5 Rather Startling Reasons People Leave Your Church


No matter how long you’ve been in leadership, it still hurts when people leave your church.

It’s somewhat easy to understand people leaving when things are going poorly— when there’s conflict, division or dysfunction.

But what most leaders aren’t prepared for is the reality that people will leave when things are going well. Even when they’re going really well.

In fact, some people leave because things are going well, or because you’re getting healthier.

As surprising as this sounds, every time you make progress as a church, you’ll lose people.

This comes as a shock to most leaders. And it can be very disheartening, especially if you don’t realize some loss even in great seasons is ‘normal’.

So why do people leave even when you’re making progress at your church?

Simple. The people who are at your church today are there because they like it the way it is.

Change that (even for the better), and some will leave.

It will shock you. It will disappoint you. It will leave you scratching your head. And it’s unavoidable. But you need to keep moving or else you’ll be paralyzed by focusing on who you want to keep, not who you want to reach.

So why do people leave when things are going well?

Here are 5 rather startling reasons people leave your church when you’re least expecting it.

As surprising as this sounds, every time you make progress as a church, you'll lose people. Click To Tweet

1. You Cast Too Big A Vision

What? Casting a big vision can cause people to leave?


A big vision is inspiring. It’s also threatening.

Vision threatens people because, inherently, vision challenges the status quo. It calls out the best in people. It asks people to think bigger, to think beyond themselves, to push past the status quo and to sacrifice.

And not everybody’s up for that.

A big vision is inspiring. It's also threatening. Click To Tweet

As a leader, it’s critical to sift through you motivation every time you cast vision. If the vision is really about you, your ego, or your insecurities (you need to grow bigger to feel good about yourself), healthy people will resist it. (Wise, godly people can help you sort through your motives and see them accurately.)

But you can have a beautifully motivated, compelling vision and still have people walk out the door.

As exciting as the future is, some people prefer the present. Others live in the past.

You can’t build the future church on people who live in the past.

You can't build the future church on people who live in the past. Click To Tweet

2. You Grew

Growth can be an awesome thing. Healthy growth means you’re reaching new people, baptizing people and seeing hope beat in the hearts of people who never knew hope, and so much more.

But growth is threatening.

You’ll see a few patterns emerge.

First, people who love being a big fish in a small pond will immediately get uncomfortable. They’ll want more say…more power, more control.

Others won’t be comfortable with the crowds or the parking issues or having to wait in lines when they were used to accessing everything instantly.

And you’ll probably hear vague comments like “it’s just not the same anymore” or “we simply like it better when it was smaller.”

So what do you do with that?

Well, first, empathize. They’re right…things have changed and it’s not the same as it used to be.

Second, ask them to invite their friends and get in on what’s going on.

What you’ll likely discover is that some do, but most (or at least many) don’t. And for them, it might all boil down to this: the church isn’t really about accomplishing a mission. It’s about meeting their needs.

The challenge, of course, is that the heart of the Christian faith isn’t about satisfying yourself, it’s about dying to yourself.

The heart of the Christian faith isn't about satisfying yourself, it's about dying to yourself. Click To Tweet

So what do you do?

If you’re going to make progress on your mission, focus on who you want to reach, not who you want to keep.

The moment you focus on who you’re trying to keep, both the present and the future slip away from you.

Focus on who you want to reach, not who you want to keep. The moment you focus on who you're trying to keep, both the present and the future slip away. Click To Tweet

3. You’re Reaching Different People

As a church realizes its mission, it means that you’ll reach your community, which when fully realized, means you’ll have a cross-section of your entire community.

Rich and poor.

Professional and blue collar.

Republicans and Democrats.

Black and white.

Latino and Asian.

It means you’ll have people in your church who are sober, and others who are working on it, and others still whose addictions are far from under control.

Which is exactly what the church should be. The New Testament church was all those things. If you’re not convinced it was, please re-read 1 Corinthians.

This can be really threatening for people who think church is for the righteous and for people who have all their issues worked out, which of course, is none of us.

Tim Keller gets to the heart of the problem with modern Christianity in recounting this conversation he had with a woman about her self-righteous faith:

I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: “If I was saved by my good works — then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through.

I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace — at God’s infinite cost — then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me. (Tim Keller, Prodigal God)

If everyone in your church looks like you, acts like you, votes like you, believes like you and thinks like you, you’re probably not the church.

