Why When & How to Leave a Church – Part 1

Posted On March 27, 2012 By Peter In

Pastors like me work really hard on making it easy to join a church.  Believe it or not, since we planted Substance a little over 7 years ago, we’ve averaged around 500 new members every year.  Of course, we also tend to lose about 150 people a year due to relocation, dissatisfaction or sending (like missionaries or church-planting teams).

However, nobody seems to teach on how and when to leave a church.  A little turnover is actually a healthy thing for a healthy church.  Healthy lakes always have inflow AND outflow.  Only stagnant ponds “receive” yet never send out.  And the same is true with churches.  If God is truly in control of our community, he has the right to reallocate his troops as He sees fit – even if it’s a bit painful from time to time.

Obviously, leaving a church can be a complicated thing.  Some people leave a church prematurely because of unrealistic expectations or character flaws (in both leaders and/or congregants).  Others leave because God is divinely orchestrating a beautiful plan for both parties.  But whether you’re the one leaving or the community being “left,” you better be willing to scrutinize your motives; or else, one thing is for sure:  You might miss God.  Unfortunately, people stay in dying churches or leave prematurely all the time.

So, as we begin this 3-part blog teaching series, we’re going to cover three fascinating aspects of church-switching:  Why, When, and How?  Why do people tend to switch (statistically)?  When is it appropriate to switch?  And How should we make such changes? But, in part one of our inquiry, let’s explore a few reasons WHY people tend to leave a church.

Why People tend to Leave?

(1). Programming:  Statistically, thirty & forty-somethings (or those with teen-aged kids) are more likely to swap churches than any other age categories.  Some researchers believe this happens for two main reasons:  Kids have a way of changing your priorities.  Churches that are unable to offer sufficient programming for families often lose connection to churches that that do.  This is partly why mega-churches have tended to dominate over their smaller counterparts since the 1990’s.  (The majority of evangelical church growth in the U.S. occurred in churches with over 1000 members).  The discretionary time of the American family has dramatically decreased over the past few decades.  Thus, if churches fail to offer “synergistic programs” (such as adult programming simultaneous to youth programming) they’re likely to see a bleeding out of these age categories.

Also, 30 to 40-somethings tend to be the most relationally isolated age category (due to job and kid responsibilities); and, when considering that “fellowship” is the number one predictor of church satisfaction, a socially isolated couple is much more likely to church-hop.

(2). Leadership Ages:  As I shared in chapter nine of my book Pharisectomy, the median age of a churches’ staff or platform ministers has a dramatic effect on certain ages.  Because the vast majority of American churches are dominated by leaders over fifty years old, it’s much more common for those under these ages to feel disenfranchised.  Quite often, churches take on the age of their senior pastor (unless the median age of the overall staff or leadership stays low).  It’s a simple ownership and relevance issue.  Surely the mature will see beyond such criteria; but, it clearly has an effect.

(3). Leadership Changes:            It’s also quite common for people to switch churches during a change in executive leadership.  Obviously, there is a grieving process that occurs.  And as churches change, it’s easy for some people to feel lost in the process.

(4).  Lack of Empowerment:  If people are unable to find their dream-ministry in a church, there’s a higher likelihood that they’ll switch churches.  Sure, it’s fun to sit and receive in a church service; but, as Jesus said, there’s more blessing in giving than receiving.  In fact, studies have even proved that, if people can’t find a ministry that charges them up, there’s a higher likelihood of disgruntlement.

Lastly, it’s common for church-hopping to occur…

(5). During Extreme Growth (or lack of growth).    Substance’s fast growth has resulted in huge number of amazing testimonies.  However, it’s easy for these stories to get lost amidst the discomfort of change – or these stories never make it to the lesser involved members.  Also, when launching new campuses, our lesser connected members might feel the loss of friends to new campuses more than the joys of our ever expanding ministry fellowship opportunities.

Likewise, when churches experience a painful lack of growth, it’s rather demoralizing – especially when church members are sowing their hard earned blood, sweat and tears into a sinking ship.

But it begs the question:  WHEN should we leave?  And HOW should we do this?  Get ready.  Because, our next two installments will take these issues head-on.

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