It’s unavoidable. People will leave our churches. Whether we are the Pastor of the church or part of the congregation; we will all see people decide to choose to be a part of another church. Sometimes they will have valid reasons and sometimes they won’t. Nonetheless people will leave. Terms like, ” I’m not being fed”, “The church is just getting too big”,”I don’t agree with everything that’s being preached”, or “My needs aren’t being met” are fairly common reasons people give. In regions where there isn’t an abundance of churches to choose from, many will stay in their congregations and work through the challenges. However, in mainstream America changing churches is a fairly common practice.
As I write I don’t really want to speak to “why” people leave~~ because I don’t want to indict anyone for leaving or praise anyone for remaining. There are so many factors involved as to the reasons why! No matter how amazing your church is, people will sometimes leave. What I would like to take a moment to address is HOW we as church leaders or church members ought to respond when those we love choose to leave.
1. Choose to be un-offendable. At the end of the day, we simply don’t own anyone. It hurts to feel like our church is not longer their preferred choice. It hurts when we have poured into someone’s life in an intentional way and they simply walk away. However, if they leave they are still part of the larger Body of Christ, and we are still called to love them.
2. Don’t shut the door! Often time people will leave only to experience some real growth in their lives and they may want to come back. I have seen this so often. If you have relationally closed the door; their ability to navigate re-entry will be awkward and painful. As Christ followers we aren’t called to punish anyone who is trying to find the best solutions for their spiritual walk. Christ always responds to us with his arms outstretched, so must we.
3. Pray for them. If we choose to be hurt and offended, we will find it very difficult to pray for those who leave. However, we are called to love–to love even those who hurt us. When we pray that those who leave our church will continue to grow, will find connection, and will stay strong in their faith, we will find that our hearts have more compassion than angst.
4. Protect their reputation. We need to be so careful that in our hurt we don’t damage the reputation of those that leave our church. We must understand that we may not have all the facts; there may be solid reasons that leaving would be best. What we do know is that we are often warned about how we use our tongues. God knows what injury can be caused by what we say. People are watching us as believers; when we throw each other under the bus, it reflects so poorly to those who are looking to us to be different.
5. Extend Grace. When people leave our churches it does hurt. Having worked with hundreds of church leaders I can tell you that it is incredibly discouraging. Watching people leave a church prematurely, year after year, wears on the pastors’ emotions; it hurts. Nonetheless, we are all people in need of grace. In a practical way, when you see someone who has left your church in a social setting; don’t ignore them or go the other way! Let’s be people whose hearts are big enough to walk across the aisle and extend the hand of friendship. Christ does that for us every single day!
At the end of the day–it’s inevitable–people will leave our churches. What might it look like if we choose ahead of time to follow these 5 steps? How different might the outcome be? Having been in the ministry for so many years I have been on both sides of this coin so I know it’s challenging.
Is there anyone that God dropped into your heart as you were reading this? any bridge that might need to be rebuilt? If it is at all possible with you ~~~ be at peace with everyone. 🙂