If everyone in your church looks like you, acts like you, votes like you, believes like you and thinks like you, you're probably not the church. Click To Tweet

4. You Got Healthier

When I look back at over two decades of leadership, I realize that so much of my journey has been toward greater and greater emotional and spiritual health.

I’ve seen counselors over the years, hired coaches, read books, gone on retreats and done whatever I can to become more emotionally, spiritually and relationally healthy. And like every leader, I’m a work in progress.

But here’s the good news.

Leaders, when you get healthier, your church gets healthier.

But it also means that sometimes, people who don’t want to get healthy leave.

In the same way that healthy people are drawn to healthy leaders, unhealthy people are drawn to unhealthy leaders.

Gossipers love other gossipers.

Troublemakers love other troublemakers.

Selfish people feel better around other selfish people.

You get the picture.

As your church gets healthier, unhealthy people really have two options: get healthy, or find a less healthy environment.

It’s quite possible that the vast majority of your church will get healthier with you, particularly if you lead and teach out of what you’re learning.

But some won’t want to make that journey.

They’ll leave. And sometimes they make a scene when they go.

Let them go. That’s what healthy people do…they invite, they encourage, and when refused, they move on.

So…keep moving your church toward health.

Leaders, when you get healthier, your church gets healthier. But it also means that sometimes, people who don't want to get healthy leave. Click To Tweet

5. You Finally Moved Into That New Facility

So many people think a move into a new building is a positive step that will only cause growth.

For a church that has momentum, that’s almost universally true. (Although a move into a building will not cause a declining church to grow…I explain why here.)

But even when things are going well, you will lose people.

Some people will love the portable days even better. Some won’t like the new location. Others may not like the design. Others may feel displaced.

For some people, there’s also a sentimental association with past places of worship as well. Maybe the sentiment is because they became Christians there, were baptized there, or even got married there.

For sure, that’s understandable. Most people get past the sentiment, but some don’t. And they’ll leave.

The church has to keep moving though…advancing the mission. After all, you cannot build a future by living in the past.

Why Does This Matter?

All of this can leave you feeling discouraged unless you realize one core truth.

Even if the handful of people who might leave aren’t unappeasable, the people you need to reach are far greater in number than those you’re trying to keep.

The people you might lose always have other churches they can go to.

The unchurched people you will reach by changing…don’t.

Don’t burn bridges with those leaving (be gracious…thank them for their time with you), but don’t sacrifice the mission for the sake of a handful of people who don’t like the future.

The challenge, of course, is to reach more people than you lose and to keep unnecessary departures to a minimum.

The people you need to reach are far greater in number than those you're trying to keep. The people you might lose always have other churches they can go to. The unchurched people you will reach by changing...don't. Click To Tweet

Any Thoughts?

I hope this post comes as encouragement to you. Just know if, despite your best efforts, you still see a small group walk out the door, you’re not alone.

Keep making progress. Keep leading. Keep pursuing your mission.

If you’re leading well, who you reach will be greater than who you lose, even if in some moments it doesn’t seem that way.

What’s your experience with this?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Rather Startling Reasons People Leave Your Church


  1. Richard Dawson on August 22, 2021 at 4:20 pm

    I’ve been a long time leading church, so long that I’ve had people who left 10 years ago return and become active members again. With some it hurts to see them go even though they have valid and important reasons for leaving. With others, not so much. I remember a statistic from an early church growth text which quoted something like 12% normal loss each year simply with things like people shifting away or dying. Given that, it’s vital we stay focused on healthy growth and Gospel honouring mission. There will always be people who take a negative spin on your church or your ministry. Our role, as leaders, is to build while we still can.

  2. David on August 22, 2021 at 10:08 am

    Personally, I have left a church because of divorce of the bishop and mind you it was not the first time but I was there during the first divorce. But my question is we as church leaders deal with the issue of failed relationship in our personal lives The problem that I have is when ministers pretend as if nothing is going on and expect the church to get on with it. Of course l know from listening to focus on the family that each family has its own issues but I think that ministers must be more transparent moreover when the teach Christian principles on marriage.
    My last point that I want to raise on financial stewardship. Coming from South Africa with its historical baggage, what I found out this many preachers from the evangelical movement I giving as a bad name by enriching themselves from church proceeds. This is done mostly by black preacher’s since they are the ones mostly affected by apartheid and are poor economically. Most black south Africa’s don’t want to join evangelical churches and think we are just a money making scheme. I will end here. Please don’t publish since I don’t want to be labeled as controversial.

