5 Ways For a Church Member to Leave a Church Well

Sometimes people remember how you arrived. They almost always remember how you left.

Especially if you leave poorly.

This is true when people come to your church and when they leave, as some inevitably do.

I was out driving through our neighbourhood recently and I passed the house of someone who goes to our church.

I had that thought that I think every ministry leader has had at some point.

Hey…I don’t think I’ve seen them for a while. Has it been 3 or 4 months? (Pause). 

I wonder if they left?

exit a church wellIt also made me think about how people tend to leave churches these days.

Some leave angry and cause a fight. 

Most just disappear, often without a word.

We don’t have a lot of the first kind at our church these days, but I’m sure we have some of the second.

It got me thinking…

Is there a good way to leave a church?

If I wasn’t in full time ministry, how would I leave  a church?

Ideally, I think you’d stay with one church your whole life.

But because we live in an imperfect world, I’ll just assume everyone has one (or maybe at the most two) lifetime church changes in them while they are living in the same community. I understand that churches change, leaders changes, you change, and so a readjustment in your church home is not out of the question.

I’m not talking about drifting from church to church, consuming church like it was some product you use and dispose of, church surfing or church shopping.

I’m talking about a “we went to this church for two decades but now this is our home” kind of change.

Why one or two churches over your life? Because that way you can have the greatest impact and make the greatest contribution.

And, obviously if you move, that’s a different story.

So I’ve penciled in some thoughts.

If people were to leave a church well, I think these steps could be helpful and result in the church being stronger, not weaker.

5 Ways to Exit Well

As a church leader, you can’t guarantee people will follow these steps (or steps like them), but you can guide them along in the journey, helping them to exit well.

Most people want to do the right thing. They’re just not sure how. As a leader, you can help them.

1. Own your piece of the pie

When you’re ready to leave, it’s so easy to blame everyone else and never look inside.

Ask God to show you what part of your dissatisfaction is you and what might be related to others.

Even get input from others to see if you are seeing things correctly, not in a gossipy way, but in a “What part of this problem is me?” kind of way.

As a tip to church leaders, if you meet with someone who’s leaving, own your part of the pie too. Admit that your church isn’t perfect, empathize with their dissatisfaction and try to learn from it. Often there are things you could do much better.

Great things come from honest conversations in which people take responsibility.

2. Talk to someone

Too many people leave without a conversation.

Don’t leave without a conversation—a healthy, respectful conversation.

In a small church, that might be with the pastor directly.

In a larger church, that might be your group leader, someone you serve with or campus pastor.

Either way, don’t just slip away.

3. Clarify the problem

 I find most people leave over one of two issues: Misunderstanding or misalignment.

A misunderstanding can be clarified.

More information, an apology, or a new perspective can often move a person from being upset to being at peace quickly.

In fact, the person might not even end up leaving or the church might end up changing.

Misalignment is another issue. If you are fundamentally at odds with the approach of the church, it’s an alignment issue.

And because no local church is the entire body of Christ, healthy leadership should be excited for you to find a church that better aligns with your understanding of church or your personality.

I’m not talking about preferences here (we like the music better), but I am talking about finding your fit in a way that is going to help you become a thriving part of a local church.

Misaligned people never thrive.

I have often encouraged people to find a church that better fits their approach to ministry and am honestly thrilled when they find a good fit.

4. Leave with grace

Say goodbye well.

Don’t burn relational bridges.

Affirm the good in what you see in the church you’re leaving (remember at one point you thought it was awesome).

Take the high road. You won’t regret it. The high road isn’t the easy road but it’s always the best road.

And besides, the church is the bride of Christ. When you insult the church, you insult Christ (I don’t say this lightly).

If you really want to know what the standard is for exiting with grace, ask yourself: Five years from now, what will I wish I had done? That question clarifies so much.

5. Find and commit to another local church

Your goal is not to consume church, but to be the church.

Find a church where you can serve, love, give, invite and share the life-changing transformation that Christ is bringing about in you.

Those are my thoughts on leaving well. I offer them because it can help you if it’s time to go AND because it might help you (as a church leader) to help people exit well.

Leaving a church staff position is another matter entirely. I wrote this post on some of the unique challenges church leaders face when they exit church leadership (and why so many end up attending nowhere).

What are your thoughts when it comes to church members leaving?

What are the best practices you’ve seen? What are the worst?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

74 Comments

  1. melissa on May 19, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    hi i was going to a prophetic church and i decided to leave because one week ago at the Friday night service the prophet of the church insulted me. this is a very small church that i have been attending for 5 months . this church is losing a lot of members and they are having financial problems. the pastor is very nice in person
    but when he is under the prophetic he can be critical and negative. last Friday he said i dont understand why a nice looking girl like you isn’t married and he was praying for me to find true love . he then said i keep forgetting how weak you are and then he said even handicap people can marry.
    i never heard him talk like this before.
    he prophesied to me that he saw that i would marry a much older man and that he wouldnt be a nice person and he then said that because of what i am he will take advantage of me. I don’t think this prophetic word was from God at all because im not weak and i like to date men close to my age not much older men. i cant see mysel marrying a much older man.i was shocked at the things he said to me that i dont want to attend this church anymore. everytime a new visitor comes to this church he always prophesies to them and a few weeks later they dont come back .
    i feel like this church is not for me and the church is very cliquish none pf the other young ladies talk to me

    • Josh on July 15, 2018 at 8:17 am

      I would pray heavily.
      Moder profecy is rare. We no longer need others to show us Gods way.
      Before Christ we did not have dwelling over n us.
      The Holy Spirit Should teach believers directly if we allow Him to. Pray, read Gods Word, and seek true Godly counsel. Look for the Most loving people around you, and simply ask if they are Christians. Love for one another is how we should know true believers.

      I hope this helps, I will also pray for you.

