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

July 14, 2020

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? 

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  • Jim Baughman says on

    Love your term “ghosting” totally agree brother.

  • Jim Baughman says on

    Thanks Chuck

    I certainly agree with your list. This includes not only Pastors, but Deacons, Trustee’s, Teachers, Members etc. . . . Our church has been haunted by a pattern of bad departures and I really don’t know what to do about it.

    Pastor Jim Baughman
    Pierceton, IN.

  • I would love to see Thom address faction and schism in the local church. Many pastors face surreptitious “spiritual terrorism” in their local church when one or two or more influential persons disagree with their leader’s or leaders’ vision. Instead of leaving peacefully they begin a secret campaign to oust the duly placed elder or elders. Many pastors are silently enduring litigiousness in the name of accountability by lay persons bent on control. Often, this is revealed in the ugliness of “selfish ambition” and “bitter jealousy (James 4). This needs to be addressed in the American Evangelical Church lest we remain woefully impotent, crying “peace, peace.!” when there is no peace. (Ezekiel 13, Jeremiah 6). Please…please…address this horrific sin, whether real or potential, in our churches.

  • If you are leaving as a layperson, please tell your pastor.

  • wonderful words, but let us remember that there are many reasons why people live the church, I think the first thing to address is why do people live? A lot of pastors or church leaders do not find out why people live, the way they live does not matter either positive or negative, but we should be able to find out why are they living.
    When you as a pastor provoke your followers or even going to the Alter of God to preach them, instead of trying to correct them if they have done anything wrong, i belt you they might live any how.
    I think we should rather address the issue why people live church.


  • Claudius 'peto' Francis says on

    What do you mean when you say a person has left a church? This is not obvious to me. That definition will help me consider whether i have left or in the verge of doing so. What are the scriptural or legal procedures for leaving a church? This is what a person has before them to consider whether they left badly or in good faith.

  • Frederick Mundle says on

    Dear Dr. Lawless:: This is another thought provoking article replete with excellent advice. Would you be able to share some information relative to what the pastor himself should do when somebody leaves the church regardless of the circumstances as well as considering various circumstances. Your next book could cover this matter in its entirety. I say that because we’ve known pastors to mark people on the way out either in a subtle of overt way. I believe the onus is at the same time upon the pastor to address a family’s departure with a measure of grace. Some behind the scenes truth is unknown by many, one point being that pastors have been known to be delighted upon losing a troublesome congregant. That type of congregant in mention requires as much prayer as any other. Many are the reasons for leaving a church besides relocating to another city or province. Some leave a church because the truth offends them. Others leave a church because of the dilution of God’s word. In either of these cases, the pastor will be offended that one dares to speak such a truth to him. What then? And how does one leave? In fact, when we had a church some left because the word (truth) was too heavy on congregants’ backs. People living in sin do not want to hear of coming out of that lifestyle. We have heard a couple say that if they would rather go to hell than give up a certain sin. Yes, i could go on, but … And by the way, we have had to counsel people who wanted stranger doctrine to come into the church that it would be better to find a church with stranger doctrine. I apologize for being longer winded that necessary. Blessings in all of your upcoming projects, be they in book form or in this article form.

  • Adah Ojur says on

    Thanks a lot for the advice on how i leave is more important than how i came. its a good piece of advice even at any other work place.Thank you.

  • Marshall Walker says on

    from a church member side what are your actual tips on how we should leave gracefully and in a positive manner?

  • Nancy Goss says on

    I’ve been on both ends of this. When we left the last time it was so painful. We had admittedly perhaps stayed to long. So the toxic pastor helped us leave. We went directly to another church the next week. We needed God’s people to help us heal. Still a difficult memory, only 4 years ago. God is good, all the time!

  • Tim Hancock says on

    10 for 10.
    Anne Graham-Lotz wrote that hurt people hurt people. People are watching to see if what we’ve been preaching works out in the midst of transition. For most of my ministry, I’ve been called elsewhere. In the one situation where I “left”, it was very difficult. I felt I was right, but I needed to be kind. God worked and, as in #4, doors immediately opened because I left well.
    My daughter (24) still has some hurt from that situation, but we believe God is healing her, too. One of our closest friendships was developed in that assignment. Be big. Leave well.

  • Shawn Stinson says on

    Admittedly, I began reading this article thinking of laypeople leaving. That’s probably because we’ve had a number of people leave our church recently for reasons we can discuss another day. What I’ve learned through this though, is that the worst way to leave a church as a layperson is by ghosting, just disappearing without telling anyone you are leaving. We had a family or two to leave recently in this way. They disappeared from us for a Sunday or two, then suddenly they were sharing and liking posts from another church on social media. As a church staff member those kind of departures hurt. In one situation, not only did I think we were friends but I also ministered to their family on numerous occasions (I’m a worship pastor). It’s REAL hard not to take it personal. Just one short conversation, though painful, would have been a lot better than ghosting.

    • Marshall Walker says on

      Hi Shawn,

      Thanks for sharing that!

    • As a member of a congregation, not condoning “ghosting” but perhaps the family did this as not to cause a schism. Perhaps, they don’t like confrontation. I’m in the dilemma of leaving or staying in my church. There is a person in leadership that always does “correction hurtful digs” in people. I know 5 couples that have left because of this. Solid faithful people. They didn’t want to leave. They were chased away. And the leadership places blame on ppl that left. And I know as sure as I’m sitting here, if the Pastor decided to resign and leave, the cause would be laid on the backs of the congregation.