  3. Brian Hughes on August 22, 2021 at 8:00 am

    People leave the church when leadership does not listen or allow for discussion and thoughtful input. Comments from leadership like “if you don’t like it, then leave” gives people the feeling that the Body is saying to the foot or the ear “we don’t need you”.

    People leave when Elders are not transparent and when they won’t share the problems that need to be overcome. It could be deficiencies in their own conduct or it could be financial hardship that if the Body new of the problem/need they could prepare to help, rather than waiting to the 11th hour, then dumping it on the Body.

    People leave when the church has hurt them or someone in the Body that they know. There is no provision for arbitration or peacemaking. Leadership says “it is our way or the highway”. Trust is broken and likely never to be restored.

  4. N. Ryerson on April 10, 2021 at 12:04 am

    There is a reason why attendance at mosques in Islamic theocracies is virtually a hundred per cent: if you don’t go, you will be shunned, disowned, or murdered. The only reason Christianity used to have near absolute attendance was for the same reasons. After centuries of forced attendance, the habit was ingrained, but today, you can’t force people to attend a church – so many who in the past would have opted out now can. At some point, we’ll discover what level of church attendance is “normal” where true choice exists. Maybe it’s in the single percentage digits, like in Scandinavia. Either way, a small church who want to be there is preferable to a larger group who would rather be watching football or walking on the beach. And who is to say that God cannot be found walking with them in such places?

  5. www.barrietowtruckservice.com on September 2, 2020 at 12:20 pm

    For me it was because the missionary at my house contradicted the priest when I asked them the same question. I didn’t do it on purpose but it was a turn off.

  6. Bernard on August 8, 2020 at 9:15 am

    Some leave because the church down the street opened up during Covid and you did not.

    Some leave beacause if silly things like apelling errors is wrong words in printed articles like in this one or consistent errors on the website.

    In other words, people vote with their feet – and if they leave over the small stuff were they ever committed to begin with – it is not Gathering a crowd that will grow the church to reach more people for Jesus but the engaged and committed. While it is nice to have more there (when we can open up again ) it will not be the new reality – rhe committed will return if they feel safe!


  7. Fiona on August 8, 2020 at 8:51 am

    I hope its not a sign of the times that you forgot to mention that people also leave when the true gospel is on offer. Parable of the sower and what happened in Jesus case. As we go on with Him, the call to die to ourselves isn’t something we all want to hear. We don’t all want to mature. We don’t want things to cost us. A lot of your recommendations for big front door churches (which I agree with) will attract consumers. Many consumers don’t ever want to be transformed into committed contributors. Mark Sayers is brilliant on this. ‘They don’t want to get out of the bleaches.’ Surprised this didn’t get a mention. It happened to Jesus so it will happen to us. If it isn’t happening, we’ve probably watered down the gospel. Lots of big churches, but not making as much impact as 120 committed believers who got filled with the Spirit! People leaving and those who stay behind being refined is how revival will happen. God is waking up His sleeping church and separating those who are willing to pay a price from those who are not. He never said it would be easy and we’ve had it easy. We should be excited about how He’s using this season, not discouraged by it.

  8. https://levyinstitue.org on March 31, 2019 at 8:13 am

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  9. Rene De Brabander on February 17, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    I greatly admire Father White and all his asistants for the work they are doing. I miss the old type Catholic Mass with the Gregorian chant and the quiet devotional atmosphere. But I also understand young people want contemporary music, so that is fine with me.

