Podcast Episode #247
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Pastors go through several emotions when church members leave. Today, we cover five reasons why.
Some highlights from today’s episode include:
- Even when someone has a good reason for leaving a church, it still feels very personal when they leave.
- It’s not just pastors who hurt when church members leave. Staff, members and leaders do as well.
- Almost every community has a “hot church” that some church members chase after.
- New members classes allow churches to discuss and deter serial church hopping.
- It’s normal for pastors to hurt when church members leave.
- There is a grief process for pastors when a church member leaves.
- Pastors, if you ever get to a point where a church member leaving doesn’t hurt, you’ve got a problem.
The five reasons it hurts when a church members leaves are:
- It feels like personal rejection.
- Relationships have developed.
- There has been much time invested.
- There is concern for the overall morale of the church.
- There is a fear others will follow.
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So, as a lifelong member of the local church…what about “pastors” leaving? How does the congregation feel? How should the congregation feel?
If your pastor has occupied a healthy place within the congregation it shouldn’t be much different than when any other valued brother or sister moves on fire whatever reason. One of my best friends and strongest brothers is very likely moving out of state for a job opportunity after spending a lot of time and prayer trying to stick around. We both agree that it stinks. He still has family here, and we’ll try to stay in touch. In a healthy congregation that is what it would look like along with prayer for this new aspect of his life, and that God would bring in new people to encourage us.
Pastors often times do not occupy a healthy place in a congregation. I have seen cases personally where the pastor is so idolized that it pretty nearly broke the church when he left. I hear stories here about political strife that forces pastors out the door. Nothing healthy in either of those cases.
How about when a pastor demands something be done his way or he will quit? Threatening the congregation through blackmail! Does one person think they are that important in the life of the church or in life period?
I’ve actually been writing on how that should never be our attitude, whoever we are our whatever the case may be. If interested you can check them out here:
A Word from Gamaliel
Every Knee, Every Tongue
That is when whole congregations splinter. I have seen this ‘new sheriff in town’ attitude drive out up to a third of a congregation. My issue is why wasn’t this attitude picked up on by the search committee or is said Pastor a deceiver ?
I’m not so sure that it is always there on the surface. There are a lot of variables in play that can work against the character of a pastor.
A friend of mine calls it the lupine effect.
How about when a pastor demands something be done his way or he will quit?
It depends on what the issue is. If you have a pastor that insists on a high standard of adhering to critical points of Biblical doctrine. Then yes, it is either God’s way or I hit the highway. When it comes to issues of critical doctrine there is no compromise.
I have seen this happen in a church where its elders were less than the leaders they should be and would willingly bend issues of doctrine in order to suit personal needs.
In this case it was …..The Biblical way will be the only way; or else someone would be hitting the highway; either the Elders or the Pastor.
It’s particularly frustrating when the aggrieved church member refuses to take any action to solve the problem. For instance: “This church doesn’t offer enough for the kids.” You ask the member what kind of things he/she has in mind. The reply: “Um… well, I can’t do it myself, but by golly, someone better do it or I’m leaving the church!” Or, “This church doesn’t do enough outreach.” Never mind that the person making the complaint never comes to visitation and does very little personal outreach.
My personal “favorite”, though, is the church member who leaves over some trivial issue and persuades others to leave with him / her. Then he / she comes back to the church some time later and comments on how much the attendance has gone down.
You say at the end of the podcast – just to wait for the feelings to pass, it is shorter than grieving a death. Would you not advise actively perusing forgiveness of these who have left so that there is no root of bitterness when you do see them out and about at Publix?
Can you share more information about the diminishing church letters and compare it to move to membership classes? Why the diminishing letters, good and bad. My suggestion would be a good podcast?
Thanks for talking about this the issue of how church members leaving effect pastors. I have seen the hurt and wished that things could have different.
“Leading Through Change” by Wells, Giese and Klassen is a great book and is focused on smaller churches.
