It’s easy to leave a church. It’s harder to stay. Especially when you feel validated in your convictions.
There are a lot of good reasons to leave a church. There are a lot of bad reasons to leave a church, too.
Just to name a couple, politics over theology or extreme leadership controversies are super legit reasons to bail. Disliking a person or having having a slightly different world view isn’t as much.
In order to make a good decision when I’m aching to leave a church, I’ve come up with a list of five questions to ask myself beforehand:
What is my motivation?
Motivation is broad. I’m not even going to pretend I can fathom the ways motivation to leave a church might come about.
For me, it always comes down to this:
Church is a lot of give and take. It’s easy to fall in the trap of relying too much on one and not enough of the other. I always want more or feel like I’m giving too much. That’s a problem.
Asking this first never ends with a positive reason when I ask it. But that’s okay. If the other questions score in a way that makes motivation not matter, we’re good, right? We’ll see.
Am I connected or disconnected?
Connecting with people is awkward and tough. It might come easily for others. But for a lot of people, it’s super stressful.
Not every church does a good job of integrating new people. I’ve gone days, weeks, and months unnoticed. Sometimes that was due to the size of the church. Sometimes that was due to the church having intense cliques. Every time, though, I was definitely not trying hard enough.
I can’t fairly judge a church community without being an active part of it. There might be some intense, heartbreaking, and unhealthy things going on that should push me away. But there might also be some rewarding, encouraging, and life giving things that I’m missing out on.
Is there a way to be more connected? Once connected, are there things beyond my influence that can’t be fixed? A good question causes you to ask more questions and really break ground with concerns.
What am I expecting?
“Worship is too flashy and corporate.” “Worship isn’t flashy enough. Everyone is off key.” “The pastor only preaches self-help messages.” “The pastor inserts his political beliefs in every message too often.” “This place just doesn’t suit my needs.”
I hear these few examples the most. I’ve heard plenty of others. The performance of the church is never good enough. Or the staff and volunteers aren’t doing what someone assumes they should because of their title. Leaders don’t echo a specific ideology. Members stay silent on other topics that aren’t safe or are too taboo.
Yeah. This is all a big deal. It’s preferences and issues you should bring up and challenge. But are these expectations worth prioritizing?
Is the flashy worship or lack of talent stopping people from worshiping Jesus? Is the pastor’s Sunday message negatively impacting what people can be learning about the Gospel and how their expressing their faith the other six days of the week?
These questions can make or break a member. I need to make sure they’re good answers. Simply disagreeing or wanting preferential treatment isn’t good enough.
Am I abandoning or switching?
Giving up and going somewhere else are two dramatically different ways to leave a church.
One means you’re either giving up on Christian community or you want to test the waters of faith on your own.
The other means you still want to grow in your faith with others, but after all the questions you’ve asked yourself, you can’t find an excuse to stay where you are at.
Both come with risks, but the former means you might be losing something powerful in the process. I ask myself, “Am I upset with religion or am I upset with God?”
How are we handling conflict?
When we want more or less, what are we doing about it? When we feel disconnected, who are we reaching out to? When we’re taking too little and giving too much, who hears about it? When we want to leave God or find him elsewhere, who’s giving you feedback?
Before leaving a church, I take time to talk with leadership. Everyone should go out of their way to attempt to resolve conflict.
In the same boat? See if there are ways your service or opinion can improve operations. Challenge world views to see if you can influence others or evolve yours.
There are a lot of different ways to go about handling conflict. I pursue the ways that push me as a person and push me in spiritually.
When I choose to leave or stay after all conflict has been addressed, the peace of mind I have is tremendous and the blessings that result are priceless.
I came up with these out of necessity, because until I reached my 20s I never learned how to stop running away from problems.
Growing up, I attended five to six different churches. My family left each for different reasons. As a kid, it didn’t really matter to me why as much as how often this happened.
Starting from scratch in new communities repeatedly is rough. In my case, it became habit forming.
Every so often I get impulses to leave my church. I’ve been attending my current one for four years now. Sometimes I wonder what could be. But what has come about instead has blessed me enough to not care for too long.
With this list I can weigh what is worth fussing about and what is simply distractions from the things God is doing my life.