Overcoming a Bad Church Experience

By David Sanford
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
Focus on the Family
If you or your spouse have had a bad church experience in the past, you're not alone.

If you or your spouse have had a bad church experience in the past, you’re not alone.

Approximately 22 million Americans say they are Christians and have made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ. They say that commitment is still important to them, but they have struggled with faith or relational issues and therefore quit going to church. Tens of thousands more will join their ranks this week.

Like a safe harbor, local churches can be a second home for many people. Sadly, churches also can be the setting for some of the harshest attacks against our faith.

Problems tend to arise when people are:

  • Unsure of where they fit in a local church.
  • Confused or overwhelmed by church expectations.
  • Rejected, humiliated or hurt by someone in the church.

Steps to Recovery

If you’re still struggling with a bad church experience, you’re not alone. The good news is that it’s possible for you to make a healthy recovery.

Many people have found it helpful to use a journal to record some of their recovery steps, but there are many steps you can try along with your spouse:

  1. List the ways you’ve been wounded by others. Write down who hurt you and how.
  2. Describe any times you’ve been confused or overwhelmed while attending a particular church.
  3. Describe any times you wondered how you fit in a local church.
  4. Study what the Bible teaches about experiencing God’s forgiveness and forgiving others. Read the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 39-45. If you have an opportunity, look up verses on “forgive” (and related words) in a Bible concordance. In your journal, make a list of what you learn.
  5. Pray about what you’ve learned about forgiveness. Ask God to make each truth real in your own experience.
  6. Identify who you need to meet with to ask for forgiveness for the wrongs you have done. Pray ahead of time that they will graciously forgive you. If a lot of time has passed, it’s even okay to pray that they’ve forgotten what you did.
  7. Identify who has wronged you. Tell the Lord how badly you were hurt. Thank God for understanding how you were wounded. Ask Him to give you the ability to forgive each person in your heart, no matter what they did, even if they never apologize to you. Identify the individual(s) you can’t seem to forgive. Do you need to meet with that person and a third party to seek repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation? If so, who could you ask to serve as that third party? A Christian counselor? Your pastor? Another godly older friend?
  8. Start the process of finding a new, healthy church home.

Spiritual Drifting

Leaving your church under bad circumstances can lead to the temptation to abandon church entirely. Here’s what some prominent Christians have had to say about spiritual drifiting:

“At a deep level I sense the church contains something I desperately need. Whenever I abandon church for a time, I find that I am the one who suffers. My faith fades, and the crusty shell of lovelessness grows over me again. I grow colder rather than hotter. And so my journeys away from church have always circled back inside.” — Philip Yancey

“Life is full of people who ‘used to believe.’ But because things turned out darker and tougher than they supposed, they have decided that ‘there can’t be a God to let things like that happen.’ But ‘things like that’ have always happened, to all sorts of people; even to Christ.” — J. B. Phillips

“Maybe if you have money, health and a busy schedule, you don’t feel the need to fellowship with other Christians. But when the storms of life hit — and they will — suddenly you’ll find nobody’s there. If you remain shallow in your relationship to your local church, you will lose out on the support of other Christians when you need it most.” — Luis Palau

Copyright © 2003, David Sanford. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

About the Author

David Sanford

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.