the traditions of the church and the historical context in which they somehow were added to the church. Chapter after chapter I would read this book and feel a sense of relief and grief. It all made sense, the underlying frustration with church. So many of the things I had observed that bothered me were identified as traditions in this book. 

It didn’t offer easy solutions…but the problem was now identified and that gave me something to think about.

At the same time, as we were reading this book and having an awakening on the topic of church, my oldest son, now 8 would come home from Sunday school every week very excited. He was so excited to tell us about the latest Wii game he played before church. He couldn’t tell us anything about the actual Bible lesson…but he could definitely tell us all about the video games.

Additionally, the church we were attending was upgrading their security in the children’s department and they would now require parents to scan in to drop off kids and scan again to pick them up. This made me realize that all this security was necessary because people who were teaching the classes didn’t necessarily know the parents…and vice versa. It dawned on me that I was letting perfect strangers teach my kids the Bible…and what my kids were learning wasn’t Bible…it was video games (at least that is what they were remembering). 

That realization, that strangers were teaching my kids the Bible, was like a light bulb going off. Something was wrong. Here I was, homeschooling my children so I could be careful what they were being taught about regular subjects, but I was letting strangers teach my kids the Bible. We weren’t doing a great job teaching our kids the Bible at home either. It was like we had unintentionally expected they would learn and believe the Bible just because we went to church…prayed etc. 

We began to scour our Bibles to figure out who should be teaching children and how. And the passage that really jumped out was Deuteronomy 6:4-9

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  

The imagery in that passage was very different than my church and Christian school experience…but actually very similar to how my own parents had taught us to honor and trust the Lord at home. (Growing up, there were lots of conversations over the dinner table and on the porch about Jesus and how He works in our lives.) My husband and I both realized that we really were not doing a good job teaching our kids and we wanted to change that. 

At the same time, just going to church wasn’t really working. There wasn’t a way for us to know what they were teaching in Sunday School. And a house full of little kids meant a lot of energy was going into outward appearance leaving little energy to talk about our hearts.

So we stopped going to church. 

At the time we left church, our 5th biological child had just been born and only a few months later our foster and son and daughter (now adopted) joined us….and was followed by his sister a few months later. Soon we had 7 kids…4 in diapers and no vehicle large enough to take them anywhere at once. I was sleep deprived and exhausted while my husband worked nights as a nurse to keep us afloat.

7 kids ages 9 and under – 2012

The first week we stayed home from church, I thought the sky might fall. My prayers to God were something like, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me mess this up. And please don’t let me mess my children up.”  We really had no idea how we would go about doing this…but with a bunch of little kids of all ages, we prayed whatever we did would “work.”

So we stopped going to church and began to do church at home. In the beginning, that looked like us buying doughnuts (every kids favorite part of church right 😉  and sitting around the table. We purchased a Bible curriculum and we would read a Bible story every week and talk about it. Our Bible time lasted maybe 15 to 20 minutes. And that was all.

Over time, I gave our kids Bible reading assignments for school and my husband and I really invested in our own spiritual development and learning what the Bible had to say for us today. We began to learn that the promises of God are for us today and that we can believe and stand on those promises and it will change our lives. 

Teaching and training our kids began to look a lot more like the verses in Deuteronomy.

Although we stopped going to church regularly in 2010, today some of us go to “box churches” some of the time today. It will never be a legalistic requirement in our home. We hang out with other Christians all the time in many different contexts, and it is such a blessing to let conversations about the Lord flow freely. We can learn from each other and we don’t need to wait for a “word” just on Sunday morning.

Recently I realized that I hadn’t really “updated” this post in awhile. It’s now 2024. In the past 13 years, I have tried to attend several churches…a few for more than a year. As it turns out…I ask a LOT of questions and not everyone likes that. Someone usually ends up saying, “You should find another church” and so I leave because at this point in the story…I over the “controversy.”

At this point in our family journey, I love Jesus…more than I ever did. I hang out with believers in different groups several times a week and we talk about the Bible at home…all the time. My oldest son, who is 21, gets up early for work and by 5:30 we are often debating some theological point. It continues all day long with different kids as we talk about culture, life and struggles…all in light of the Word of God.

What began as a fearful attempt to figure out discipleship for our own kids has become a lifestyle of faith where Jesus is in everything…and that is oddly normal.

