“Lots of People Are Leaving Our Church” Part 3
In Part 1 I argued that we shouldn’t be surprised that people leave our church and other local churches. Having said that, neither should we be okay with it. In Part 2, using three questions, I proposed the framework for a strategy to help people stay committed to a local church. This third and final installment is a bit of a catchall with regards to leaving church members. These questions may help broaden our perspective so we don’t jump to conclusions about why people are leaving, and I hope they help us think about how we might be a part of the solution.
- Is our perception accurate? If a person has been a part of a church for a good length of time, they may have seen a lot of people go. Maybe they have seen a lot of their friends go. But have they also seen a lot of people come? If people are coming and going frequently, is there a legitimate reason for that, or is the church not friendly, not preaching the gospel, deficient in an area, etc?
- Why are people leaving? Is it predominantly one issue, or is it a bunch of different issues? If it is one reoccurring issue that is not being addressed, then the leaders need to take responsibility. If the reasons are unique to every situation, then it may be that it is a reflection of our society or culture as was mentioned in Part 1.
- Is the leadership of the church honestly evaluating challenges? If so, what has been done to improve? Is there an attempt to make adjustments? As with all things, there is only so much that can be done, and when it is, we have to let it be.
- Have I done my part? Have I invited people to be a part of a Core Group? If someone has a problem or concern, have I encouraged them to go to the person they have the problem with, or have I made the situation worse by fanning the flame of dissension? There will always be things to critique, but be a part of the solution instead of throwing more dirt on the mole hill.
- Have I asked the leaders about whether they know that someone has left, or do I assume the worst? Maybe the leaders of the church don’t know, but you can’t be sure until you have asked. You might be helping them by asking, because they may not know.
- Is there something good to be gained from knowing so many have left? Ideally, no one would ever leave the local church you and I belong to, but the fact that we are aware is a healthy indicator because it means we are striving toward biblical and committed community. Maybe the reason we notice that people are leaving is because our church is working hard to love and care for people.
- Is the reason for leaving legitimate? There may come a time when it is right to leave a local church. Here are several reasons it might be time to exit: 1) Theological error, especially related to primary issues like the person of Christ and the doctrines of salvation and sin, etc. 2) If there is a doctrinal disagreement that has become divisive with regard to primary or secondary doctrinal issues, it may be time to move on. 3) The church is not seeking to be obedient to the mission of Christ to make disciples among all peoples. 4) The leadership is not biblically qualified (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Any of these could be used as an excuse to leave, so before determining that you have clearance to depart, it would be good and right to make every effort to clarify misunderstandings, talk to the leadership and only then do everything that can be done to leave peacefully.
- Who I am hurting by leaving? We all have our reasons for doing what we do. We will always justify our decisions. That’s what humans do (See Genesis 3). But have we treated others the way we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12), and have we thought about others and how it will impact them (Romans 15:1-2)? It hurts to be broken up with, and so it is important that we have been up front and honest with those we are close to, and we have made every effort to stay. If leaving is inevitable, it must be done with courage and honesty. If we are truly unified in Christ, why would we not make every to leave well by doing so with integrity.
- When leaving happens. If a person leaves, hopefully we can say they are a part of the Universal Church through Christ. Our local church is likely not the only church in our city that loves Jesus. If they become de-churched, we should be especially worried, because they may not be in Christ (1 John 2:19). May we always remember that the local church is God’s idea (Matthew 18:15-20) and the Church belongs to Christ (Matthew 16:18). Whatever we do, whether we come or go, may we do it all for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40; 1 Cor. 10:31).