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  4. Oluwakayode on March 11, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    This helped a lot, I must say. I’ve been struggling to leave my fellowship because of some doctrinal differences. Now, i know the right way to do it.

  5. Tiger77 on March 3, 2018 at 2:41 am

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    it might not be a taboo matter but typically people don’t discuss these issues.

    To the next! Kind regards!!

  6. Simone on February 20, 2018 at 4:52 am

    Hi, I’m in the process of trying to leave my church because they kind of ignored me when my Dad died, then told me I needed to press into long term relationships better. I’m taking it on board but at the same time, being in a state of grief and family crisis, plus having (very mild/subclinical) Aspergers and trying really hard for 5 years to fit in there, I think they have been pretty cold.

    I have been praying a lot because I’ve felt bitter, then better again, but it hurts terribly because I’m in a world of pain right now with the grief and other problems going on. I just can’t go through a careful exit right now, much as I want to. I wrote a letter in a better frame of mind, but I asked a trusted friend to read it and she wants me to meet with her before I send it.

    I am going to visit my friend’s church next week which is smaller and sounds like a better fit for a person like me. But in the meantime, as I navigate this crisis – there are a lot of practical issues to work through to help my widowed mother – I just can’t afford any mental space to think about my former church.

    Any advice? Should I just let it sit for a few weeks and then contact them?

    • SimpaFrancis on February 26, 2018 at 1:15 am

      Dear Tommy, if you want to leave the church because of how they ignored you when you lost your dad, i personally don’t think thats reason enough.
      However if you’ve still not been able to fit in properly in à position where you can serve after 5years, thén its time to leave.
      Kenneth Hagin would always say to his congregation that if they can find any other church where they will win more souls, grow more and serve God more, they have his approval to leave. Guess what? In 15years of pastoring, he never lost any.
      So Tommy, my advice is that if you would be more effective in advancing the kingdom of God in the smaller church, then you may leave; however do ensure to meet the head or leader of your group or even the pastor before you leave.
      God bless you Richly

  7. Tommy on February 3, 2018 at 10:16 am

    I’m a leader involved in many initiatives in our church. Due to recent search for truth, I’m beginning to fade away from what was once “I believe in these doctrines” to now “I’m not so sure about them anymore; they sound strange and may undermine the gospel”. How do I go about talking to our senior pastor about this? Considering my position, I don’t want to compromise the church’s leadership and Theo team doctrinal integrity as a church. I’m not sure of what to say to him. Please advice needed ASAP!!!

    • Amos on April 23, 2018 at 12:59 pm

      I was (and am) in the same position. What I first did was schedule a meeting with our pastor. Yet, in preparation of this meeting, I spent much time in prayer and reading God’s word. I also fasted and sought counsel outside of my church on how to best approach this situation. From there, I came to this meeting with my pastor which the approach of seeking counsel, rather than creating division. I asked him this: How do I go about moving forward in our church if I’ve come to a different understanding of what we’ve been taught?

      Of course, in response, my pastor asked me if I could be specific. I laid it out and how I got to where I was. And then when I was asked how about how I’ve gone about this situation leading up, I let him know that I’ve spent much time in prayer, fasting, reading God’s word, and seeking counsel, before coming to this meeting.
      I ended up having a very civil discussion with my pastor and left the meeting with the same stance and better understanding of where the heart of our pastors are (there’s a lot more that happened during this meeting and how it went, but it would require too much detail, so I’ll leave it as is).

      As of today, I’m still at the same church, but given that I had this conversation about a month ago, my wife and I have been given lesser roles in the ministry which we believe was done so because of our differences. In God’s time and by His will, we do believe that we will eventually be leaving this church, which now has seemed like a slow weaning process compared to how we first thought it would be (i.e., cut cold turkey). I hope this helps!

  8. Juan on February 1, 2018 at 12:39 am

    Hi ! I’m really in a weird spot also , I’m a full time staff at my church , I run sound every Sunday (both services) and also Wednesday nights , If I happen to get covered during pastors message I’ll jump on a camera ( not at all asking for a pity party ). During the days I do graphics for the church , I run our website , I video edit , stuff for your social media, etc . I love what I do at my church , and I love the church and the culture and the richness of God here , and our leaders , it’s all around pretty great ! But sometimes I do feel very under pay for what I do and unappreciated by some pastors and leaders , and I do know my richess are in heaven , but there is certain point where I reflect and i ask myself is that okay ! Am I really appreciated , and sometimes I do often think about leaving because of financial problems, also the thing is I’m young , I’ve been renewed and transformed by God himself , and if it wasn’t for this church I don’t know where I would be . Also it may or may not be irealivent, but I am dating run of the pastors daughters too which makes this all but so much more difficult, because I really love her and do have plans want to marry in the future ( not ready for while , but definitely is a thought ) . Sorry for being long , I really need advice out of the four walls , it’s so difficult to talk about it with anyone because of the situation, and me being part of the staff with more then 2500 members of our congregation. It’s very difficult to talk about , please help . I’m seeking any sort of godly wisdom please !

    • Faye on February 11, 2018 at 4:30 pm

      Seek the Lord my brother he has your answer!

  9. John on January 19, 2018 at 8:37 pm

    I belong to a church and I am interpreting for Deaf. I am being over-worked. I am mentally and physically drained. When a person interprets, it is easy to not remember what the pastor spoke on. When asking for help they tell me I am the only one who can do it for 1 and 1/2 hours. I am wanting to leave and go elsewhere and pause on interpreting since physically I am in pain. What do yall suggest me do?

    • Chris on January 20, 2018 at 4:59 am

      I am also an interpreter. You need a team. There’s no doubt about it. It’s cruel to ask you to interpret such a long service by yourself.

  10. Annyka on January 17, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    Just reading this post now and I’m happy I did, this issue had been on my mind lately, even though I’m not a leader. Leaving a Church is a big step and is more times seen negatively but I agree with what you said about the importance of finding a place of worship that aligns with how you see ministry and serving God.
    Honestly this is a great blog!

