People leave churches every day...sometimes even when they've been attending that church for years or even decades. But for some reason--a time comes when they decide they need to go somewhere else. Some of those reasons are good. Some of those reasons are bad. The purpose of this post is not to debate the reasons--but rather to talk about the way that you leave a church. Before I share my ideas on how to leave a church, let me give you my very unscientific stats on how most people leave churches:
- Group A: 20% leave kicking and screaming. They talk about everything they hate, how shallow the sermons are, why the kids program didn't help and how the music is too loud or too traditional or too something else. And, of course, they say, "You'd be shocked by how many people agree with me, but everyone else is just too scared to speak their mind."
- Group B: 79% say nothing. They just disappear. They quietly resign from their ministry roles and they stop attending. If you are privy to their giving records, you'll usually find their hearts actually left a few months prior. Something happened and they became less enthused about the future. Or perhaps they moved into a new phase of life and the church just wasn't working for them anymore. Either way, at some point you are walking through the hall at church and you think, "I don't think I've seen Bob & Harriet recently." You soon realize they quietly slipped away.
You might think Group A is bigger than 20%. But it's just because they have VERY loud mouths. They get people worked up and talk to everyone, so it seems like the whole church is upset when it is really just a few.
You might also think that Group B chose the right way to leave a church. But truthfully, slipping away quietly can be just as painful for the pastor or leaders of the church (especially when you've been there for years) as those who leave loudly.
Thinking of leaving your church? Here's how I would do it...
- I would write a letter to the pastors and leaders. In this letter, I would talk about the way God had changed my life through the ministry of that church. I would talk about how some of my family members met Christ there, were baptized, went on missions trips and more. I would talk about how my own thoughts and beliefs were formed through my years at the church. I would talk about how I am more like Christ because of my time there. I would tell stories of specific retreats or camps or services where my life (or those of my family) was changed because of the church and its' leaders.
- In this letter, I would not gripe or complain. I would not talk about the stuff I don't like or decisions with which I disagree.
- In a short paragraph, I would say that "my wife and I have decided to attend and serve in a different church for this next season of our spiritual growth."
- I would end the letter by assuring the pastor that he/she will never hear us talk badly about this church. I would encourage the pastor to feel free to share this letter with anyone who questions why we left.
- THEN, and this is most important, I would not mail this letter. Rather, I would set an appointment with the pastor and I would hand-deliver the letter. I would read it aloud to him--or ask him to read it in my presence. I would re-state my love for him and profound thanks for the ministry he had in my life.
- Then I would walk away and keep my promise. I would never speak negatively to anyone about that church. In fact, when people asked, I would say, "God changed my life at that church!"
You might have noticed that my percentages for Group A and B above only added up to 99%. That's because I think only 1% leave a church in the way I've suggested. Well, actually, it's probably more like .00001%. Because in 15 years at Granger, I only remember one family leaving the way I suggested. It was Mike and Laura who left in 1996. And the way they left marked me.
If I ever have to leave a church, I want to leave like Mike and Laura.
What about you?