January 31, 2024

Adam's Blog: How to Leave a Church Well

A sensitive part of being a pastor is when people leave our church. Sometimes, that happens for really great reasons, and we can celebrate a graduating high school senior or someone moving to a new job. Sometimes, people leave because they are hurt, or angry, or both. Someone leaving is an inevitable and a natural part of a community. Still, I’ve found that it is difficult to leave a church well. We have unspoken expectations on what that should be like. Sometimes we remember how someone arrives, but we almost always remember how someone leaves. We also remember how we’re treated when we are the ones leaving. 

So, here are a few thoughts about how to leave a church well, with one bonus thought at the end. 

1) Pray about it. 
Sometimes people leave their church for the right reasons, and sometimes not. Pray about your decision to leave a church, and your motivation. I would suggest you have other people pray alongside you and your decision, too. Allowing God to lead you and your life is vitally important, and often times praying about a decision like this helps to identify whether the decision is being made out of frustration, consumerism, or hurt, or is being prompted by God. 

2) Take responsibility.
One of the rules in our house is before I can complain about having a headache, I need to be prepared to do something about it. So, before I moan to Abbie that my head hurts, I might consider taking some Tylenol. Why do we have this rule? Because it is so easy to not take responsibility. We tend to complain, or blame, and there are times when how we feel (including about church) can be impacted by us taking responsibility for our lives. For example, one common phrase uttered as someone is leaving a church is, “I’m not getting fed” (meaning, usually, they don’t believe what is being taught or presented is helping them grow). While, as a pastor, I definitely have a responsibility to help people grow, at the end of the day it’s our own individual responsibility in relationship with God to grow. Before you leave, is there responsibility that you need to take? An attitude adjusted or an expectation communicated? 

3) Communicate. 
So, you’ve prayed about the decision to leave the church, and you’ve really taken any responsibility you can take in the process. The next step is to communicate well. Honestly, this is one of the hardest steps. We want to send a quick text or email saying, “Adios” or, even more common, just disappear into the wind. Communicating that you are transitioning away gives clarity, even if it’s a hard conversation, and also allows for healthy discussion on why you might be leaving. It helps to bring some closure, and is also very God-honoring. I feel honored and respected if someone tells me directly they are leaving, even if I don’t agree with their reasoning. Talk it out – with an elder, a team leader, a pastor, or all of the above. 

4) Be kind. 
The other day someone came up to me and bad-mouthed another church, and told me it was their first time visiting our church. I always cringe a little bit when this happens. The church, at large, is the body of Christ – it’s a holy thing that God loves, even in its imperfections. Don’t be silent about abuses and certainly be honest in assessments, but after leaving a church, remember to be kind. Most often, the people remaining at the church you left are not villains, and they love Jesus. Be kind about how you communicate about churches, and also be aware that often times we leave churches because of preference, not because it’s a “bad” church. 

5) Go to church somewhere. 
I was in my office the other day, and someone told me they had decided to leave The Ridge. While that’s a difficult conversation, we talked, I asked a few questions, and asked if I could pray about their next church. I think it might have caught them off guard a little bit, so I went on to explain. I desperately want you to go to church. I love The Ridge, and you are welcome here. But if it’s not The Ridge, go to church somewhere. Don’t leave church and then give up church all together. Go to church somewhere, even anonymously for a period of time if necessary. But the goal is clear – I believe we should attend church regularly, and that it is a huge part of our faith. Leaving a church should also hopefully mean going to a church somewhere. 

BONUS: Here’s a point on how The Ridge can help someone leave well. 

Love like Jesus. 
Yes, I’m aware, we should all do this. Still, when I’m sitting in my office and someone is telling me they are leaving, there is often a twinge of disappointment. I care about The Ridge, and even though The Ridge isn’t perfect, I think God is doing mighty things in and through the people here and I want everyone to be a part of it. So, when someone leaves, I need to immediately remember that God is in control, and my responsibility is to love like Jesus. Even for people who are leaving with hurt and anger, my desire is to love you with the very best of our ability. My pledge is that we will do our best, whenever someone leaves, to treat them with love and respect. That likely includes going through the five things mentioned above, but from a different perspective. 

Make a commitment right now, with God, that if and when you leave a church (The Ridge or anywhere else), you’ll do your very best to pray about it, take responsibility, communicate well, be kind, and continue going to church. And as we do all those things, let us love people like Jesus, because people matter.

Whatever it takes,