When Church Members Leave

April 26, 2007 by

It seems that everyone has been talking lately about leaving churches and how to be graceful in doing so. And if it’s not how to leave a church, it’s how to take in someone who left another church or fire someone from your own church.

It’s a marketing nightmare. Churches are playing tug of war over staff members, pouting over laypeople leaving, and pointing the finger at everyone else for stealing people. Maybe this isn’t how it is everywhere, maybe I’m reading too much into it. I don’t think so. I would imagine that everything we see played out is only a fraction of what goes on in the hearts of church leadership.

It’s a difficult thing to swallow–your members leaving to go elsewhere. The knee-jerk reaction is to wonder why some other church is better than you. The Swerve Blog has a great entry on this. Christ offers some advice about this. He tells us that people will know we are Christians by our love for one another.

I’m not saying that the blogosphere is giving undue attention to this issue. I’m saying it should be less of an issue. There should be no inherent fear in leaving a church, and there should be no pouting at the loss of a member. If a member leaves for another church, they’re going to somewhere they will fit better. The body as a whole will function better.

I do want to mention two caveats to this. We all know that church-hoppers exist who will do this time and time again. This is a strain on the church, and the Bible doesn’t skimp on reproving someone for actions detrimental to the body of Christ. (See Paul kicking people out of the church or Christ reprimanding those only looking out for themselves.) But with every change, they are one step closer to realizing that the problem might not be with churches.

The second is that it is appropriate to mourn the moving on of a member. And some people will leave your church only to leave the church, and we should certainly mourn with God at these losses. Yes, it hurts when people leave your church. It’s a member of your family gone. We have a delicate balance to hold when people leave–to appropriately mourn the moving of a loved one and to praise God that his body of believers is becoming stronger.

The most important marketing move today might be how the world will see you respond to someone leaving. Are you truly happy for someone who leaves, or do you become angry with them? Do you have love-compelled sorrow for missing them, or is your sorrow catalyzed by anger or jealousy? This might be the key to understanding whether you are truly living with love or with a hidden agenda.

Post By:

Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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11 Responses to “When Church Members Leave”

  • Gloria
    April 26, 2007

    Hmm… Interesting thoughts.
    Especially as my pastor has just announced his “promotion” to district Superintendent. We have had several very core members of our church leave because they have moved or been launched out into ministry, and on the whole it’s been rather well-handled, thanks to the wisdom of our pastor.
    The only trouble we’ve ever had in that area was when someone was “launched out” and the entire congregation was told “If you’d like to go with them to support them, feel free,” and then when not enough people left with them, they kept trying to encourage people to leave– even months after their church was established… even after they were told no and asked to stop.
    In my experience the problem is not nearly as often that people leave one church to go to another. It’s more that people are not connecting within the church. A person could float along feeling isolated for years and years and actually give up hope of ever feeling a true and lasting connection. A church can have a great feeling of unity, a wonderful presentation, great “marketing,” and make it easy for a new person to slip into a nice comfortable spot, and never really feel like a part of the congregation.
    I know it’s a bit off the point but again, my pastor was great about people leaving and taught well on it– on really connecting to those who stay…….

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  • Chris Huff
    April 26, 2007

    This issue comes up in seminary from time to time as well. I think depending on the circumstances, it would be appropriate to either wish a church member well, let them leave without your blessing, or even practice church discipline regarding their leaving. Maybe this a topic for another day, but many church members don’t want to leave peacefully or for the right reasons. Some use their membership as leverage, trying to get their own way. I pray, though, that you’re right. I hope that we always deal with each other with nothing but love, and that we thus prove that we are Christ’s disciples. Sometimes this will mean calling that leaving church member to repentance.

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  • brandon
    April 26, 2007

    Sometimes, I think we use the idea of the “church hopper” to gloss over our own shortcomings.
    If we believe what we teach; that is, everyone needs a connection to God, everyone needs to be a part of a body of believers etc, then the idea that, “oh they’re just church hoppers” doesn’t seem to fit for me. They are looking for something we aren’t providing them. If we were providing what they were looking for, they wouldn’t leave. Churches aren’t very good, for the most part, at acknowledging their shortcomings. Its much easier to put the blame on the leaving members than it is to step back and evaluate what you are doing. I doubt when a retail outlet is evaluating their shopping trends, they just say, “oh store hoppers will be store hoppers” when they see a shift.
    I’m not saying that you should cave every time someone leaves, but if you see a trend, you should evaluate.

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  • Mean Dean
    April 26, 2007

    People leave … and the best marketing plan should include some form of an exit interviewing or at least questionairre process.
    If not only to discover weaknesses, perhaps provide closure for individuals whom may be walking about hurt and have not been afforded an opportunity to be heard in a context that counts for something.

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  • brad
    April 26, 2007

    ‘Church-hopping,’ whether you call it that or not, is here to stay. It’s an element that’s been built into church ‘consumers’. (The comparison to store-hoppers above is perhaps more accurate than intended…).
    I would love to see churches get more serious about connecting with people regularly, and ensuring that everyone is making a good effort to connect with Christ. All too often I see churches pour into certain key leaders, and everyone else is marginalised.
    I think the core marketing strategy that will work for both ministry and our culture in this era is to offer a connection to ‘your life’s purpose’. That’s the best possible interpretation of individualism. If we have that as a goal, then the church is an active training ground for ministry rather than a shelter for the saints.
    And then this ebb and flow won’t matter as much. And — I’m willing to bet — won’t happen as much.

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  • Mean Dean
    April 28, 2007

    “I would love to see churches get more serious about connecting with people regularly, and ensuring that everyone is making a good effort to connect with Christ.”

    I would agree with that. I think that when churches lose focus – so then do their members.

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  • frank benson
    February 13, 2008

    I was raised RC and spent some time as a 7th day adv. After staying away from church for 10 years and searching for five more, I have been a member of member of 7 churches and four denominations since 1997. So maybe I am a church hopper, and I admit to being very touchy and getting offended easily. One tip for pastors: do not allow ignorant, uneducated, immature 20somethings into the lay leadership of the church!

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  • ac
    June 2, 2008

    Certainly a topic that I am faced with at this time. It’s a time of reflection and humility but should all lead us back to the sole purpose of pleasing God. I’m not a fan of programs that entice but programs that enlight…programs that reaveal purposes, truths about themselves and God

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  • Sherry
    March 10, 2009

    The increase in church hoppers may be due in part to the change in the role of the church itself.
    A few churches are falling short of solid Christian and Biblical principals. Sometimes, it can take awhile for church goers to discover this.
    I know of one person who said it took several years to discover the minister did not believe in creation.
    Although there are a variety of reasons for leaving a church, I believe most Christians do not desire to leave a church but have sound Christian values which prompt them to do so.

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  • Theodore Wright
    June 11, 2012

    Actually, church hopping is the Biblical model for fellowship and ministry. I agree that a more mature attitude should be held regarding this. Please see this article… http://maverickchristians.com/2012/05/03/church-floating-biblical-model-fellowship-ministry/

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