  11. Dorothy. on December 21, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Leaving a church for another may not be healthy because it is one house. and Christ will come for one church. though if you feel that you are not growing spiritually and the brethren around you are not helping you up. then you may have no option but to move to the next church. also where you do not experience love can be tricky, because that is the greatest commandment that our Lord Jesus Christ left.

  12. Nettie on November 20, 2017 at 11:35 am

    After reading the comments left here it backs up reasons why people feel anxiety about switching churches. At the moment my husband and I are members of a local church and driving 20 minutes to another, testing the waters. We have no ill feelings and I guess no main reason for wanting to leave our church. Does that make it wrong? For ten years we have attended the same church in our small town. Our church has around 20 members. We have seen many church splits, new pastor and people come and go. We live in a very isolated community. We have poured ourselves into the church, and tried to form relationships with people that only want to come on Sunday. For ten years we have hosted women bible studies, small group and children ministries where no one shows up or wants to commit. We feel weary. Again there Is no doctrinal issue or misunderstanding. We are just tired. The church we have been visiting has much to offer and many ways for us to serve. I don’t think there always has to be a big reason, sometimes God calls us to different places, just like missionaries visit home to be renewed, sometimes church members are dry and need renewal. I just don’t understand why its so looked down upon to see if there is a better fit. If you find yourself weary and dry why is it so wrong to go somewhere else as long as you leave well. I’m not talking about once a year moves here, but I think its important to revaluate your position in your church. There is only so long you can remain on fire in a lukewarm church before you yourself start to become lukewarm.

    • Chris on January 20, 2018 at 5:05 am

      It’s best to first assess the needs of the church. If there are no members attending certain functions, maybe it means that the body doesn’t need that function at that time. Maybe asking the body if they want a certain function by having sign-ups left in a well known place. If it reaches a certain amount of people, you can contact them to inform them of when it will be held.

    • Kay R. on July 16, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      Nettie your comment is everything!!! Ive only been at my church for 5 months ( I moved to a different city) and I don’t feel on fire like I used to when I attended my church in my old city. I definitely feel as God is calling me elsewhere. I hope that you and your husband followed God’s call and that you both are refreshed.

  13. Steve on November 9, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    I have to say I am concerned about some of the reasons used to justify leaving a church. I have always felt that God places you where he wants you. But even more that that, he has placed you into a certain family with God as the head of that family. I have always felt that family doesn’t leave family unless there is a problem with leadership and even then, we are to go to our brother to work it out. I see another reason to leave is if the leadership is not doctrinally sound and unwilling to correct the path they’ve taken. Other than this, why do we think we have the right to leave the church if we are brothers and sisters in Christ–are we not to endure and toil in the hardest of times? It seems like with divorce, many people will pull that card when dealing with a church issue and take the path of least resistance and leave. I wonder if the persecuted church deals with these same issues. I would venture to guess that “church family” means something different to those who truly suffer for Christ and always looking for how to serve each other. I like the point in the article made, “Your goal is not to consume the church but to be the church.”

  14. Heinrich on October 9, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Hi,

    Two years ago, I have accepted a job here in Tokyo. I moved my family here. We have been attending religiously a local church here. We have also joined a small group for weekly bible studies. We are being fed here spiritually. Back in my country, i still send my tithes to my church there. I’m thinking to wothdraw my membership and be a member in the church i attend here in tokyo. Is it biblically acceptable to do this?

  15. Sunny on August 31, 2017 at 1:56 am

    Our family has been part of the same church for around 7.5yrs. Last year we felt called to move away from the area; my husbands long term job was soon to be terminated as the business was closing down and only 3 months later the lease on our house would be expiring. We sought the Lord and strongly felt that we should move and my husband had an interview for a new position quickly in a location about 2.5hrs away. The thing is that when we spoke to the Pastor about leaving we were told that he didn’t feel in his spirit that it was time for us to move on. He said he wouldn’t stop us from leaving but that he felt it wasn’t right. We felt intimidated really. My husband attended the interview, which went very well but a few hours later after he called the business and told them that he wouldn’t be able to commit. Fear and doubt had crept in. My husband found a job in a town close by and we moved about 25 minutes away from the church. We are too scared to leave now. We’ve heard our pastor tell other people who’ve wanted to leave that they were being disobedient to God and then, in subtle ways, people still attending the church are told not to fellowship with the ones who have left. I’m having panic attacks about telling them we want to leave. We have 3 special needs children so its always been difficult for us to attend and now its only 1 of us going every 2nd week because we can’t afford the fuel to drive over there and back. There are several teachings we disagree with also. I’m wondering if its okay to write a letter to tell them we’re leaving; I fear the confrontation as the pastor will most likely tell us we’re wrong. I fear the backlash from the pastors wife also. She openly said that she hoped a lady in our church got a divorce, then she actively encouraged the lady and it ended up happening. Other things she’s done have concerned me also, she seems to be vindictive. I’m feeling a tightness in my chest even writing this post. Please pray for us. We need Godly advice and have no one to ask as we’re not in touch with others who’ve left and if we mention anything to anyone they will report to the pastor.

    • TalM on August 31, 2017 at 10:06 am

      Dear family,
      I don’t know what kind of church asks you not to fellowship with other people outside your church. Is this Christian church or a cult?
      Since you asked God yourselves to inspire you, don’t even ask the church leader.
      I will pray that you leave them behind and if it means friends will disfallowship you, then they were not friends from the start.
      God be with you and your little ones every step of the way.

