Every year 15-20% of people attending a local church will leave. I once heard Lyle Schaller say, “You people are all going to move, quit or die. We can’t count on any of you to be here in the future.” While he said it with a smile, there was also a harsh reality behind his words. Eventually, all of us will no longer be a part of the Church we love now.
The most challenging group for the pastor to handle leaving is this the second group. I am okay with people who move, and those who die are sometimes hard to accept, but we have no control. The group that quits are the ones who break my heart. Every pastor I know agonizes over the pain of someone leaving the congregation they lead. And yet, every year, no matter the size of the Church and the quality of the ministry, people will leave.
Here is my list of how people leave the Church community:
- The Painful Split. Some people will be offended by something, or they will not like the changes that were made. The disagreement is over methodology and not theology. Most often, these people will leave the Church with a loud voice, frequently inviting others to join them. It is an ugly scenario, but it repeatedly happens in Churches, especially small ones.
- Drifting Away. When someone’s life hits a busy season, for whatever reason, they stop coming as their schedule fills with other things. Their three times a month attendance becomes once a month, and then once every other month, and then once a year. They never really intended to leave. It just happened.
- Placing Blame. This group leaves the Church and lets everyone know that it was because a person or family did something that offended them. They did nothing wrong, and this other person is the problem. It is a matter of intrapersonal relationships gone awry.
- Distraction. These people come to me and tell me about some theological problems they feel causing them to leave. Almost without exception, there is something else going on in their head. If they can blame their departure on a Biblical stance, then they are justified in their behavior. I once had a guy leave the Church and blamed it on the topic of baptism, what he didn’t tell people about is a private meeting where a ministry associate and myself questioned his motives as a leader the week before this happened.
- The Direct Approach. I can count on one hand the number of times this has happened. But I have encountered a few people who have come into my office and sat down so they could discuss an issue. When we could not find a resolution, they left the Church, by mutual agreement. One time this happened because our Church was not able to have the children’s programs this family felt they needed. There was nothing I could do, and the family moved on to another group.
Through the years, I have come to terms with people leaving the Church. My biggest frustration is that people leave and quit attending anywhere. They claim to go for because of some high moral standard and then spend the rest of their lives away from Church, and most unfortunately, often away from the Lord. I wish they would find some place to go where they can grow spiritually. I understand that people don’t like me or feel they can grow spiritually somewhere else. I will never get those who don’t just quit the local Church but the Church entirely.
My suggestion is that if you are thinking about leaving, go and talk to your pastor about it. He will be more understanding than you think. I can speak for all of us when I say we really do want to see you grow spiritually somewhere, and while it may hurt to see you leave, we still want you to grow in the Lord.