The hardest is when the pastor has stopped preaching the Gospel. I find this is the number 1 reason. There really needs to be much more talk of this and reminder to pastors to preach the Word. It’s the number 1 reason I notice for friends who have stopped going to church altogether.
No, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes people leave the church because the pastor is preaching the Word and they don’t want to hear it. Other times they get lazy, or they get so many irons in the fire that they no longer have time for church. When that happens, the pastor often becomes an easy scapegoat.
In our case, it was because the pastor added so much to the Word of God. He openly admitted to having a huge imagination, but when your put that imagination on equal ground with Scripture, that is wrong, wrong, wrong. And he most certainly would not ever take to being told he was wrong, regardless of what Scripture said. Pride was truly destructive. But, the way he was brought in was far from according to Scripture, also. Churches often get what we ask for when we refuse to follow Christ’s own guidelines. It was so sad, and it sent many people running from the church instead of to Christ. Traditions were elevated above what Scripture *actually says* and preferences blew grace out of the water. Truly saddening. But, I pray for him now more than when I was in that church. Truly pray. It is His work.
As a pastor, when I took on all the weight of attracting, assimilating, teaching, investing in, and being community for members, I would fall hard when people left. And there are many churches that expect pastors to fulfill all of those roles. It’s not biblical. When the church repents from its clergy-centered ways, when many people become “community”, and mentors, and teachers and friends, people may leave, but it’s often totally unrelated to you as a pastor. It still hurts a little, and you may need to address systemic failures, but it is so much healthier. If someone leaves because they’re not being fed, there are many who should have been dispensing food. If they leave because I’ve strayed in my preaching, my Elders should have helped me get on track. Etc.
some of the reason i have seen personally, is some they don’t want to be rebuked when they do something bad ,they want to bring the world to the church and prefer somewhere where pastor does not notice what they are doing bad.
Leaving a church should be the HARDEST thing a saint of God ever has to do…I know, I’ve had to do it…
Leaving because of “relocation” to another city/state is understandable–and sometimes less painful (but not always)
Leaving because of deep wounds (real and imaginery) is far more difficult…that has happened to me twice in twenty years—and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Thank you so much for the valuable information in this article. What can I do, as a church member, to encourage my pastor when people are leaving the church, other than stepping up to help out more?
Although it does seem like a painful thing for a pastor when a member of the congregation leaves the church, it must feel wonderful to see new faces. People all have their reasons for leaving. I think people can only do so much while respecting their choices. At that point, it’s probably best to let them know that you’ll always be there for them if they need.
I dearly love my Pastor and his wife and we’ve developed a close relationship, but, I have felt God leading me to a different church the beginning of this year. I explained to them it was not an easy decision and how much I loved them, and I was not leaving in offence of anyone, yet, I have been made to feel so guilty. They told me how much I’ve hurt them, and questioned me to the fray, they said how much they loved and honored me since I’ve been there. Basically, they thought I was going against God’s will for my life by leaving. I’ve been a Christian for many years and have followed the leading of the Holy Spirit as sincerely as I can. I don’t want to hurt anyone, any suggestions on how to handle this delicate situation?
Honestly it is hard for me to believe that a pastor feels anything when a member leaves. How can he feel grieved if he has not discipled that particular member? I ask that humbly, I just don’t see it. I can understand a pastor feeling grieved or hurt about a member leaving whom he has personally invested one on one time with, but preaching from the pulpit does not qualify as that in my mind. That is not discipleship. I welcome any feedback that could give me a different perspective. I am not saying that a pastor will not feel grief if a member leaves whom he has not discipled but in my opinion, I stress my oppinion, that is illegitimate grief. It is like Walmart grieving over me going to shop at Target. I make that analogy because so few pastors truly have a relationship with their members that goes beyond the surface level. I have attended churches that would be classified as mega-churches, more than 2,000 members, and at times had a somewhat close relationship with my pastors but they always fizzled away due to the size of the church. I understand the obligations that come with that responsibility and the need to prioritize. However, to grieve over someone leaving whom you have not invested in personally, or did briefly years ago, is unreasonable to me. Again, I welcome any feedback.