7 Reasons You Should Invite People To Leave Your Church Even Though It Scares You

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You spend a lot of your time trying to grow your ministry.

When it comes to the mission of the church, it seems almost unthinkable to reach fewer people. Eternity hangs in the balance.

And every person represents a potentially transformed life.

The desire to grow is also part of human nature…isn’t it?

In any organization, none of us really want to reach fewer people or have less impact.

And yet sometimes, one of the best things you can do to become even more effective at accomplishing your mission is to invite people to leave.

It might kill you to entertain the thought of people leaving (it still kills a part of me).

But hang on.

I believe you’ll be a better leader and your organization will be more effective if you can embrace this truth.

But I realize it’s completely counterintuitive.

That Feeling in the Pit of Your Stomach…

Like you, it bothers me every time someone leaves.

When I first started in ministry, it hurt so much every time someone left. I felt like I had let them down, like I left the church down, like I had failed.

I also felt as though if I had been a better leader, I would have been able to keep them.

For a season it hurt so much I pretended I didn’t care anymore. But I did. I do.

I realize some of this is irrational and much of it might be unhealthy, but it hurts when someone goes.

However, if you let it fester, you’ll begin to live in fear all the time.

In fact, you can end up with people-pleasing as your main goal. You will lead in a way that you hope is going to prevent the greatest number of people from leaving.

That’s a terrible strategy.

The moment you begin to focus more on who you want to keep rather than who you want to reach, you put the mission in danger.

Fearful leaders focus more on who they want to keep, not who they want to reach. Click To Tweet

I Even Feel Terrible Every Time Someone Unsubscribes From My Blog

I feel this tension even when I write this blog.

For a few years now, people have been subscribing to my blog via email. I send almost daily emails with tips, strategy and encouragement.

When I first started emailing people, I would freak out at little inside every time someone would unsuscribe.

Sometimes I would click over to see who it was and ask myself questions like “What did I do? What did I say? Could I have done anything different to keep them?”

At the same time, I’d have new people subscribe every day. Would I ever I click over to see who they were?

Sadly, nope.

Why?

Because I’m naturally wired to focus on what I lose, not what I might gain.

Why am I not more excited about the people who are joining than I am saddened by the people who are leaving?

What’s wrong with me?

Plenty.

So I did an experiment.

People are naturally wired to focus on what they lose, not what they gain. Click To Tweet

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My Experiment: How I Invited Everyone to Unsubscribe from My Email List

A few years ago, when I was just starting out on this site, I decided to work through this fear. I sent an email to my then 4842 subscribers with this headline: “Why You Should Unsubscribe from This Email List…Unless This is True of You.”

What was “this?”

“This” one thing was simply an invitation to stay subscribed if the person was passionate about leadership and personal growth.

I was nervous. I thought maybe I’d lose 60, or 600 or even 1600 subscribers. I didn’t even want to think about losing more.

Want to know what happened?

Everyone unsubscribed.

I’m kidding.

No. 1600 people didn’t. 600 didn’t. Not even 60.

So how many people actually unsubscribed?

45 people unsubscribed. That’s it.

That’s less than 1% of the list.

And some of the unsubscribers even wrote nice notes to thank me for the time they’d been on the list.

Even better, dozens of people who stayed took the time to write me unbelievably kind emails telling me they would never unsubscribe and told me story after story of how the blog was helping them and their team lead better.

I had never expected that. I replied personally to each one and saved them in an encouragements folder in my email.

Want to know the last weird thing?

More people signed up for my email list that day than unsubscribed.

That’s right. The list actually grew again.

Fast forward to today, and the list is over 15x the size it was a few years ago. Over 80,000 leaders currently subscribe to this list. A few unsubscribe every day. But even more subscribe daily.

So what can you learn from this?

Quite a bit.

7 Reasons You Should Invite (Some) People to Leave Your Church

I think the lessons I’ve learned from my little blog experiment and 20+ years of leadership have taught me some things about allowing people to leave your church or your organization. None of this (I hope) is motivated by ego or a closed leadership style. It’s just that too many people in the church—and in many organizations—are afraid to lead. And it costs everybody.

So here are 7 reasons you should invite some people to leave your church:

1. Unaligned people cost you something

In the case of my blog, I pay for my subscribers. It’s not huge dollars, but I was paying for people to be on the list who didn’t want to be on the list. It cost me money.

I would rather pay for people who are passionate about leadership and this blog than for people who aren’t.

