I just spent a few minutes in memory lane reading a letter exchange I had with a leader who was contemplating leaving our church six years ago. They had written several pages of gripes and complaints about the church, which I attempted to graciously address. This leader ended the letter by laying out a challenge with a list of 14 people: Talk to everyone of these people about why they left the church, or if they are still here, what they don't like about the church. If you don't, I'll know my points are valid and I'll leave the church. I really don't like being threatened. And frankly, after having several one-on-one conversations with this leader and reading their list of things they were unhappy about, I believed it was probably best that they leave. Here is how I responded...
In your list of names, in every case (of the ones who are no longer at the church), I, or someone on our senior team, had a conversation with them upon their leaving. We knew their issues. There is no reason to have that conversation again. The others on your list are still here and participating.
We aren’t interested in “no” votes. There are over 290 million people in America alone who haven’t voted “yes” at GCC. I’m not trying to be sarcastic. I’m just saying there are a number of reasons someone isn’t going to attend GCC. Geography is a big one. But there are a bunch of other reasons. We just want to say, “Here’s where we are going…do you want to come with us? Do you want to help us get there? Yes? Good, let’s go.” We aren’t counting the people who say “no.” We aren’t mad at them. We don’t think they’re stupid. We don’t think they are lesser as Christians. They just want to go somewhere else and that is fine. We’re looking for the yes votes.
Does that mean that we don’t want feedback? Absolutely not. I have conversations every week (with people who are “in”) about what they wish were different. We change things every day. I imagine you’ve never been to a church anywhere that is quicker at changing things that aren’t working or aren’t effective. I believe there is a “kernel of truth” in just about everything. So I look for that. Sometimes it’s a high percentage of truth…sometimes you have to look hard to get past the individual's filters and biases…but you can find a kernel of truth.
I think too often churches get side-tracked by the "no" votes. We cater to their whining, or we spend all our energy trying to keep them happy, or we do damage control because of the side conversations they are having. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important to listen. Sometimes (perhaps often) God will speak through someone when we least expect it. But there is a cross-over point after we've listened, considered and prayed. We know what God has called the church to do and be--and we must pursue that with confidence.
Some will go with us. And some won't. And we'll experience deep pain, sometimes, when the person who chooses to leave is our closest friend or relative--the person who we never imagined moving on without.
Just put one foot in front of the other. Count 'yes' votes, and keep moving.