  10. Robert Bolden on February 7, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    We moved into a new building… the “church” is the people, so if we are genuine, walking with eachother without judgement, speaking truth with grace… the spirit is with us ✝️✝️✝️

  11. Maria Aznar on February 4, 2019 at 11:22 pm

    People will never leave the Church if you strive to bring them closer to Jesus and not to your own growth, your changes or innovations. People will leave if they are not fed what their souls desire: Christ’s Word, a reverent Liturgy, sermons that quote the Gospels calling them to be holy, and availability of the Sacraments.
    True, faithful Catholics are not looking for strong and healthy leaders, they are looking for saintly priests that will reflect the Master, that will be His voice, that will be an “alter Christus” who is the intermediary between earth and the King of glory, the Lord of lords… but they will eventually leave if they do not find HIM in your ministers, in your celebrations, and in your parish. God bless you. +

    • Nette Bays on August 8, 2020 at 8:27 am

      Some people leave because they don’t want to wear masks, as simple as this one. The leadership didn’t do anything outside the mandate of our government-for now, which is also biblical; to submit to authorities. It is not about whether the pastor is leading the body to closer to Jesus or not. It’s about wearing masks. Some people left because they are questioning the reaching out to pre believers. Again, it’s not about the teachings of getting close to Jesus. People have choices and most, follow their choices. Just my personal experience in our own small body of believers. Actually, and many more reasons why they left, that you will scratch your head…

  12. J. on February 4, 2019 at 10:51 pm

    There will never be a perfect church and we will never be perfect people. People argue for or against going to church. The truth is without the people going there is no church. Church is a good thing. Supporting the cause to have a place where God is always worshiped and welcomed in my mind is worth it. When you don’t feel comfortable or someone bothers you pray for them and just keep your eyes on God. Does church make you a Christian no. Does school make you smart no but it helps you grow and learn if you are ready to listen.

  13. Rebecca on February 3, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    I don’t like the pressure to instantly get connected and the fake welcome feeling. I wish I didn’t feel this way when attending church. It’s this feeling that has led me to church hop. Then sick of church hopping I started going to one that seemed normal. For over 6 months I keep going because I was raised to believe that no church doesn’t make you a Christian but you need to go as often as you can make it on Sundays. I know some churches have service on other days but what was drilled in my head as a child was we will go at least once a week. I don’t live in my home town so I had to find a church. After telling myself church hopping is stupid no church is perfect I’ve been forcing myself and family to go still dreading almost every Sunday. I hate feeling this way and I’m ready to give up. After all there are plenty of sermons available on the web. My kids don’t like it and my 10 yr old gripes every Sunday that he doesn’t understand the sermon and doesn’t like the music. So many of these churches feel this need to get you connected and guilted into pressed friendships that are forced and not natural but natural in their mind because if we are Christians we should instantly be buddy buddy. I’ve had this constant comment said to me that I need to be connected especially with other young people my age. Why does age matter and how can arranged friendships be gueniune? Why is it wrong to just go to church be kind to everyone and have acquaintances with people. I have friends some Christians some not but I don’t need someone to make friends for me. It feels very fake and almost sorority like. Maybe that’s good for some people but it’s a tough one for me to buy into. It stinks because I want my young kids to grow up in church like I did but it’s hard when I don’t like going and feel awkward there. My husband says we should be doing more of our own bible studies with our kids and teach them on our own and just not worry about the church thing. I get it that no church is perfect I guess I’m the weird one but I honestly can’t stand the fake ness that is a common thing found in any organized group whether it be a church or sorority or whatever the group is. Maybe I just didn’t see it as a child growing up in church I wish adults could be as genuine as kids are.

    • J. on February 4, 2019 at 10:43 pm

      Rebecca I’m sorry to hear that you have had that experience. Sometimes we try too hard and our good intentions to make people feel welcome don’t come off that way. If you are hoping to get your kids involved in a church activity many churches have AWANA programs. You will be in my prayers I hope you don’t give up on the church. A church is a place to gather maybe in the mean time you can find that with a small group of your Christian friends to pray together with.

      • Rebecca on February 4, 2019 at 11:14 pm

        My 10 and 12 yr olds have been to AWANA and it is great. Thank you for your prayers I probably sounded a bit angry in my post I suppose I’m just frustrated with my feelings on the church matter and maybe I should just shrug it off and be thankful some Moms with kids want to include me in their mom of tweens group. I suppose there is nothing wrong with saying no until I feel more comfortable with connecting. Please pray for my 10 yr old it’s hard hearing him fuss every Sunday about not understanding the sermon and for my attitude. My older kiddo just draws or plays on a phone and doesn’t complain during the service.

