- How should a local Church respond when members or regular attendees leave?
- What should Church leaders do to minimize misunderstanding and disunity?
There is nothing unusual about people leaving churches. Larger Churches might not feel the effects of losing people as much as smaller ones — but all Churches face the issue.
In Churches where everyone knows everyone else, there will be more confusion and misunderstanding when people leave. This could create an atmosphere of doubt and even unhealthy introspection.
Church leaders must offer preventative guidance to their congregations on how to respond to people leaving their Churches. It’s also important to emphasize what God desires for relationships in His Church. Consider teaching the Church to follow a community covenant based on the fruit of the Spirit.
Relationship Covenant for the Church
We agree, in dependence on the Holy Spirit, that our words, attitudes and actions toward one another will be expressed lovingly, joyfully, peacefully, patiently, kindly, generously, faithfully, gently and with self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The reasons individuals give for leaving a Church can vary greatly. Sometimes it’s simply geographic necessity. Other cases involve more personal and complex reasons. Regardless of circumstances, it’s important for the rest of the body to respond with grace and maturity.
Five points for congregational instruction
- Avoid hasty conclusions – Encourage people to avoid jumping to conclusions about the departure of certain individuals or families being an automatic indication of problems in the church. It may be difficult to discern any other reason why a seemingly content person leaves, but this is not the same as knowing there is no other reason.
- Guard your tongue – Instruct the Church family not to engage in speculation or gossip regarding specific cases. The results of this are always negative and possibly sinful (Proverbs 18:8, 20:19, 26:22).
- Seek leadership – Encourage the people to direct specific questions to the church leadership. While the leaders will provide as much insight as possible, the amount of information which can be ethically disclosed will vary. Since the leadership of a Church is often involved in ongoing communication with a departing party, it would neither be proper nor profitable for a public statement to be made. This allows the individuals proper time to evaluate their decision, while avoiding a possible barrier to their willingness to return.
- Trust leadership – It’s the responsibility of the other members to trust and support the leadership, praying for and encouraging them (I Thess. 5:12,13; Heb. 13:17).
- Learn Biblical principles – Since Scripture is the only authoritative guide for the Church, people should be taught the principles of Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-18: I Peter 4:8 before there is need to apply them.
Sample congregational letter:
Dear ___________ Church family,
We are thankful that God has brought many committed believers to share in the life and ministry of our Church family. Occasionally, some from our number will choose to leave our fellowship. When this happens, to avoid speculation and misunderstanding, we encourage you to direct questions you may have to the leadership. To the best of our ability and within proper guidelines, we will try to provide answers. Let us take seriously our responsibility to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Please reflect on the following Scriptures:
- “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
- “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace …” (Romans 14:19).
- “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
- “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy …” (Hebrews 12:14).
- It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel (Proverbs 20:3).
- “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
- “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins (i.e. offenses)” (I Peter 4:8).
- “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17-18)
(The pastor/staff _________________________)
Be sure to also teach your congregation the importance of practicing unity on debatable matters and protecting your Church from divisive people.