People leaving a church is inevitable. It just is. People move out of town. People have conflict with leaders and ministry partners. Some walk away from the faith. Others are there just because times are tough in their lives and then when times get better, they leave. Pastors change. Ministries quit existing. People shift in whatever season they are in and so on. It happens. It always will. That said, I am amazed on how it happens. Many people who are Christians (or profess to be) and are successful, mature people often handle leaving a church in the most peculiar ways. They just slip out. No conversation. No reasons. Or others throw a big fit. They try to bring down the house and take others with them. Some are incredibly honest and helpful. Others pretend it is not “us”, it is “them”. There are mean emails. Hard to listen to voicemails. And so on. With each case, having people leave hurts. Even when you are glad certain individuals or families bolt, it hurts. Some think because they just quit coming and never made a stink that it does not bother pastors, staff members and others in the church. To be honest, some times this hurts worse. As I consider how I would leave church and how I have been blessed with how some have handled leaving the church, consider the following:
- Communicate – share what is motivating your desire and decision to leave. Do not fear the exit interview. Good leaders want to learn from it. I learn a ton from people who share why they are moving on. Do not be a coward. Have the conversation. Especially when pursued, communicate back. Pastors get yelled out for pursuing those who have not been present. We are told we are be judgmental or pushy. But on the other hand, when we do not call or check in, people say we did not care and no one pursued me or my family. Even if it is going to be hard, communicate.
- Be honest – give the real reasons you are moving on. I can not stand the music. The preaching is just not good. You guys have no mission. My kids are not safe and cared for. We want to be in a smaller or bigger church. I want to be in a choir. I want a less formal church. Whatever it is. Be honest. Do not say things that are not anywhere connected to the real reality of why you are leaving.
- Choose kind words – please work really hard to not say harmful things about your church or its people once you decide to leave. It is your choice on what you communicate to others. Be careful not to fall to the temptation to just start “shooting” with your mouth.
- Celebrate the good ones – in most churches, there are some people getting it right. There are some that were awesome to you and your family. Tell them. Be sure you let those who ministered well to you know it. It is always good for someone to hear their ministry was not in vain.
- Find a another one – it makes me very sad, and even angry to some degree, when people leave one church only to go nowhere. Be sure you work quickly to find another church to plug into and own. When we let lots of time go by, it becomes hard to get back in the routine of making church life a priority.
Tim Stevens writes a good blog about this topic. Check it out at http://www.leadingsmart.com/2010/01/how-to-leave-your-church.html. He provides a different take, but one I really like.
If you are going to leave, leave well.