One tough reality of being a pastor is when people leave your church. Some of those were those you thought were supportive. For a variety of reasons, people will leave.
Make any change, and someone is not going to like it. Life changes and relationships often impact a person’s church attendance. Misunderstanding and unmet expectations cause some people to leave. There are a variety of reasons.
The point of this post is addressing how we respond as pastors and church leaders.
How do you respond when people leave your church?
5 suggestions for when people leave your church:
1. Accept that it happens. It actually happens in churches where everything seems to be working at the time. Regardless of the reason … people leave. We shouldn’t be surprised simply because they do, or think it can’t or won’t happen in the church in which we minister.
2. Admit that it hurts. God is in charge of numbers. I get that. People are responsible to God and not the church. I get that too. People may leave because it’s the best thing for them spiritually. I totally get that also. The bigger issue is whether or not a person leaves “the” church or “a” church.
If they are attending another church, we should take comfort in that, but pretending it doesn’t still sting a little is like saying you didn’t feel the band-aid being ripped off your arm. You are human. It hurts. It is difficult not to take personally. Depending on the circumstances or way it happens, it may hurt more sometimes than others, but it always hurts.
3. Analyze the reason. This requires asking the hard questions, and, admittedly, this too can hurt, but it’s helpful to know even if the answer is you. It requires humility to admit you’re not the church for everyone nor the minister everyone wants to shepherd them. But, you can’t address what you don’t know and there are often valuable lessons to be learned from why a person chooses to leave a church.
4. Adjust if necessary. Don’t be afraid to admit you could be wrong. If people feel the church wasn’t meeting their needs, try to discern if it’s them or the church. If it was a matter of style they didn’t appreciate, that’s one issue, but if it’s something lacking from the church’s offerings … that you should have … you may need to make some adjustments. Be willing to learn.
5. Attune your vision. OK, it was obvious I was looking for an “A” word, but this is actually a good one. Attune means “to bring into harmony.” And that’s often necessary when people disappear from the church.
Most likely, their absence will affect others. You may need to realign people to the vision, especially when those leaving were previously and visibly committed. Assure people you are listening, and genuinely be listening, but in the end stay true to the God-given vision God has called you to lead.
Again, no one wants people to leave your church, especially if they are leaving upset with you or the church. But, it is a part of church leadership. Learning to process it will make us better equipped to minister to the ones who stay … and the new people God will bring.