Over the years I have been approached by a number of people looking for their “Church home.” Whether attempting to find a congregation different from what they’ve experienced or exploring Christian community for the first time, all of us at one time or another will find ourselves in the precarious, and sometimes looked-down-upon position, of Church shopping.
Church shopping is, after all, one of contemporary Christianity’s four-letter words – not only will people wonder why you may be looking to join a Church at all , but if you find yourself needing to try something different, the stigma of leaving a Church will oftentimes stall the search, whether it is out of feelings of embarrassment or shame.
For a few weeks we’ll look at some helpful principles you can apply to finding a Church home for yourself. We will explore topics ranging from looking at the heart of a Church rather than what’s on it’s surface, to stepping outside of your comfort zone. However, first, by way of introducing this mini-series, we want to talk about how to leave a Church well.
There are all kinds of reasons people leave Churches: hurt, disappointment, dissatisfaction, disagreement (are you picking up on the negative vibe?) – but for many, the decision to leave will never be fully thought through and issues that may have persisted in a previous Church will follow an individual or family into whatever congregation they find next. It helps to leave well; not from an immediate negative emotional response, but from a positive desire to perhaps expand, explore, develop, and even contribute. A former pastor of mine used to say, “Never run from something; run to something.” So here are a few guide-lines for leaving well…
1) Talk to the Senior Pastor. This may sound intimidating, but, as a pastor myself, I can tell you we aren’t mind-readers. Often people in congregational settings will feel hurt without the other party knowing they have inflicted pain. Give your pastor the chance to dialogue about what’s bothering you. This may be the first conversation you have with this person, and it might open new doors to healing and reconciliation.
2) Objectively evaluate your reasons for leaving. This will be a recurring theme during this mini-series on Church shopping – the need for objective metrics of evaluation. The Church is about God. Let me say that again… The Church is about God. Whatever else you may find in this or that congregation, if you aren’t looking for God first, ultimately you will leave disappointed no matter where you go. So objectively evaluate your reasons for leaving. Is it because God isn’t at the center of what’s going on there? If so, you may have a legitimate reason for moving on. Is it because you don’t prefer the style or program offerings? Then you many need to take a second look at your reasoning.
3) Try and fix the problem. One of the most inspiring moments I have experienced in Church growth came a few years ago when a young family visited a Church plant for which I was leading worship. Our plant did not have a vibrant family or kids ministry, so we were struggling to make that element of our congregation grow. This family visited and, realizing we didn’t have what they wanted, were tempted to move on. Instead, the father spoke with me and I encouraged him that rather than leaving, he could embrace the unique opportunity to stay and build a brand new ministry. That family stayed, helped the youth ministry grow, and even started a bi-lingual translation ministry a couple of years later. They remain an important part of that Church plant to this day. Rather than looking to have your needs or wants met, offer to be a part of developing something new that will serve the whole Church family.
4) Don’t take your problems to a new Church. This may sound harsh, but if at the end of your efforts you are still on track to find a new Church home, that new congregation will welcome you as though you have a clean slate, unaware of your previous experiences. It will be unfair for your previously unmet expectations to be forced upon a new family, so instead, apply the same principles above to your new setting: meet with the Senior Pastor right away to start developing that relationship; objectively evaluate this new setting (something we’ll explore further in the coming weeks); and look for ways to contribute to this Church body.
Ultimately my prayer for you is that you would find a Church family that can help you grow closer to God through His Son Jesus, so that His purposes may be accomplished through the unique gifts He has given you.