    • Guido on February 10, 2019 at 7:00 pm

      Hi Rebeca,
      I just want to let you know you are not alone in your feelings. Having read your post I was surprised how similar our feelings and experiences are on the subject, almost identical. One of the things that has helped me is having a better understanding of what church is supposed to be. I would recommend reading Scot McKnight’s A Fellowship of Differents. This book radically changed my outlook and feelings about church and the experience.

  14. Lily on February 2, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    Have read the article and comments. Seems to me to be a clever excuse to explain why the flock are leaving the fold. It is the leaders responsibility to be an under-shepherd. That is, to care for his flock, driving them away seems a very strange way to CARE! Content, happy and well-fed sheep do not run away to look for better pasture. So many modern “leaders” think that they are C.E.Os. of religious companies. They are not, and the “church” is paying a very high price for their conceit.

  15. Peter Walters on February 2, 2019 at 11:27 am


    Thanks for this article. It was very insightful because some of the areas you identified most people would not consider. For instance, the idea that when your church gets healthy, unhealthy people may leave was something I would have never thought of but I can see how it would happen. This is a great article for Pastors to share with their staff and leadership.

  16. Edward on February 1, 2019 at 11:34 am

    There is a 6th reason why people leave. The Pastor changes with the success of the church. He becomes so busy promoting “his” church that he loses his way, his understanding of why God called him in the first place. He becomes more concerned with events and personal appearances outside of church he no longer shepards, leaving the less desirable tasks (visiting the terminally ill, counseling the down hearted, etc.) to his less equipped “assistants.” His anger is repackaged as “passion,” control is the foundation of his leadership, the counsel from those around him is dismissed as irrelevant, and financial accountability is absent. This is not a phenomenon found only in local churches, but in government, business, and families around the world. After all, this is a sin cursed world. However, in church, it’s especially tragic as Sunday’s preaching can often be the antithesis of example. So, while the 5 reasons point to church members, it’s crucial that church leadership regularly evaluate themselves and ask “does my life emulate the fruits of the spirit? Or, is this just a job and I’m just a salesman?” When the Shepard is absent the flock scatters. An excellent book that was given to me is Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp. It should be required reading every year for all in church leadership, in fact, for every believer. It’s an eye opener.

  17. Mike on January 31, 2019 at 8:36 am

    I had this article sitting – waiting to be read and then forgot about it. Last night, I learned that another person was leaving our church – we have had a small number leave that we’re going to get involved in Leadership here. I found the five reasons listed to be very helpful – they spoke to me and encouraged me about our current situation. The church I’m on staff at is growing – in spite of becoming portable after 40+ years while we look for a new building. We sold our church campus to a nearby Charter school for children with disabilities – they are the only ones around our area that are doing this and they are growing. We sold it to bless them and our community (we currently the facility from them and use it on Wednesday nights and all day Sunday). So, some have gotten impatient while we search for somewhere to go. Others have decided that they don’t like our style of worship, so they’ve moved on. And yet we are still growing.

    Some of the comments I’ve read questioned this article because they wondered “What about those who leave in a healthy way?”. To me, that’s a completely different story – that should be celebrated and they should be sent off in blessing. But those who leave for unhealthy reasons, we’ll, those are the ones that can weigh on a Pastor after a while. This article reminded me that this will always be thee case and that we should continue to focus on who we will reach in the future. Thanks for sharing this!

  18. Jan D. on January 30, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    Good article. The only thing I would add would be the thing that was on my mind at the start of the article, it’s where I thought the article was going to go but it didn’t. Honestly, the ones you mention don’t surprise me at all, I think we see them all the time. I think the surprise can be the people who leave because they are open to where God wants them to go and follow when He leads them into ministry elsewhere. I’m a firm believer that the church you attend isn’t just where you go to get fed but also where you are called to serve and sometimes following God’s lead mean leaving your comfort zone. Just for example, our church had a large group of people leave to do a church plant for the “unchurched” this past year and it was really hard to see them go, especially when our church was already in the middle of other transitions, but those people needed to go where they believed God was leading them to serve the community.

  19. Ryan on January 30, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    Carey, thanks for this article. I feel like this was more on the encouraging side. I’ve challenged previous articles because of the negative tone toward lead pastors but felt encouraged and not alone with this one. Keep up the good work.

  20. Bud Brown on January 30, 2019 at 9:47 am

    People come and go. It’s natural, it’s normal, and it’s always been that way.

