“I have never seen a church turn around without losing some members. Usually it’s two or three that want to leave and they take fifteen or so others with them.” Bill Easum
People leave churches for a variety of reasons. Combinations of issues in their own lives, limitations of the church to help them, or clashes with leadership are just a few. Sometimes people leave because of changes in the church. Unfortunately, changes aren’t always smooth – some because of us and some out of our control. If the church is seeking to move forward and bring about a new vision for growth, there will always be some who won’t be able to handle the pressure and they will move on.
I get encouragement from guys like Bill Easum (who seems to have seen it all in church ministry) and my dad (who has been the pastor of our church for 26 years) and other seasoned leaders. They have a heart for people, they hurt when people leave, but they also know it’s part of life. They have seen it happen and they know it will happen. And they know they will live through it and that the church will go on.
At times, seminar leaders for churches talk about people leaving like it’s funny – and it may be that it’s a front to cover the hurt or that time has healed the situation. I don’t think church leaders talk about it maliciously because the stories always seems to be critical points of turnaround in their churches and to the success of the mission. We can’t dwell on the past, but we can watch to see how God may be using the season (or used the season) to change how we operated as a church with a vision.
Here’s the silver lining – five good things that can happen when people leave the church. When people leave it…
1) Opens up the doors for other people to lead.
In the wake of a group leaving a church, there are ministry roles that need to be filled and there always seems to be people who step up! Who knew you had others around who were capable, confident, qualified and called to serve in these roles! In fact, with new eyes on the issue, you find that the job may even be done at a higher level.
2) Helps bring clarity to the reason we’re here.
When a group of people leave your church, it allows the leadership to step back an assess again why the church is here and what the main goal really is. Without a shake up, it’s easy to coast. This process is a great time to ask questions: What have we learned? What are we praying for? What is our next step? What do I need to change about my leadership to prevent this from happening in this way again?
3) Allows the next step to be taken in the vision.
What has been bottlenecked may very well be free flowing now that a change has been made. You may not have even realized it, but there is now opportunity to move forward with a vision that was being stifled by someone who is no longer connected to the church. What is the next step? How do you go about moving forward now?
4) Helps the leaders trust more fully in God’s sovereignty.
It’s really God’s church. We’re stewards of it. And I have found that when leaders leave – different than when church members just stop coming around, but still remain connected to the church – they often find another church home! And that very well could be part of the story. Their gifts are used, the vision is aligned and they make significant contributions to the mission.
5) Gives the church a new wind of courage.
The church has historically thrived when it was under pressure. I’m reminded of the analogy of a cruise ship or a battle ship. The cruise ship church just floats around, but a battleship is called into action. We need a fresh wind of courage to be the church – the salt and light – right where we are!
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