  16. Anonymous on July 20, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    I love my church and the people in it but I am struggling with something. I believe my leader to be a mighty man of God but I don’t understand something he did. It was very off color and not at all characteristic of who I believe him to be. When I asked about it, I was told that as long as greater good came from the off color stuff, that it was ok. I am so grieved in my heart over it.
    I don’t feel right about being in his flock because I don’t trust him anymore. I don’t want to hurt him and I’m not mad at him but I don’t feel right being pastored by him. This incident did not get dealt with at all.

  17. Hurting and confused on July 9, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    I was recently approached by a married deacon numerous times with sexual comments and have brought it before the pastor. The deacon has been asked to step out of any leadership responsibilities but is still with the church. I can’t be around his man and my husband doesn’t want me to be there either. Should I leave the church because I am feeling violated by a leader in the church? I know I can’t be there with him still attending.

    • Michaela on September 15, 2017 at 5:09 pm

      I would say definitely leave, or make sure that other leadership in the church confront and deal with this deacon.

  18. Peter T. on July 6, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    I am considering leaving my church that I love so much. The people, the Pastor, the biblical teaching and the worship style that you rarely find today. Traditional and historical conservative Reformed. I am leaving because for the last month my wife and I have not been able to attend services. Not one person has really questioned or made follow up concerning our absence and that is very hurtful and makes us feel like we are not church family. I hope I am not jumping the gun by thinking this way but its difficult not to feel hurt. The thing is that we will not seek another church. This church was our only hope in our area. Thanks.

    • Jack on August 21, 2017 at 7:09 am

      I wouldn’t leave. It may be too late in this response but I would not make that calll. Maybe it would be an opportunity to start a ministry in your chuch that does follow-up with missing members. Should someone have reached out? Absolutely! But we are in a crazy, busy world. That’s not a good excuse but a reality. Maybe the ministry idea would be your gift to the Body. I am sure their are fine people that love you guys. Small groups are great for live, accountability, and compassion with a smaller group. Gods people are imperfect but we are a communal religion. The church needs you and we all need the church. Don’t know who you are but praying you let God lead you.

    • Mrs. Lawson on September 13, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      Have you contacted the Pastor to let him know “why” you and your wife have not been able to attend?
      If not, the pastor may think that since you didn’t voice the reason for your absence that you would prefer to keep it private and not be contacted about the issue.]
      I don’t know enough about the situation to say yes or no about jumping the gun, but I don’t think absenting yourself from church worship is a healthy idea. The WORD admonished us to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together…”

    • Jocelyn on September 25, 2017 at 3:16 am

      What do you think or do when you tell your Pastor of a burden you have joining another Church and her answer was I know the leaders of the Church more than you do and she asked me to be careful.?

    • Wanda on January 21, 2018 at 7:26 pm

      Remember the part of this article that says own up to your part. Why did you not contact someone as to why you could not attend service, oppose to waiting for someone to notice you are missing. Where you conducting a test?

  19. Holly on June 8, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    My husband and I are being led by God to leave our current church. The two biggest things holding us back from leaving is… a) close relative is the head pastor and b) lack of volunteers due to being a small church. My husband and I volunteer a lot. I’ve already discussed with my Pastor about leaving the current volunteering position,(which I felt to only do for a season not long term) about 7 months ago and still no replacement. The church has not grown much since it started 12 years ago. While the church is founded on sound scriptural principles and preaching, there are a few things holding it back from moving forward, which are not being dealt with. I’m ready to move ahead and being there is holding me back. Trying to find the courage to come forward and take the initial step of leaving. How do you even leave a relative’s church? I keep telling myself to remember, I will stand before God someday giving an account for what He has called me to do not the pastor.

    • Katherine on September 24, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      We to are going through the same thing, I’m home now, praying, talking to God. I don’t want God to cast me aside. I need Him Now, to show me if I’m alright with feeling like this. The pastor and my family were close but, some issues in the church have left us estranged, but still functioning at a low. Can’t begin to separate the two by what’s being preached and the way we’ve been pushed aside. I need church, the fellowship, but I see my church family going along to get along and on top of that, we are not growing in membership, and our praise and worship. People say, oh, you all have been faithful members and work so hard in the church. Now, we’re not motivated and your opinion has no regards. Lord, I need your Help!

  20. Alley on June 4, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    My roommate and I have been attending a church for almost 7 years now. She got saved in this church, praise the Lord! But unfortunately, we have never felt like we “fit in” There is not really any members our age, and those that come in leave shortly after. There are groups/classes for every age group but ours, and we feel that we are ‘outcasts’. We both serve wherever we can, and try to serve the Lord to the best of our ability. My roommate teaches a sunday school class, we both serve in the nursery, clean the church, and are there pretty much any time the doors are open. I have tried to volunteer when there are needs, but have been told no many times. Even serving in the nursery I have had limits put on the amount/way I am allowed to serve.
    The problem is, there is a ‘misalignment’ with us and the leadership of the church. The pastor acts as though he has no time for us, and the only communication we have with hi is when he or his wife are telling us we have screwed up (because we are not serving THEM the way they think we should) We want to serve the Lord, not man.
    We have been praying a lot about moving to another church (of like doctorin) in the area, but want to make sure we are doing everything the right way. We will not leave until we know that is what the Lord is asking us to do. I want to let the Pastor know, but am so afraid of being yelled at or told it is our fault. I don’t want to put out a list of “things they’ve done wrong” because each of those things is only a symptom of the problem- they do not take the time to know us, and have no respect/compassion for us. We just don’t fit in.
    What is the best way to approach them when the time comes? I would like to just say “we believe the Lord is leading us elsewhere” (because that is the only reason we will leave) But other times one of us had told them that we believed the Lord was leading in a certain direction, they told us we were wrong and that the Lord told them what we should actually do. (… didn’t think it worked like that…)
    Sorry for the length, thank you for your help!

    • Anonymous on July 23, 2017 at 7:49 am

      If it is a roommate situation you each individually need to decide what is right for each individual’s spiritual growth.