    But there is an unfortunate reality which makes this fact so painful to pastors: we unwittingly chain our sense of wellbeing and our sense of personal worth to the church and its people.

    This is due to the fact that we are born broken, just like everyone else. Within our sin nature there remains a deep sense of alienation. We medicate the pain by depending upon the affirmation of others; in time we become dependent. Approval is the pastor’s drug of choice.

    When someone leaves, they take a piece of our sense of wellbeing with them.

    • Pat Keady on January 30, 2019 at 10:18 pm

      Wow, great insight there. I def needed to be alerted to that! Thanks for sharing

  21. Lon Dean on January 29, 2019 at 11:35 am

    So encouraged by this Carey. Sometimes as leaders we need to reinforce each other because we listen to a few people don’t want health because they have to look at their own weakness or growth because it exposes their selfish reasons for going to church. Thank you. You helped me get back to God’s mission today.

  22. K. Wright on January 29, 2019 at 11:28 am

    With respect to #4, an alternative to leaving, for those who don’t want to become healthy, is to make the system unhealthy. This, too often, is a heartbreaking approach.

    • Tom Blair on January 29, 2019 at 2:21 pm

      happens all too often!

  23. Matt on January 29, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Great post! Very encouraging! Loaded with truth. Our church has recently dealt with this on a couple scales. It always hurts because you love people so much, but remembering that God has called us to reach our WHOLE community and impact our island reassures us that we’re moving forward in His call!

    I also appreciate some of the other perspectives represented in the comments above. Great to hear everyone’s heart on this. We’re all about people leaving the right way at our church. Unfortunately, that’s not too often the case. But when it is, best believe we celebrate them(as a staff)!

    Keep churning out that content Carey! We need it! Love ya man!

  24. John Crowe on January 29, 2019 at 10:09 am

    Amen! I will include your quote about healthy churches often loose unhealthy people who are not willing to change in the next edition of my book, Church Health For The Twenty-First Century A Biblical Approach.

  25. David Schmitt on January 29, 2019 at 9:56 am

    “Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ ”

    Odd, this translation seems to have not included the part where Jesus abandons the 99 sheep after he finds the new one. I believe it says something like, “Losing one or two along the way is ok, so long as your total numbers increase. It’s the size of the flock that matters, after all.”

    Luke 15:3-6

    • Curious on January 29, 2019 at 12:53 pm

      Thanks for the comment!

      In my present ministry, this passage is often brought up to me (as a senior pastor) as how I should go after so-and-so who used to attend here for decades but now doesn’t go anywhere; or chase after all the grumblers to make them happy. Since this is being laid at my feet by my fellow elders and deacons, I usually reach out to that “lost sheep”, and meet and encourage and seek to compromise, only to rarely have them return; of if they do, only to leave two years later and cause more damage.

      So, since this is a blog for Christian leaders, I’ve often wondered about the use of this parable as a description of a pastor’s job description. Afterall, in this parable, isn’t it the Lord who goes after the 99 sheep? If this now the pastor’s responsibility? I wonder if many pastors are actually hindering their kingdom impact because they are spending so much of their time and energy going after the “lost sheep” when the Lord is really telling us his heart for the lost, not giving pastors a metaphor for their roles in the kingdom.

      I used to think that it was my responsibility to go after the lost sheep (e.g. the grumblers, needy, lost). I brought this idea to my first fulltime role as a pastor 16 years ago. I was church planting and running crazily after the lost sheep. I did that for a couple of years and eventually the Lord brought me to a new role as an associate pastor.

      After being there only a couple of weeks, I started going after all the people who barely went to church, or were on the cusp of leaving, the super-needy folks glad to have a fresh set of ears to listen to them. I thought I was doing great, but to my shock, the leadership quickly explained that this was not their philosophy of ministry. We were a smallish church (around 175) in the Northeast. Evangelism was key—but they wanted me to equip people to evangelize, not do it myself. Discipleship was key—but they wanted me to focus on building up those who wanted to be there, not placate all the grumblers or spend hours in one-on-one counseling. This didn’t seem very pious but I submitted to them and sought to build up those who wanted to be there.

      Amazingly, the church grew—I know, I know, it’s not about the numbers—but I poured myself into training and equipping leaders who did the work of ministry themselves. Our church grew to an attendance of about 700 with just two full time pastors and 1 lay elder. It seemed that the Lord greatly blessed that ministry; and that church is still going strong.

