When people leave a Church

  • 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

Helpful resources 

Steve Cornell

This entry was posted in Accountability, Antagonists, Call to ministry, Church, Church discipline, Church growth, Church Hoppers, Church Leadership, Church membership, Church Planting, Conflict, Difficult people, Discipline, Ecclesiology 101, Elders, Life of a pastor, Local Church, Pastors, Peace, Table of the Lord, Trouble-makers, Unity and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to When people leave a Church

  1. walking wounded says:

    In a healthy church, your advice “Encourage the people to direct specific questions to the church leadership” probably works. However, it raises red flags of alarm for me. The pain of broken relationship with the pastor of a church we left over 10 years ago still ricochets in my heart. We left because the pastor had become overly authoritative, spiritually abusive, semi-cultish. This pastor would have said the same thing; direct all questions to leadership, that is, to him. He knew why we left. We Matthew 18-ed until we were blue. I imagine people asked him why we left. I imagine he put his own spin on it.
    We crossed paths 2 times with people who then asked us why we had left. I knew the one person well and told them the reason as best I could at that time. (It took years for us to untangle our pain and confusion enough to have a succinct answer). The second person who asked had begun attending shortly before our departure and I did not have ‘a read’ on her spiritual maturity. I was concerned that a direct answer might harm her and so I responded, “We believe the Holy Spirit was directing us elsewhere.” That was true, although I expect not what she was asking. Looking back, I wonder if I should have given a more direct answer. I was hyper-conscious to not gossip or cause dissension. Yet, I now realize that the pastor’s charges against “gossip” and “divisiveness” were another way he maintained control. Whatever the case, Christ is a faithful shepherd to His sheep, to us, and to that other couple. I learned that they later also left that pastor/church.

    • Indianchristian says:

      Hi Walking Wounded.
      WOW. Your comment is really good. and informative. Equally good is this article.

      I know someone in my church who is going through such pain though Pastor is not that controlling like in the case you mentioned above. They are about to leave the church because of the wrong outlook of the pastor that comes out in their talk with the Pastor and his wife. And various wrong interpretations of the passages. like for instance if your wife drives a car, and you would not as a man, it does not mean that man is not responsible at his house. It is a wrong interpretation of Ephesians 5:21-25. And there are many other issues like that.

      I found the same reasoning to a large extent when my friends who found the same system when they were in Australia. The church they belong to have such leadership. Praise God for such good churches. Where the Word of God is not only followed by the Church leaders including the Pastor but followed as well and propagated form the pulpit.

  2. DM says:

    this was a timely post for me as well. we attend a small house church and as you mentioned in the article, you feel their absence even more in a smaller gathering. They were coming regularly, then poof..not a trace. I did find myself experiencing some of that “unhealthy introspection and doubt.” Long story short, after reading this, I shot them an short e-mail, even alluded to some of the things you mentioned here, and got the most encouraging, refreshing e-mail back. So thank you for writing this timely post. DM

  3. daniel says:

    thanks for the article – very sound advice. there should be a church manual on how to “leave-well”. There are so many hurts, misunderstandings that stem from not “leaving well.”

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