It is one of the most common and painful issues pastors face.
A number of people leave the church around the same time. The exit is painful for the exiting members, the members who remain and, of course, the pastor. I have walked with hundreds of pastors through these scenarios. It is painful. It is messy. And, though I wish I did not have to say these words, it is often inevitable.
Allow me to share five perspectives on what is often taking place when a group leaves the church. For certain, there will be a myriad of exceptions. But these five issues are common in many of these situations.
- The exit usually takes place when the pastor’s leadership becomes clear and established. It is, therefore, common for these exits to take place somewhere between the second and fourth year of a pastor’s tenure. The exiting members may have had unmet expectations of the pastor. The vision the pastor cast and the direction the pastor was leading them were not aligned with their own hopes and dreams.
- Hurt exiting church members do not often leave well. Please hear me clearly. I am not pointing fingers and placing blame. But, in many of these exits, the departures are handled from a posture of hurt. Letters are written. Unhealthy conversations ensue on social media. Matthew 18 is not followed. The departures are messy and engender more conflict.
- Those often neglected are the members who remain. The pastor is hurt. The exiting members are hurt. But, on too many occasions, we forget the pain experienced by those still in the church. They had friends leave. They saw relatives get angry. They know the church budget was hit hard. Relationship patterns are sorely disrupted. One of the most difficult but necessary things a hurting pastor must do is to minister to the remaining members with compassion and hope.
- The recovery period usually takes months. I don’t have a neat guideline for church leaders to follow. I can say that most churches begin to feel some degree of normalcy somewhere around nine to twelve months. That period can be tough on the pastor and the church members, but it is a part of the healing process.
- The other side is a place of hope. As painful as these exits are, there is usually a better church on the other side. A church with unaligned members creates an unhealthy situation. It holds the church back. The culture is conflicting and sometimes toxic. Exiting members can offer a time for healthy re-alignment. The departing members find a place where they are better aligned. The church from which they departed has an opportunity to get everyone on the same page.
While I don’t wish this situation on any church, any pastors, or any church members, I do think two points are worth remembering. First, these departures are common, more common than most people realize. Second, if the pastor and the remaining members handle the situation with prayer and grace, the church is usually much healthier on the other side of the departures.
Posted on April 22, 2019
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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