When The Bags Are Packed: When A Person Leaves Your Church
During the darkest time of my life, she became a friend to me. Well over a decade ago our friendship blossomed and we’ve been friends ever since. We saw each other at church regularly and then continued to grow as friends during the rest of the 167 hours of each week. Her daughters even babysat my sons for me. We experienced life together and felt very comfortable sharing our hearts with each other. There was just something in both of us that said, “Your heart is safe in her hands.”
Several years later, our paths didn’t cross as much but when they did we picked right back up where we left off. It was as if no time or distance came between us. Somewhere along the way, her family stopped attending our church and decided to go to another one in our town. I was kind of surprised because I love our church and thought they did, too. It instantly made me feel strange when I saw her because I wondered if I should ask her what happened and why they left. But what if I did that and she shared their disappointment at the church where my husband and I are called to? Would I feel the need to make excuses or justify the things we do that they don’t agree with? So I never asked.
What do you do when someone leaves the church you love? How do you handle the unspoken distance that it creates when you see that person again? I know that I’m not the only one who has experienced this. It happens all the time. And I believe that it doesn’t have to be weird when this transpires.
We should expect people to leave our churches. People have different needs and desires. They have different styles and tastes. Some love traditional churches while some love those that are more “cutting-edge”. Some love to sing old hymns from a hymnal while others enjoy singing contemporary worship songs. Some love the energy that accompanies large churches while others prefer the intimacy in a smaller setting. Just because someone leaves your church doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them or something wrong with your church.
I want to give you a few things to think about as you experience this:
- Be happy for them. You love your church, right? Wonderful. Apparently, they needed something different. If they have found a church that is completely opposite than yours, don’t get offended. You wouldn’t be upset if they chose a different style of jeans than you or preferred a different restaurant, would you? Of course you wouldn’t. Choose to rejoice that they have found a place where they want to plant roots and grow in Christ. It doesn’t mean your church isn’t working. It just means that finding a new church home has helped them get more plugged in and that brings growth.
- Support them. There is something most humans have in common – the need to be supported. Ask them how God is working in their new church home. Be excited about things their church is doing in the community and in the world. It may be different than yours and that’s okay. And don’t get into a competition with them. When you ask about what God is up to in their lives, listen and rejoice with them. Don’t turn it back to what God is doing in your church. Just enjoy listening to how God is working in their new spiritual community. My friend and her husband are mentoring many younger couples in their new church and making a huge impact! And for that I praise God!
- Pray for their new church and leadership. If the situation was turned, wouldn’t you want your friend to pray for your new church and its pastors? One of the things that the Christian church tends to be poor at is supporting other churches. Most of this stems from a competitive spirit. We don’t want that church to steal “our people.” Friend, there are enough people in the world and certainly enough lost people to go around and fill all of our churches. We just need to pray they do. We are all a part of the CHURCH. Let’s pray for revival in all of our churches that preach Jesus Christ as Savior!
I know it’s hard to watch people leave your church. I have seen more people leave my church than I can even remember. And while there has been a bit of a sting at that realization, I just remember that so many people are coming to our church for the first time and meeting Jesus. And that is a good thing because they have found our church to be their new home.
We have to live out the faith we proclaim and believe that God is truly in control. If we do, we will trust that He will lead people to and from churches in order to impact this lost and dying world in which we live.
Do you struggle when people leave your church? Why or why not? If you do, try to pinpoint the reason(s) why. Whether you struggle or not, consider implementing the suggestions when you hear that someone has left your church.