How Do You Explain Why Members Left the Church to Members Who Stay?

September 2, 2019

Pastors are usually hurt when a member decides to leave the church. Sometimes the pain is deep. It feels personal.

In addition to dealing with their own pain, pastors also have to offer explanations about these departures to members who ask about them. The pastors cannot just ignore the questions and walk away.

I was recently in a church where a church member informed me that he and his family would be leaving the church. It was none of my business, so I simply acknowledged his comment. But he insisted on telling me why he was leaving.

Every comment he made was about his needs, his preferences, how he wanted to do church. The worship style did not meet his needs. He was not getting fed. He wanted church to be more organic, whatever that means. He had three people he desired to please: me, myself, and I. He never made one comment about his own commitments to minister, to give, to serve, and to be fed.

Before the conversation was over, he proudly told me he and his family would leave quietly and peaceably. There would be no problems after they left.

Yeah. Right.

I spoke with the pastor a few weeks later. Multiple church members came to him to ask him why Bill (not his real name) and his family left. You can’t blame the inquiring church members. The family had been active in church, and they just disappeared. Bill left a mess for the pastor.

So, how do pastors and other church members respond to these difficult questions? I’ve seen the best responses have four key components, so here is the counsel I offer pastors.

  1. Be as transparent as possible. The inquiring church member can sense if you are withholding information. Perhaps, for good reasons, you can’t say everything. But offer as much information as possible. If there are perceived gaps in your explanation, the inquiring church member may fill those gaps with his or her imagination. That’s not good.
  2. Admit your own feelings. While the inquiring church member should not turn into your therapist, there is something healthy about pastors sharing their own pains. It would not make sense if the pastors were impervious to the pain such departures cause. It would raise more questions.
  3. Explain that such departures are common in most every church. Some inquiring church members should know that the circulation of the saints takes place in almost every church. We live in a consumer society, and many people simply jump from church to church. While this explanation does not minimize the pain, it does let the inquirer know your church does not have unique problems.
  4. Provide hope. If possible, conclude the conversation with hope. Point the inquiring member to the ways God is working in your church. While you acknowledge the pain and frustration of the departure, you also acknowledge the positive future God has for the church.

Some departures of members are done so with good reasons. There may be significant doctrinal issues. The member may have moved to a new neighborhood and wants to be able to invite his or her neighbors to a closer church. Perhaps the member is in the sad situation where his or her family broke up due to divorce, and both families in the divorce find it extremely difficult to be in the same church.

But, frankly, many church member exits are the result of self-centered motives. The church member is asking the unspoken question, “What have you done for me lately?”

Such situations are both sad and painful for pastors. But pastors should expect remaining members will have questions. Most of those inquiries are made out of concern and love for the church. Respond with transparency, facts, and hope. The painful situation will soon pass.

Until it happens again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

107 Comments

  • No keeping says on

    As concerning the Word of life, Luke 10 section 25-28 says: On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
    Luke 18 section 18-25 says: A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
    Matthew 5 section 43-48 says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
    In Old Testament, the Jewish people and their ancestors were given the Law to observe. First, What Adam and Eve should observed was that they could not eat the fruits from the tree of wisdom. Then, their son Cain was told that he should not kill. As sins became increased, the laws were also added more. Up to the generation of Moses, the Law in Old Testament was given to Israelites. We know that the Law is good and the Law is used to punish people who commit sins, but people cannot obey the Law because the sinful spirits are in people. Even that we know stealing and giving false testimony are sinful, but greedy and pride spirits in us drive us to do sinful things. So as Old Testament prophesied we need to get rid of our sinful nature from our spirits.
    Jeremiah 31 section 31-33 says: “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
    Ezekiel 36 section 24-27 says: “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
    The prophecies are fulfilled when Jesus begins to teach love. The two greatest commandments are ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Love is above the Law and if people have love they are not under the bondage of the Law. If a person who is full of love will not think about stealing or giving false testimony but will give needy people what they need. The Law is for people who commit sins. Nobody will say that he will get reward because he does not steal before. But love is the grace we get. And with love we will get eternal life.
    Romans 13 section 8-10 says: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    Luke 17 section 20-21 says: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say,’ Here it is,’ or ‘ There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
    John 4 section 23-24 says: Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

  • Having been a victim of a narcissist pastor, I think it is very naive to say that people are selfish if they move on from a church

  • Robert Martin says on

    Every church I have pastor has had someone leave under different circumstances. In one church I had a couple that were faithful to be there every time the doors were opened yet over time they gradually phased themselves out at 1st it was missing the midweek service, then it was Sunday night, then only came on Sunday morning, then Sunday morning sporadically. To the point that when they stopped coming nobody noticed except me. When I went to talk with them about their absence their answer was pretty much we just got tired of it. I left an open invitation to come back, they never did.

  • Every church I have been involved in has dealt with this issue. Thanks for sharing some clear insights on how to compassionately and faithfully help people understand that we are all facing these challenges. As long as we live in a fallen world, we will have to deal with people whose focus is more upon themselves than the kingdom.

  • I heard a pastor share once that he sat down with a couple who was leaving the church for many of the same reasons you listed. After they shared, he apologized to them. He said that they seemed relieved that there weren’t hard feelings. Then he clarified, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry that we’ve allowed you to be a part of this local church body for such a long time without truly clarifying that church doesn’t revolve around you.”

    I would have loved to see their faces after that one!
    I pray that we as the church would leave behind the consumer mentality and be the producers/servants we’re called to be!

  • If I may post one more comment (this one is on the lighter side)….

    At this year’s Vacation Bible School, one of our preschoolers was acting up. He’s normally a pretty good kid, but he was just in an ornery mood that day. The teachers finally brought him to me, and I made him sit in the time-out chair for a few minutes. When I was walking him back to his classroom, he said to me, “Pastor Ken, you’re not my friend anymore!” I said, “I’m not?” He said, “No, you’re not! We’re not coming here anymore!” I had to chuckle. I can understand a preschooler getting upset so easily, but I’ve had grown people tell me the same thing — and for much more trivial reasons!

    By the way, a half-hour later, the little boy had forgotten about the whole incident. Wouldn’t it be great if adults could forgive this easily? 🙂

  • Nate Crandall says on

    Thom,

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts about intentionally discussing the reasons why members leave with members who stay. There are those who will not talk with the pastor(s) about why members leave, but they will talk with others about it. This potentially opens the door to misunderstanding which can cause ongoing problems. Are your (very helpful) comments only meant to be in response to those who come asking?

    • Nate –

      Yes. These are the responses pastors gave to those who asked. For certain, it leaves a potentially wide swath of exiting members who left without voicing their reasons.

1 2 3 4