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?
It 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!