I have been involved in lots of churches in my lifetime. Since my dad was a pastor, that meant attending a few different churches growing up. I worked in three other churches on staff or in ministry roles. And I have visited more than 500 other churches during the last twenty five years of music ministry.
In all of these church connections, I have been a member at our church in Troy since 1988 and on staff part-time in the same church since 1998. Incidentally, my dad is still the pastor at the church and working with him and the rest of the leadership has been a blast over the years. Working in your “home” church has it’s upsides and downsides, but it is a trend that is skyrocketing, mainly as many churches are home-growing leaders to serve in new campuses, new services, and home missions.
My dad has been pastor at the same church for 27 years and counting and many of the staff have been on the journey for 10 to 15 plus years, which is very rare in our United Methodist corner of the Kingdom.
We recently celebrated a member in our church who has been a member for 75 years! That’s amazing to me! I’m no where near there, but a quarter a century is surprising to me since I thought I would be bouncing around my whole life. In a sense, through Harvest Ministry, I have invested many days in the greater church (including connecting to more than 90 churches in the last three months through conferences, events, leading and teaching). But it’s also a joy to be connected to one church on a regular basis.
There are reasons, I am sure, for leaving a church. These might include beliefs of a new leader, not preaching the Bible, when a denomination takes a turn, etc. But I also think there are outside issues at work. The loyalty factor has changed through the generations. Consumerism plays a role. A misunderstanding of what a church is or is supposed to be runs rampant. People equate membership with benefits. There is a personal preference issue that, in many ways, has mistakenly become the overarching goal for too many Christians.
The church isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Connection with a local body of believers for the purpose of weekly worship, discipleship, giving and evangelism are important if you consider yourself to be a Christ follower.
The church is not perfect. It’s God’s design, but flawed with human error. I have been around long enough to see all kinds of problems arise as feelings and passion emerge about direction in many different churches and settings. I have seen people come and go on countless occasions. I believe there are times when a person needs to align themselves with a new church, but I think outside of relocating geographically or birthing a new church, this should be rare. This is a process I am suggesting before making any changes.
1. Love Your Church
Have you thought about this? Love your church. Love the pastor. Love the people. Love the quirks. Love the possibilities. Love the opportunity you have to be a part of it. Pray for God to fill you with love for your church. Love your role in helping the church move forward. But if a season approaches where you find you don’t love your church…
2. Stay Committed To Your Church
Stay committed even when the going gets tough. There is a season for everything. Work through it. You made a commitment to your church. Keep it. Are you able to discover a place you can serve in your church? But if you find the issue unable to resolve through your commitment…
3. Assess Your Heart And Motives
What is it about you and your heart that is causing difficulty for your connection to this church? Where is your heart? What is your vision for what a church should be? Are there relationship conflicts that hinder your connection? What can you do about them? Is there somewhere you can serve instead of receive? have you spent a season of prayer and fasting for your church and the issues? After assessing your heart and finding pure motives…
4. Give It A Little More Time
Wait. Stay committed. Keep going. Much like the parable Jesus teaches of the master that didn’t find fruit on the tree and said cut it down. But the gardener pleaded, “No, give it one more year. I will pay special attention to it and give it extra fertilizer then we will see if it changes.” If, after a year you still sense the Lord leading you away, then…
5. Leave Gracefully With A Blessing
When you do leave a church, leave gracefully. Talk with the pastor. Fill the church in on the things that they doing well, but also the things that have turned you away. How could they fix them? (This is invaluable to church leaders no matter how much it hurts). What are your suggestions to helping to continue to reach people and grow? Leave decisively and without any contempt or ill will. Take the high road if you feel you have been attacked personally. Leave the church with a blessing.
I realize this post is written from the perspective of a Christian person who would count finding a new church as a priority. There is another group of people leaving the church for various reasons and not connecting anywhere else. Another group of people become happily inactive, still connected and cordial, but not alive in the church! I believe the church needs to continue to pursue people who don’t connect anywhere. Continue to invite them and keep the door open. [Read: three things a church should be about]
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