      • Alley on July 24, 2017 at 1:14 pm

        We have prayed about it both separately and together. We will only do what the Lord leads us to do. My parents also attend, and are praying about it as well.

    • Amy on August 26, 2017 at 8:25 am

      This sounds like a ungodily – controlling relationship. God pastors lead you to God…give counsel and release you to act according to your own convictions….unless they violate scripture.

  21. Lucy M on May 26, 2017 at 10:42 am

    I too was heart broken when the church changed into liberal while I was getting deeper into the bible. I saw the twisting of the Holy Book. We can not twist and change in the name of tolerance and forgiveness. The bible says what it says it is either the truth or a lie. If it changes then it is not the truth. They knew though that some of the conservative people will leave church and on the other hand they will attract a new kind of crowd to their church.

    First thing I did;I found another church on line I watched their sermons about specific subjects to make sure I agree before starting to attend. I also went there and talked and asked my questions straight forward at the welcome meeting.

    I prayed for God to let me know if I should just stop going to the old church and start the new church or should I gradually stop going. One morning I woke up and felt yes I will just stop going there anymore.

    It has been two months. I love the new church. I still didn’t contact the old church.
    It is something I want to do because I appreciate the times we prayed together and cared for each other.Because I do care for them. I also want to call two more ladies in my bible study group and tell them that I left the church and I loved doing bible study with them.

    I am thinking to call one of the Reverends that led my bible study group and tell him about the new church; how i found a large group of moms and a big Sunday school. But I am not sure how to tell her the most important reason that I left the church for. The Liberal or progressive approach of the church to everything that the bible says.
    Any ideas please help me how to put the words so that I am short and right to the point.

    • Darlene on November 28, 2017 at 1:04 am

      Lucy, what is a Liberal church. Is it a Grace place? Has someone there learned about grace, and loving kindness?
      We are called to love and lead others to Christ. Without grace, we are being legalistic. I do not have to agree with your lifestyle or actions (deeds of sin), but I DO have to love you past your faults, in order to see your needs! The houses of worship/prayer (there is only one church), are hositals, not club houses. People come to find direction and guidance. I am supposed to speak the truth in love, and ensure that my speech is seasoned with grace, not condemnation, ridicule or judgement. At some point, we were all sinners until God drew us with His loving kindness. You cannot make an impact, without contact!

  22. Dmjkne on April 12, 2017 at 10:47 am

    We’re a year and a half out from a messy split. The founding senior pastor claimed to be passing the leadership on to the assistant pastor (who had been there 30 years, 25 in ministry). The deacons were in support of the newly appointed senior pastor. But the founder’s wife was convinced he was being pushed out, and convinced him and others of the same. And it became a power struggle. Two assistant pastors and four deacons ultimately left. We didn’t invite others, but about 100 people followed. (My husband was one of the deacons.) With that many people, we had to quickly launch a new church.
    We’ve talked it out (among leadership), know the deacons and pastors tried hard for two years to make it work. We willingly own the parts we could have done better. But I still struggle with the “leaving well” part – because I really feel we were pushed out. We’re working on forgiveness. We know we have to. We don’t want to carry any of it forward into our new church. I feel like any sort of conversation with the people left there would be forced and fake. And I can’t really have an honest discussion because A) the rest of the congregants don’t need to know all the background drama that occurred and B) the founder and his wife have a very skewed view of what really happened.
    Sadly, there are a few people left there whom we love, and they think some of us were to blame for it all. We can’t really reconcile without sounding like we’re dishonoring the pastor and his wife. It’s such a tough spot to be in – wanting to have left well, yet not really having the opportunity to do so because of the dynamics of the situation. I keep praying, asking God to lead me/us in any of this. I still don’t feel free to address any of it, so I just wait.
    Any wisdom from you or your readers is welcome!

  23. Anon on April 10, 2017 at 4:13 am

    Thanks so much for this article. It is coming at a most crucial point in my life and my family. We have been attending the same local church since 2009. We joined ministry teams and within a couple of years, my husband and I were both leaders.

    About a year and a half ago, I felt led to step down from leadership because I couldn’t keep up with the level of demand. We had 3 services every week and I spent half of my Saturdays at rehearsals. We had so many conferences every year which placed a huge demand on the choir that I led. As a result, I wasn’t there for my family and my children were getting to an age where they really needed me to be present in their lives. After an agonizing period of prayer I had to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to step down. I believe I did it the right way because I spoke directly to the pastor who was very aware of the challenges I had been facing in my marriage. I told him God was leading me to dedicate more time to serve my family.
    To cut the long story short, the pastor was offended. Since then, we have been feeling ostracized by the whole leadership team. When people have asked why I stepped down, I have always said it had to do with family commitments and refused to give further details.

    I am convinced I made the right decision because my marriage and my children are thriving in accordance to God’s will and we are at peace.

    The pastor and his wife have been very cold towards us and without going into too much details, suffice to say they have treated us in such a way that we have lost trust in them as leaders.

    We have tried to discuss with them but they are not willing to hear or acknowledge their part in the conflict that has ensued. Instead of validating the content of the issues we have brought to them, they would take offence that we are daring to ask them questions. Their opinion is that we should be loyal to them as our spiritual father and mother (a concept, I have always struggled with, especially since I didn’t get saved under their ministry. My salvation and Christian foundation years was in a different church when I lived in another country).

    After leaving leadership, God began to open my eyes to the level of control and abuse of spiritual power that we had been under. I started having panic attacks and migraines at the thought of approaching the pastor’s wife to discuss the issues I had with her. She would never apologise for anything nor acknowledge any wrong doing. Instead, she would remind me of everything they had done for me and my family and how we were being disloyal and unsubmissive to spiritual authority.

    Besides all these, we have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the leadership model of the church which is very ‘pastor focused’. People are not being encouraged to develop their own hearing directly from God but are directed to always and constantly seek the pastor’s approval before taking any important steps and if you don’t things will not go well for you. (I am almost quoting a message from the pulpit on a Sunday morning).