      Now, I’m a Senior Pastor at a different church and people have given me the role of going after “the lost sheep” role. I gladly took on that role because it felt so much more pious. But after 5 years, our church has virtually no leaders, no fellowship, no joy. At my previous church, we’d baptize more people every 4 months than I have baptized in 5 years. I agree it’s not about growth, but now that I’m spending so much time on the disenfranchised, I hardly ever do real life-on-life / discipleship ministry that was such a part of every day in my previous church.

      Which brings me back to the Lost Sheep Parable…Is Jesus saying that Senior Pastors should fill their schedules focusing on people who don’t want to be there anyway? Or is He saying, this is HIS heart for the lost and His modus operandi for reaching them; and if we focus on training our people to evangelize/serve/minister themselves, He will do the work through them?

      I’ve tried to walk the middle line, but the nature of ministry is that it’s basically either/or. Once people get the perspective that the pastor should try to fix everything and everyone, that draws down too heavily on his time and energy to build up those who want to be built up.

      How do other pastors do this?

      • Peter Walters on February 2, 2019 at 11:20 am

        Thank you for your transparency. As Pastors we know that we should be “equipping the saints” but it’s very easy to get sidetracked. I was really stuck by the examples of your different churches and the result of putting time into training. This was a great reminder.

  26. ELMER BATTUNG on January 29, 2019 at 2:27 am

    Hi Carey, this is so true. It’s both encouraging and motivating!. This also helps broaden our perspective and to have right response when things as this happen in the church. Praise God and thank too!

  27. ELMER BATTUNG on January 29, 2019 at 2:24 am

    Hi Carey, this is so true! Thank you for the insight. It’s both encouraging and motivating. It’s helps broaden our perspective and have right response when such as this happens to church. Praise God and thank you too!

  28. Cathy on January 28, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    Is there any place for leaving a church in a healthy manner? We left a church 10 years ago because God was calling us to a new era and phase for us and our family. Our then congregation released us and (Context African refugee church in Australia) danced around us, wept and cried with us, dressed us in African clothes, gave us gifts and released us.

    I really believe that some people just do not FIT in some churches. We minister in a Lutheran saturated area in The Barossa Valley, I am convinced that not everyone in the Barossa is able to stomach our expression of faith (young, faith filled, rock music, dark auditorium, Hillsong type music) , they are ministered to and serve other churches who are doing the mission well and that in my book is ok.

    As Campus Pastors we hold people close, but let them go when their time is up…. sometimes THEY cannot grow in our environment, not that we are wrong, or they are wrong. It just is.

    I find it hard that people cannot leave churches (in any denomination) without being “blamed”. Mate people leave work with 4 weeks notice because their lives change, circumstances change, kids change, they change….no ones fault. I feel sometimes we need to look at it like that as well.

    I feel we need exit strategies for people in our churches who want to leave well, good feelings not nasty ones, healthy exits, not the blame game. Just like our volunteers need exit strategies with their roles, or at least the option (you know, I was asked to do Kids Church 20 years ago, and I am still here lol) We are (even leaders) disempowered from leaving well in churches. I am committed to making this happen, the old saying is true, if you love something set it free, if it comes back it was yours, if it does not it never was.

    No control here, no blame, reasons yes…but in the end who can judge? I think maybe the post is a wee bit judgey….. in our efforts to understand we need to look at ourselves as leaders more, our blind spots, holes in the church, people’s reasons less.

    In all love and appreciation of your posts, I am challenged daily x

  29. Violet Cox on January 28, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    This is such a revealing post. What struck me was the statement (paraphrased here) people willl leave the church in good times and when it’s at the height of its growth! Sometimes we get so focused on those few who leave that we fail to see that as in the course of nature they are simply making room for others to come in – and the church continues to grow. Not that I want people to leave,don’t get me wrong, but I’m realizing now that it’s not so much that someone offended a person causing them to leave, truth is they were leaving anyhow!
    Another thing I found thought provoking in this post is the fact that people leave the church not for doctrinal reasons (necessarily) but they are fearful of the BIG SCREEN- the vision of the leadership is simply too big for the mind to handle. Reminds me of when I first sat in an Omnimax theater. The scene was so huge I almost ran out of the theater!

