Why the Way You Leave a Church is More Important than How You Came

As a layperson or a church staff member, it’s likely you’ve left a church at some point – or will leave a church in the future. When that happens, I hope you’ll remember the points of this post.

  1. People will remember how you leave. They’ll forget even the most miraculous works of God to bring you to the church if you leave in a negative way. Even a few weeks of negative can erase years of positive.
  2. Those who remain may be wounded if you leave poorly. Especially if they’ve loved and respected you, they may not understand why you’ve suddenly changed. Long-term friendships can be broken.
  3. Your family can be scarred by a bad ending. You might try to shield them from the pain, but few of us do that well when we’re wounded.
  4. Poor closures usually color future ministry opportunities. Once you’ve been hurt and carry wounds, you’ll always wonder if more wounds lie in the future.
  5. Division left by bad departures can destroy a congregation’s unity. This sometimes happens when departing members challenge others to take sides on the issues.
  6. Good departures make ministry a celebration. Rejoicing over victories is always better than battling over remaining disagreements.
  7. Healthy closure paves the way for the next leaders. One of the best ways to help the church’s next leader is to leave in joyful response to God’s calling – not in anger.
  8. Leaving well fosters long-term friendships. Moving to a different church doesn’t have to harm relationships if the departure is handled well.
  9. Good leavings promote Christian unity. Regardless of where we serve, we pray for and love other congregations when we’ve left well. Good memories promote harmony between churches.
  10. People will remember how you leave. So, I repeat #1 above, but with a different flavor. Leave in a positive way, and churches often forgive years of negative. 

What would you add to this list? 

Posted on July 14, 2020

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • Erick simiyu says on

    I am happy to hear from you,and gain a great understanding on how to leave your church, this has really affected our church in Africa God bless you

  • Randy Nation says on

    I believe this 100%. I have had 3 ministries in 37 years and have been at my current church 23 years. So I have only left two churches but left them well. The last one I left had hurt us deeply, but we maintained our integrity and left well. 8 years later they apologized for how they had treated us. I always tell young ministers to work as hard on the last day as they did on the first day and to leave a church as if they might have to come back one day.

  • I would add that “leaving in a healthy way allows a church congregation to GRIEVE the loss and accept the change in a much healthier way“.

  • Very well said, brother. Thank you. I left a 20 year pastorate to become bi-vocational and have remained in the community. My wife and I made a point of leaving gracefully and in gratitude for an overall positive ministry with the church. In 2015, after consultation with church leadership, I announced my resignation with a 30 day notice. 5 years later, we remain friends with many people from the congregation. We are occasionally invited back for homecoming, special dinners, and so forth. We’ve also made a point to be as encouraging as possible to members and the new pastor. We have been intentional about a hands-off approach to how the congregation does ministry since we left. I pray I handled this correctly and set s solid precedent.

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