    Pls note that we have not discussed our thoughts with any church members. We have not caused division or gossip about these things.

    We are at a point now where we sense it may be time to move on. I would appreciate your thoughts. (Apologies for the length of the question).

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 10, 2017 at 4:54 am

      Oh man…that sounds like a really unhealthy environment. One of the characteristics of health is freedom, and if you don’t have the freedom to step back a bit that’s not a good sign. Two things I would suggest. #1…what, if anything, do you think is your responsibility? (It’s important to see what slice of the pie we own). #2. Is there a healthy person who knows and loves you and the church with whom you can process this so you can get plugged into a healthier church? I’m glad your family life is thriving again. That’s wonderful. My prayer is you find a church that thrives as well! Thanks for sharing your story.

      • Anon on April 10, 2017 at 6:41 am

        Thanks for your prompt response Carey. I have to admit that after the feeling of rejection from the leadership, I did completely withdraw. I guess my protective instincts kind of kicked in. I have reduced church attendance to only Sundays. This is mainly because I felt most of the messages were about me and this is not me being paranoid at all. But, I don’t t want to be defensive and justify my actions. Also, in addressing issues with the pastor, I may have been brutally honest in some instances which, is really unacceptable in our church environment. I don’t believe I was rude or disrespectful but I spoke the truth about my hurt and pain and the fact that I disagreed with some of the content of his messages from a scriptural point of view. Instead of clarifying those issues, my husband and I were accused of being arrogant and disrespectful to our ‘shepherd’.

        Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut cos I knew they’re weren’t ready to listen?

        • Carey Nieuwhof on April 10, 2017 at 9:37 am

          Appreciate the honestly. Well, I think we do need to speak the truth but we need to speak in love. I’ve had occasions where i’ve been too much on the truth side and not shown enough love, and other times I’ve thought I was being loving when love when have told the truth. I think the key is to grow our self awareness to help us navigate what we’re doing well or poorly.

  24. Catherine on March 2, 2017 at 11:32 am

    We have prayerfully asked the Lord to raise up a church in our hometown. Back in 2008, my husband became a certified life coach and what we found is that people who thrived under that instruction really wanted to explore some of the spiritual aspects behind the ‘wisdom’ they were receiving. Of course, he pointed them toward God’s word and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Those who then wanted more, naturally wanted to join the assembly we attended. We were attending a church, however, that was an hour away. That was an immediate closed door. So, we decided it would be best to attend one in our local area. This local church was one we had attended before, but it was very small and did not have a proper Sunday School in place for our small children. Upon returning, their mission over the more recent years has truly focused on a woman’s voice and needs. The result of this very narrow focus (which, IMHO is more the scope of an outreach group than a church) has turned away everyone who we’ve sent.

    At about the time of my prayerful request back in 2008, however, someone in our town felt the call to go into the ministry. Then, about three weeks ago, he and a co-pastor began this new work. We spent the time in between our request to this fulfillment, however, actively engaged in a local assembly. We waited upon the Lord before moving, knowing our request and knowing he could absolutely raise up and plant such a church in our community. One whose mission is to prioritize and teach the Word of God and whose structure and organization reflected the qualifications of pastors and leaders in the church – for the sake of representing the community, vs. one segment of a community.

    We are so grateful for this new opportunity that is so close to us – whose mission and structure are nicely aligned with who we are as a family – and in keeping with the doctrinal foundations of our faith – that now we must say goodbye to our current church assembly. I intend to use some form of the dialogue on the misalignment issue to announce, gracefully, our move. Thanks for writing this article~!

  25. Anon Y. Mous on October 17, 2016 at 11:08 am

    Pastors need to handle this one well.

    I needed to leave a church because it was too liberal. Also, the pastor was speaking too well of a group he is a member of that I knew to be questionable and of a public figure that I knew to be Christian In Name Only. I realized this and I wanted to leave quietly. I really didn’t want to talk to the pastor.

    I had hoped that I could pull the disappearing act, but I realized that people were concerned, that there were people in the congregation who were trying to find me. They had my cell phone, but not my home phone. I turn my cell phone on when I’m going to use it; otherwise, it’s turned off. I realized that I needed to say Goodbye and tell them that I am more conservative than the congregation is and I would be doing the congregation a disservice if I stayed. Fortunately, I did not join the church. I was pushed to join after a few months. I told the pastor that I didn’t feel comfortable formally joining the church so soon, because I’ve had some very traumatic church experiences. (One was a church split, another had to do with failure to discipline the choir leader which ended in a choir walkout, another was catching the pastor using church funds to set-up his own private foundation without permission and a fourth was when the pastor put his daughter, his wife’s best friend who hardly attended church, and his daughters best friends–who were sisters, on the church board and I was the only member to vote NAY.)

    I didn’t want to tell the pastor, because he was way too pushy, given that I had just had just come from a very bad church experience–that is the stacked board incident. I wanted to tell two deacons and the pastor’s wife, for they were the most level-headed and easy to approach people in the church. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The pastor didn’t buy my simple reason–theological differences: I’m more conservative than the church and denomination is and kept pressing me. Then things ended in a scene. I did get to say goodbye to two of the three people, but that was outside the church before service. I now know that the people in the basement heard what had just happened–and that was because of e-mails I got last night. I am in no mood to trash the pastor or the church, so I’m going to ignore the e-mails. I left over theological differences and that’s that.

    I REALLY think pastors NEED to be taught how to handle situations like this. What I needed the pastor to say is, “I’m sorry to hear that you are leaving. Go in peace.” and that would have been that.

