When I first entered the ministry, I had the idea that no one would ever leave a Church where I was the pastor. I would preach inspiring sermons and offer educational teaching. I would be pleasant to be around and would have great advice to offer. I would work to develop Godly leaders and lead inspiring worship programs. With all of this happening, there would never be any reason for people to leave the Church where I was the Pastor.
Then it happened. A couple left the Church to attend another Church. They gave me a reason, and I could see it. We needed to improve that area of our Church. I took it on as a mission to enhance those programs, and that would eliminate it from happening again.
Then it happened again. Another couple left. It didn’t take many years to discover that no matter what I did some people were always leaving the Church, even the one that I lead. In fact, through the years I have discovered that every Church is losing someone. It might be that the guests do not return or that the senior saints drift away.
It happens and here is some of what I have learned.
1.You Can’t Please Everyone. What you think is great worship is not to someone else. What you think is inspiring preaching is shallow to someone else. What your church does each week, someone else does it better.
2. Everyone can find an excuse if they want it. If I attended your Church this Sunday, I could find flaws with it. Some people choose to ignore those flaws, others do not. If I don’t want to be at that Church, I will find a reason
3. Many people do not quit one day, they fade away slowly. Most of the people who leave the Church do it over the course of time. They miss a Sunday here and there. Then they miss a month. Then two months. Finally, they are gone, and people don’t even notice. Drifting happens more than deciding.
4. Church hoppers are true to their nature, and one day they hop away. I had a friend in business who used to tell me that if a customer came in cursing their last place of business then one day they will leave cursing your business. The same is true in Church. Some people are looking for the perfect Church that does not exist.
5. Standing for truth will repel some and attract others. When you take a stand on anything, you will create friends and enemies. Every Church has a long list of people who agree with them, but also those who disagree with them.
6. Matthew 13 is still true. There is a parable in Matthew 13 about a sower and four soils. In this story, a sower spreads seed all over the place. The seed lands in four different locations, and three of those do not produce fruit. 75% of people who hear the message of Jesus will eventually walk away.
7. Evil is still at work in the world. This can take many forms. It can be an unfortunate accident that leaves us with overwhelming questions. It can be sin that drags us away. It can be a sinful decision that allows guilt to smother us. Even the most committed Christians have a weak point.
8. No matter what happens, love and trust people anyway. You never know what will happen to the people you encounter. They may quit. They may also become the next great Church leader who helps to transform the world. You never know. On top of that, each one of us is called to love people no matter where the future takes them. While they are near me, I am called to care even if one day they walk away.
Some days I find myself still dreaming that no one will ever leave my Church again. Then I wake up and come back to reality. People will come, and people will go. I cannot take it personally. I cannot mold everything in the Church to keep them. The Church is called to love people while we can and to keep pointing people the right direction.