Leaving the Church

People leave churches. It just happens. In some circumstances it is due to a loss of faith but many times it is because something changed in the church. When a  place that once felt safe and once felt like “home” can sometimes become unfamiliar and uncomfortable. We have seen some of our friends reach this conclusion lately about churches they attend and move on to other congregations. It is sad. It is also increasingly common.

I don’t judge my friends in their decision because it is a decision I have struggled with at different times over the years. We never plan to leave a church, but it happens. In conversations with my friends and through personal experience I have learned some of the reasons that good people, godly people, move on.

1-      Bait and Switch. No one does this on purpose but the term describes how people feel when they think a church or a pastor is one way but then turns out to be another. We have experienced this a number of times. A pastor starts off as a solid bible teacher but then decides that they are not enough “new people” coming to the church. The pastor changes his approach to attract unchurched people. This can be expressed in many different. In milder forms it is songs, music styles and dress codes that change. When more drastic  sermons can get watered down and harsher biblical truth is avoided. Mature believers end up feeling left out or even ostracized. When this happens they often move on to a place where pleasing the world is not the primary goal.

2-      Doctrinal shifts. God never changes, but people do. There is a natural tendency to want to appeal to the culture around us. Doctrines that are unacceptable to the world get re-evaluated and revisited. Over time they can be rejected. I have seen this with issues such as same-sex marriage and women in the pulpit. Faced with the choice of setting aside firmly held beliefs and staying or moving on, many choose the latter.

3-      Seeing behind the curtain. Pastors are human and are fallible. Some faults are more dangerous than others. For a while I led the Children’s Ministry at a local church. As my time in leadership increased I saw that the pastor was not the man or the friend I thought he was. I attempted to speak with the pastor as a peer and was put “in my place.” Realizing that the man was not truly accountable, we decided that “our place” was in another church.

4-      The Glass Ceiling. Churches, especially large ones, are bureaucracies. As such they often rely on structure and hierarchy to maintain a sense of organizational order. Lay people with leadership gifts can easily find themselves at odds with leadership. Churches are much more comfortable with dedicated followers than they are with gifted leaders. When lay leaders realize there is no place for them and no opportunity to use their gifts, they move on.

5-      Lack of relationship. Churches are filled with people and people often only have room in their lives for a few meaningful relationships. This can make it hard to connect. When people are isolated it is easy to look for another place to fit in.

These are just a few of the reasons Godly people leave. I share them not to be critical, but to remind church leaders and church members that not everyone who moves on is “wrong”. Sometimes their reasons are valid and just. When people start leaving churches leaders need to take a close look at themselves.

I write also for those who do not feel at home in their current church, to remind them that as long as churches are filled with people, they will have problems. We need to remember that only God is perfect and that He, not the church, needs to be the center of our faith. If you decide to move on, consider taking the time to let someone know, as kindly as possible, of your reasons. If the leaders do not know they cannot grow.

-          Bart