When Church Members Are a Blessed Exit: 5 Thoughts


Perhaps one of the most under-reported issues about the post-pandemic church is how some churches are doing better after the departure of some church members. We know that about 20 percent of active church attendees stopped attending during the pandemic and have not returned. What we rarely hear is that some of those departures actually helped churches.

I need to be careful with this topic. I am not suggesting that urging members to leave should be a church strategy. Nor am I suggesting that problems always reside with the church members. Pastors and other church staff can be problems as well.

Still, this issue is worth exploring. Here are five observations I have at this point,

1. Greater unity takes place when a negative church member leaves. My prayer is that any negativity in the church would be removed. It is hard to have a unified church when there is pervasive negativity present. One pastor shared with me about three church members who did not return after the pandemic quarantine. He and all of his elders affirmed that it was like a dark cloud had been lifted from the church.

2. Sometimes it is better for church members to find another church that better aligns with their focus and doctrine. In that sense, the problem was not as much a negative member as it was a mismatched church member. Any perceived negativity was the consequence of the member not being aligned with the church.

3. These blessed exits can be a form of self-selected church discipline. Of course, departing members do not see themselves as subjects of church discipline. Still, their exits were good for the church, its mission, and its unity.

4. Many of the pastors with whom we’ve spoken have learned not to chase these exiting members. It’s not uncommon for members to depart because they did not get their way on an issue in the church. Prior to their departure, they were negative and needy. Many pastors have learned the painful lesson about giving these energy drainers too much attention.

5. Beware of people coming to your church when they quickly start complaining about the church they left. That attitude could be a clear signal that they will start complaining about your church and about you personally. Be ready to “nip it in the bud” (Andy Griffith and Barney Fife fans will understand the reference.).

I remember well the first time a pastor friend of mine referred to his church experiencing a “back door revival.” Though his church endured some painful losses through this attrition, God used the exits for His glory. 

Sometimes a minus can become a plus for a church.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Posted on November 6, 2023

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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