  26. Eliza on August 4, 2016 at 8:10 am

    What’s the best response to not cause damage when someone asks why did you leave? I’m a former staff member at my church and have stayed an additional year, I know because of this many people will ask why did you leave. I want to be authentic and not have it seem I’m not being honest but not cause damage.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 12, 2016 at 5:19 am

      Why not just give the most charitable, truthful explanation you can, like “I had some great years at X. I felt, for a variety of reasons, my season had come to a close…so I moved on.” That will satisfy anyone who doesn’t know you well, and your 3-5 best friends…well, they know the story anyway.

      • Eliza on August 14, 2016 at 10:42 am

        Thank you. I like the concise answer.

  27. Jen on June 14, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    The best way to leave a church is if God calls you out. For 5 years we dug in our heels until finally we admitted it was time to leave. There were problems with doctrinal issues and dissatisfaction but ultimately we were led by the Holy Spirit to join up with a different body of believers.

    My husband wrote a letter to the pastor, thanking him for his leadership over the years but that we felt the call of God to go elsewhere. He came to our home and we did talk about some of the issues. That pastor told us that if we left, within a year we wouldn’t even be attending church. In fact, the opposite happened. We thrived and grew so much in our faith and in service to the Lord.

    I appreciate that you acknowledged it is important to let people go with grace.

    • lsmith2013 on August 11, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      I’m dealing with this right now. We didn’t wait 5 years, but about 4 months. God told me it was time to move, and I’ve been fighting Him. So He started showing us things, “opening our eyes” if you will to some of the behind the scenes nonsense. And more importantly, He stopped answering me except to say “You need to get uncomfortable and find a new home.” So last weekend we tried a new church, and it was AMAZING. God didn’t just show up, He showed off. Sure enough, someone tipped off the leaders’ wife and she sent me one of her usual “We miss you” messages, even though she rarely says more than 2 words to us. We know if we have this final conversation, it’s going to lead to them begging and manipulating, and honestly we just want to avoid all of that. It’s almost at the level that people encounter when trying to leave a cult. We already know that most of our “friends” will no longer be our friends now that we are leaving, and we’ve realized we are ok with that. But this leaving thing is definitely not going to be as simple as sneaking away.

  28. Heidi Wikström on April 8, 2016 at 2:17 am

    If it is possible to leave a church as gracefully as you described, maybe there is no need to leave at all, after discussing and solving the problems? Me and my family left the church, in which we still officially belong to, 3 years ago with such scars that it’s impossible to yet think about joining an other. Maybe, gradually, God will show us a new congregation, it’s up to Him. We must also accept our life without an official congregation, now we luckily have our believing friends and relatives, maybe that is a kind of church also? Of course, I’m from Finland and in my country attending steadily one congregation is not so typical even among believers as in yours, many only participate in small prayer-groups. Probably this is unhealthy situation, many people are lonely here.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 8, 2016 at 6:05 am

      Heidi…it’s so good to hear from you. I am so sorry you were hurt in the church. You show some great wisdom in your comment. I think you’re right, overcoming the hurt, finding a healthy community and being the church together should bring joy and togetherness into your life, not to mention bringing the mission God has given Christians to life. I am praying for you this morning.

      • Heidi Wikström on April 8, 2016 at 8:46 am

        Thank you for your kindness!

  29. Matter Unorganized on December 3, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Leaving some churches is much, much more complex. I chose to leave mormonism when I realized it was built upon a foundation of lies. Some of my mormon friends and even family want nothing do do with me anymore. I have been and forevermore will be branded an apostate. For churches like mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, and other soft cults, THERE IS NO WAY TO LEAVE GRACEFULLY. Even though I have not actively sought to destroy mormonism, even though my personal journey out has been graceful (on my part), I still get grief from members and I am still branded negatively. Sometimes you just have to rip off the band-aid.

    Note: I cannot use my real name for fear of reprisals against me and my family. Not physical reprisal, but socially speaking. Other families no longer let their kids play with my kids, because I have “tainted” my entire family and they don’t want the disease of apostasy to affect their own children. I have no desire to add fuel to the fire.

    • X Mormon Lear on May 22, 2017 at 9:01 am

      Stay strong, you are not alone. I have been facing similar reasons with church mentioned. I have sought out to reconnect with my authentic self. The one genuine Christ loving charismatic, charitable, good will person I was before becoming a cult brainwashed individual back in 1994. Now the healing is taking place for my son and I. Wish I g you each the very best. I agree an exit interview or good chat with leaders its best policy, however, when the church in question its a controlling manipulative organization that causes damage one must flee as a person does away from harms way.

  30. Noel David on November 7, 2015 at 5:05 am

    Can you please clarify this one line for me please. “When you insult the church, you insult Christ. (I don’t say this lightly).” For instance, I (my whole family) have been exploited and abused by the Church authorities (many others also suffer various kinds of injustices at their hands – and some of them leave the church- many suffer in silence) for 30 years and more in spite of being regular church-goers and having served the Church for three decades much more graciously than any believer from the four dioceses we have. I have had to stand up against many an injustice perpetrated upon me and my family (and also upon others) and have dared to accuse them of wrongdoing and being unjust – with NO ONE from among them (Bishop, Priest or devout and prominent members of the church) ever caring to hear our plea or right the many wrongs we faced. We haven’t left the Church but the Church has left us. I would want to know, whether I insulted Christ for the many injustices we faced for so many years at the hands of His “unfaithful” servants/ministers? Should I have kept quiet and suffered in silence and let the “powerful” hired-hands go on with their relentless oppression of the weak and poor?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 7, 2015 at 6:03 am

      Noel..thank you for leaving this comment and let me say how terribly sorry I am to hear of your situation and story. To answer your question, NO…I do not believe you insulted Christ. Some people dismiss the church casually or cynically. That’s what I meant. And I was talking about the the capital C church…the Church that Christ sees. His true church. As a human leader of the church, I need to own my mistakes, as do the people who harmed you. Noel, thanks for not giving up on Jesus or his Church. he loves you. I pray you receive deep healing and that the people who wronged you forgive you. If not here, then all will be righted in eternity.