10 Things I Learned When We Stopped Going to Church

As I think back on when we stopped going to church, here are some of the things I learned:

  1. I don’t go to church because I am the Church. The Church is simply people who believe in and follow after Jesus and we can do that any day of the week anywhere we want to spend time together.
  2. Parents are the only ones who are directly called to teach their own children. This is a BIG responsibility…bigger than I ever realized and it has changed my life to own this and to step into it.
  3. Outside the “box church” are a ton of believers who also don’t know how to do the institution anymore…we weren’t alone.
  4. The Holy Spirit truly is our teacher if we let Him.
  5. When we partner with the Lord, He can lead us on a journey of faith that starts right where we are without guilt or shame.
  6. The Lord wants to spend time with us individually…whether we go to church or not.
  7. He cares about our brokenness…and He wants to heal us.
  8. Stopping church doesn’t mean you don’t believe in Jesus.
  9. Children can learn to love Jesus even if they don’t go to Sunday School
  10. The church…believers in all walks of life…are an amazing group of people who will come alongside you and support you while you figure things out. And its really ok not to have them figured out.

Quitting Can Actually Be a Beginning

From time to time, I meet others who stopped going to church. Everyone has a story and they are all different. But what I love is how the stories are all similar. Over and over when someone has a crisis where they feel like they need to quit, they find that it is actually the beginning of something new. If we let Him, the Lord can use these times where we pull away to really connect with our hearts, show us who He is and help us know ourselves in Him.

What about you? Have you ever “quit church?” I’d love to hear your story.

My “quitting church” story is shared here simply as a means for people to understand the thinking and processing that one person had on their journey. Everyone is different. I love Jesus and people. I love the church (God’s people) and still have a lot of mixed feelings towards the institution. It’s a messy view of church but I’m ok with that. Our story is not prescriptive…I don’t believe that “quitting church” is the answer to every problem and that it automatically translates into a stronger relationship with Jesus. That just isn’t the case normally. I’m so thankful that God meets us in the mess!

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2 thoughts on “Why We Stopped Going to Church and What We Learned…So Far”

  1. Hmm, I’m always interest why people who love the Lord quit going to church. I agree with some of your issues with going to church. I wouldn’t want people I did not know watching or teaching my children. And that is one of the reasons why I love my church. We run about 120-140 people on Sunday morning. Over the Past 20 plus years that has ebbed and flowed. But I know all the members of our church. And I think that is The way a church is supposed to be. 300-500-1000 churches are no longer a family. I have never thought that the church was where my children were going to learn a lot about God as young children. More of a reinforcing of principals. And A place to fellowship with other Bible believing people of all ages. And now that they are older to hear good preaching that can help them and me keep walking with God. Many people at our church would say you should be in church when ever the doors are open. But like any Ridgid man made rule, that breeds miscontent. And yet if you only go to church sporadically you are not really part of the group. When Paul said “forsake not the gathering of your selves together” I think he meant make it a priority. Do it most of the time. Be dependable. Iron sharpeneth iron. I would encourage your family to look for a smaller church that you can be a part of, serve with, your family has so many talents. Not that you can’t serve God outside the church, everyday. But God did specially establish the church to grow And edify believers. I think very highly of you Sarah and would not have shared my opinion so boldly with you , but felt you would receive it in the spirit of kindness that it is shared. I value our friendship.

    1. I love that you shared your thoughts..thank you! A funny side struggle I have had in this journey has revolved around children’s ministry. Most churches have a rule that you cannot be in the children’s ministry to observe or listen to what they kids are taught unless you have been approved. I have talked to a lot of Children’s Directors and what that has meant is that you need to attend the church for 6 months, submit background checks and have fingerprints before you can sit in the class. I’m fine with background checks and fingerprinting, but when my kids were little, I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to bring them…if I was not allowed to go sit in their class and listen to what they were being taught. Most churches will let you once they know you…its the whole problem of being a new person. I did sneak into the youth group once without being “allowed” and got to sit through a talk with some interesting unBiblical points. When I confronted the youth pastor, he informed me I could never be in there again unless I was approved. Stuff like that…I could go on and on. I finally stopped trying because I didn’t want my kids to feel agitated with the church. I have started going locally..without my kids…because I still don’t know how to do that if I can’t listen to what they are taught. At the end of the day…it has been a faith journey that most Christians have not agreed with. So I can’t teach it as “the way” but it has been our story up until now.

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