  30. Barnabas Sprinkle on January 28, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    Love the post. At the same time, I don’t want to absolve myself too easily of the responsibility to love those who feel on the fringe, or disenfranchised. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to release them, but often (as one response above shows) people leave because they feel unloved, unreached, etc.
    And in our context, people leave because there is a new preacher at the Naz church down the street who is really proclaiming the gospel well (I love the guy), and they like a better show/better youth program/etc. It’s tragic, because church hopping hurts the universal church. Imagine if my cells jumped from organ to organ! I encourage us to love one another well…never letting go of the gospel mandate to reach the lost.

  31. john27 on January 28, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    This post arrived at great time! Thanks Carey! The mission must go on.

  32. Jeannie on January 28, 2019 at 11:35 am

    I did not want to leave. Committed to the Church, cheering for the success of her leaders, encouraging and mentoring, lending wisdom, perspective and insight from years of cross-cultural ministry, all while serving quietly in humble, invisible roles. As the church grew, the “in” crowd became smaller and more exclusive, and high-school politics became the norm. Not by intention, I’m sure, but by inattention. Because Sunday’s coming, every week, with relentlessly pressing demands. One of the things that success can mask is a utilitarian, task oriented use of people to keep the success machine going. At some point I began to realize that loyalty and respect was in one direction only, that the commitment was not reciprocal. The church had become an organization more devoted to growing itself than in growing me. Fading into insignificance, my departure, much like my presence, has been unacknowledged, unnoticed, unimportant. This church left me long before I left it.

    • Meg Nakano on August 8, 2020 at 7:26 pm

      Your comments are very resonant. I’m in a diocese with 30-some churches, and in our specific congregation where, due to corporate HR practices in the area, we have about a 30% “churn” – people leaving and people arriving every year for reasons of their employment, 10% or so ‘long-term’ members. This means we have lean years and fat years, and many feel that a large part of our mission as a church is to share God’s love with people, and help them to grow as people who can then go out in the world and be the ‘good leavening’ wherever they may next land themselves. We are, as one rector commented, ‘a pilgrim church’.
      In our diocese, some churches are dying: as a rule, any church where the pitch is, “We need new people in our church, there aren’t enough people to do all the work”, attendance does not grow, and as the congregation average age seems to reach the mid-70-yr-old mark, the congregation is literally dying. There should be a ministry somewhere in that situation, but it’s God who calls people to ministries in ways we don’t always understand. And it’s a rare instance when someone feels called to join a church in order to join the dish-washing group.

  33. Doug Kibbe on January 28, 2019 at 11:06 am

    Outstanding post!!! So informational and inspirational.

  34. Kenneth Culp on January 28, 2019 at 11:05 am

    I have to agree with you. We had four couples that left our church. I met with a Pastor friend of mine and shared with him that we lost four couples and we were not a large church. He said to me that sometimes you need a good elimination, like your body needs a good elimination. This helped me greatly.

  35. Carlson Marilyn on January 28, 2019 at 10:59 am

    These are good, Carey! Also, people often leave because they haven’t made any friends. And, sometimes people leave because they haven’t found their niche/place in the local body to serve.

    • Sharee Lynn Fulmer on January 28, 2019 at 10:16 pm

      Yeh, I think I get you, Carlson. Sometimes, I think we need to mobilize the troops that are already in the church and help people connect. Look around you at church and see the immense talent and personable qualities in people. Yet, often these people whom
      I believe God is sending come in and out of our churches like a revolving door….through my eyes. What if there were someone in a leadership/authority position who could reach these people, plug them in and help connect them with others? AKA What I would give to see a job description for a church HR for the placement and T&D of volunteers and follow up ministry! It seems all jobs posted are for Pastors of one sort or another. What if being a Pastor isn’t our calling? My parents were part of a church that grew from 800 to 30K in 13 years time. I only got to witness the last 3 years of that growth personally while I was 5 – 8 years of age, and yet, I remember vividly how they did it. It all starts with loving God and loving people. Yes, Carey N. is right. People will leave our churches for one reason or another. We should not be devastated by it. Yet, when I see a capable minister (people with day jobs who are willing to volunteer) that God sends to our church leave, on the inside I’m shouting, “NOOOOooooooooo!” Everyone has a free will, and we can’t make them stay. Yet, could we help make them want to?

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