      • Noel David on November 7, 2015 at 6:54 am

        Thank you Carey for your prompt and encouraging reply. Was there an error in the last line of your post or did I not get it right? The people who wronged us forgive me or we forgive those who wronged us? I do forgive them even without their admitting their crimes or asking for forgiveness and I do pray for them. But I do continue to ask them to stop the oppression on my people. And because of this they (priests and believers) hate me like anything. I’d rather say they need to make reparation like Zacchaeus did (if they are for the Lord) for the enormous amount of pain and hardship they caused me and my family due to their heartlessness than expect me to make amends (though I am willing to do that for whatever sins I may have committed against them).

        • Noel David on November 7, 2015 at 7:16 am

          And Dear Carey, I believe that many leave the church(es) mainly because of the heartlessness and bias practiced by the “shepherds” and fellow members. People are hauled up for the smallest of fault. And the church takes ages to forgive them when they make some mistakes (commit sins). The Lord did not punish a SINGLE SINNER and He is quick to forgive. Why our Bishops/Pastors and spouses etc. make so much of fuss at our failures and take ages to forgive – is beyond me…. EVERY CHURCH needs to be a community of people who keep loving constantly, forgiving ceaselessly and caring for the welfare of others in and outside the church without any discrimination. I am sure very few would ever think of leaving the church if they were loved, forgiven and helped without ceasing…. And even if they leave or go astray it should be the avowed mission of every Pastor/Believer worth his/her salt – to go in search of them and bring him/her back… There is nothing to rejoice when people die or leave us – but we have every reason to rejoice when the lost are found and the dead come back to LIFE.

          • Carey Nieuwhof on November 7, 2015 at 7:59 am

            Sorry, you’re right. I meant ask for forgiveness from you. That’s what I meant. It sounds like you are in a particular denomination where being ‘called’ up happens regularly and only happens in one direction. The church is much more diverse than that. I hope you find a great church community to be part of Noel.



  31. […] 5 Ways For a Church Member to Leave a Church Well […]

  32. Bill on October 24, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    Great thoughts – I’m struggling with this situation based on your 5th point. People have left our church – kind of. They still bring their kids to youth activities and outings, and some remain in their small group. Our people know they left – get over it and move on – then see them again at an activity or small group, and the conversations among the congregation start all over – “why did they leave?” “what’s wrong with our church?” or “what wrong with our pastor?” How do you encourage people who have decided to leave – to really leave?” And how do I, (as the pastor) deal with those families who I see on our campus picking up their kids, or who are still in our small groups telling everybody how great their new church is?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 26, 2015 at 5:14 am

      Bill…thanks for this. Interesting challenge. I don’t know whether you can encourage them to fully leave unless they’re toxic, which it doesn’t sound like they are. But as a leader, I’d try to meet with some of them and figure out the answer to the three questions you asked. It might not resolve their situation but it might give you and the team some clarity and areas to grow in moving forward. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Hard to hear but great to hear if you want to grow.

      • Bill on October 26, 2015 at 10:11 am

        Thanks Carey – I’ll give that a try. Really appreciat your blogs and often share parts of them to my leadership team (encouraging them to subscribe as well) Topics are always relevant and thought provoking! And your new book “Conversations” is super. I’ll be ordering more for my leaders! Thanks for your ministry to the Body of Christ! Blessings!

  33. […] 5 Ways For A Church Member To Leave A Church Well by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  34. Weekend Roundup – October 24 | JLP Pastor on October 23, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    […] Carey Nieuwhof: Five ways for a church member to quit. […]

  35. Candace on October 21, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    My family is going thru this right now and it has been very hard! The short version of the story is that we lost respect for some of the leadership, mainly because of the poor job they were doing and the lack of accountability to anyone showed us that things were never going to change. By the way, we were there every time the doors opened, volunteering, teaching and serving. We did the right thing – spoke with the leadership before leaving, but they basically didn’t want to hear what we had to say. Now, we have been labeled the “troublemakers” because we walked out on our church family. My heart is still broken months later, but we can’t go back. My question is should we have stayed under poor leadership just to keep our committments and unity in the body, or were we right in leaving a church going nowhere because of subpar leadership?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2015 at 5:11 am

      Candace, thanks for sharing this and I’m so sorry it was a bad experience. I’ve seen this happen and it’s so sad. I hope you can stay engaged in the local church. Thank you for trying to make it happen. It’s super hard for me to say whether you should have stayed. The only question I have is ‘what slice of the pie do you own’? Was there even 5% where you think ‘We could have done this better?” I’m sure there were are serious issues, but things are rarely 100% the other person. Maybe it’s as simple as saying ‘we could have talked to them earlier’….I don’t know. I just try to always own whatever I can. That’s all.

      • Candace on October 22, 2015 at 8:48 am

        Yes, I feel that there are things I could have done differently in hindsight. There was really no opportunity to own or discuss much because it was not a conversation that the leadership was willing to have. To make my question clearer, from a biblical standpoint is it “wrong” to leave my church because I feel that the leadership is failing (and are unwilling to change)? Some say that church membership should be treated as a covenant and we should not leave. You are very knowledgeable in this area and I was just wondering your opinion. Thanks for your response!

        • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2015 at 2:49 pm

          Candace, thanks. Just great to see some ownership. That’s a great signs of healthy. And naturally, the church leaders would have reciprocated as well in a perfect world. I believe you can leave. A pattern shows it’s probably more you than them, but a change once every decade or two isn’t unrealistic or automatically unhealthy. Just seek a church where you can play a great, healthy role!

  36. Joe Robideaux on October 21, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Great stuff. As leaders, it’s very easy to become offended by the conversations you have with someone who is leaving but it’s great to remember they could have just left without saying a word. It’s always more spiritually mature to sit down and have the tough conversation

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