People who don’t care about your church or organization cost you something too. Energy. Time. Frustration. Malaise. A lack of momentum.

People who are not aligned with your mission and vision always cost something.

Why pay? Why not make room for more people who are aligned?

Unaligned people cost you something. Effective leaders stop paying. Click To Tweet

2. Having the right people is better than simply having people

Having more people is not better than having the right people.

As this Inc. article shows, the financial costs of hiring the wrong person can be astounding.

Before you have more people, you need the right people.

The right people are people capable of taking on leadership, who are aligned around a common mission, vision, strategy and values, and who have the character to withstand the tests of leadership.

Get these people in place, and amazing things happen.

Having the right people is better than simply having more people. Click To Tweet

3. Some people will find a better fit elsewhere

Releasing people doesn’t have to be a sea of nastiness. In fact if it is, you’re doing it wrong.

Think of it this way: if someone isn’t passionate about your organization’s purpose, they will actually be better off somewhere else.

I tell people that all the time. We are not a church for everybody.

THE church is for everyone. But your church isn’t. You’re one part of a much bigger body. You alone will not reach your entire city. We need each other as church leaders.

You’ll be serving people by letting them find a better fit, and finding like-minded people will help you accomplish your mission more effectively.

Seriously, some people will honestly thrive in a different environment than yours. Why not celebrate that?

Let them go. You don’t own the Kingdom.

If you struggle with this idea that the church isn’t for everyone, I wrote this post for you.

THE church is for everyone. But your church doesn't have to be. Click To Tweet

4. Disengaged people can be disengaged elsewhere

Here’s the reality. Not everyone is ready to engage.

If you’ve got disengaged people, let them be disengaged elsewhere.

They can not serve, not give, and not invite friends at some other church. They don’t have to take up space in yours.

Particularly in a growing church where space is at a premium (as it often is at our church), we can’t really afford to long term people who are not going to engage in the mission.

I have all the time in the world for new people who are taking the time to explore faith. I have less time for ‘mature’ Christians who won’t roll up their sleeves and engage the mission (while we’re at it, we should rethink our definition of maturity).

If you've got disengaged people, let them be disengaged elsewhere. Click To Tweet

5. A Few Aligned People Can Change the World

I used to say we could do more with 300 aligned people than with 3000 unaligned people.

Then one year, in a tough season for us as a church plant, we shrank down to almost 300 adults – far smaller than what we were two years earlier.

We became so focused on our mission and particular strategy—and pursued it in a portable setting without all the trappings of other churches—that many people left.

It was a tough tough season.

But as I outlined in this post, those who stayed got aligned. Our mission became focused.

Now, a few years later, we’re bigger than at any time in our history and most of our growth is coming from previously unchurched people. People are passionate about our mission.

When you’re tempted to simply do whatever it takes to keep people, remember that a few aligned people can change the world. Jesus did it with 12.

6. Those who stay will feel honoured and relieved

You’ve got great people at your church. You really do.

When you clarify your focus and lead, great people generally follow. I’m assuming here that you have a God-given vision that’s affirmed by some capable and wise people around you.

But many people will thank you for cutting through the ambiguity and double-mindedness and leading.

When you cut unaligned people loose, the aligned will always thank you.

When you cut unaligned people loose, the aligned will always thank you. Click To Tweet

7. You’ll be blown away by how enthusiastic some of your people really are.

Over time, if your vision and direction are solid, you will see enthusiasm grow.

People will get passionate about your mission.

You will be amazed at how much synergy there is a group of people moving forward together.

When the voices of the critics go silent (because they leave), you will finally be able to better hear the voice of enthusiasm.

When the voice of the critics go silent, you will finally be able to better hear the voice of enthusiasm Click To Tweet

What’s Stopping Your Church From Growing? 

Over the years, I’ve worked with thousands of church leaders to help them understand the dynamics of church growth.

And here’s what I've learned.

It’s almost never a lack of passion or effort that leads to stagnation, it’s that growing churches are effective at removing the barriers that stand between them and reaching more people.

And that’s exactly why I created The Art of Church Growth course.

By taking a thorough evaluation of your leadership team, volunteer core, missional alignment, and culture, you'll create an action plan to:

  1. Discover and eliminate the barriers that keep your church from growing
  2. Guide your church through transformational conversations that lead to growth and discipleship

While only God can grant growth, you can position your church for it. The best time to do that is now.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.

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