Reasons Not To Leave a Church Revisited
There is a trend these days that is disturbing church leaders. It is a tendency for some people to “church-hop,” that is staying in one church for a short time and then moving on, or people leaving a church for what church leaders think are the wrong reasons. I have met many people at my church and at Christian events lately who have left their church for a new one. In response to these trends, a number of articles have been published by Christian media that list the reasons why they feel that people should not leave a church.
Church leaders say we should not leave a church for the following reasons:
- I am offended by something a member/leader said or did
- Unresolved conflict
- I am not being fed
- My needs are not being met
- Sermons are boring/too long
- I do not like the music
- There are not many people here my age
- The church is getting too big
- The church doesn’t do things the way they did in the past
- The church does not have good children/youth programs
The criteria for leaving
Church leaders say that people should only leave their church if it is not preaching from the Bible or shows signs of spiritual abuse such as being controlling, or following a charismatic leader.
Christian writers and leaders say that leaving a church for any other reasons may show a self-centered attitude where the attendee is expecting the church to serve them with the best music, great speaking, and certain programs. They cite the common reasons that people leave a church as no-nos, insinuating that people who switch may be selfish and shallow.
Before I begin to examine the reasons why people leave churches, I am going to offer a disclaimer. I am not recommending that people leave their church. To me, a church is like a family with lots of friends, shared experiences, and a culture that is comfortable and familiar. Leaving is wrenching and can be difficult, so people should pray and take time to consider their situation. It is not easy to adjust to a new church culture and make new friends from scratch. There are some cases, however, when a move would be beneficial to members and their families.
One size does not fit all
Some church leaders assume that their church should be able to satisfy every need that Christians have. The theory among church leaders seems to be that if the church is sincerely following God, teaching the Word, and serving the membership and the community, that there should be no valid reason for attendees to leave.
The problem is that one size does not fit all. Churches differ greatly in the services they provide, as well their worship style, culture, and demographics. I attended a church for a while, for example, that had a very active children's program that attracted many families with young children. I also have observed that other churches have radically different worship styles. Some churches are more charismatic with speaking in tongues, long emotional prayers, and dancing before the platform. Others are more conservative in their music styles and expressions of worship.
Some churches can change their culture over time. For example, a church may change from having a large, active worship arts ministry that offers drama and special music every week to a church that strictly has congregational singing, no specials, no choir (except on rare occasions such as religious holidays), and very few singers leading the congregation in worship.
Some attendees may not be happy with the changes and want to go to a church with a model similar to what the church had in the past. It is unreasonable to expect that every church is a good fit for all Christians. Each church has strengths and weaknesses. Some people may want a church with less singing and more preaching. Others may love the worship arts and want services full of music and drama. Some want a more charismatic approach to others while others feel more comfortable with more conservative expressions.
There are of course, people who expect entertainment on Sunday mornings. They complain if they feel bored, do not agree with the preaching, or do not like the music. They also may also want to look good in the eyes of others or to show off how wonderful they are. There is a good chance that they will eventually never find a church that meets their standards. Many people, though, do not fall into this category.
Let us revisit the reasons that Christian media say are not good reasons to make a switch and determine whether they actually are – or are not – valid reasons to leave a church.
Leaving because of an offense
I am the first to admit that some Christians are way too thin-skinned. The Bible says that we are blessed if we overlook a fault. It is inevitable, however, that Christians will hurt others because they are frail and weak human beings.
When gauging whether to leave a church or a ministry because of an offense, several questions need to be answered.
- Was the offence intentional or accidental?
- Should the offender be confronted about the hurt they caused?
- Would the offender be willing to sit down and discuss the matter?
- Can I continue in this church if the offender does not acknowledge what they had done and apologize?
- If the issue involves church leadership, are they willing to address the issue(s)?
Each situation is different and needs to be evaluated.
I am not being fed
Some Christian articles insinuate that this reason is not enough to leave a church - that attendees should stick around if the church is healthy overall. Really? It is not selfish to want to be "fed." God wants us to hunger and thirst for righteous. If we are not learning about Him in church, it is time find a place with solid teaching that meets our spiritutal needs.
The children want to go to another church
This is one of the most common reasons why a family decides to leave a church – a trend that some Christian pastors and leaders find "troubling." One Christian leader insinuated in an article that a spiritually immature child or young person should not determine where the family goes to church.
As a Christian who has brought a child up in a church, I disagree with this way of thinking. If my daughter wanted to go to another church, even for what seem to be frivolous reasons like "my friends go there," or "their youth ministry looks really cool," I would seriously consider switching.
If a church has more to offer that will help our young people make lasting friendships with other Christians, teach them about the faith, and keep them active with wholesome activities, I do not think there is anything wrong with switching congregations for the kids.
My personal preferences are different
Many people have personal preferences that influence their choice of a church to attend. Church leaders tend to roll their eyes when people express their feelings about what they are looking for in a church. If people say they do not like the music on Sundays, some church leaders will say that worship is an important part of services and that complainers should just suck it up. If people do not like the music, some leaders respond by saying that these attendees should evaluate music as to the words, and the spirit in which the worship is offered and ignore the fact that the music style makes them cringe.
Christians do have to accept the fact that the church has to adapt to the times in order to attract new members. This may mean music that they are not that fond of, shorter sermons, growth, and lots of audiovisual presentations. The church is not always going to do things the way they want them done. That being said, each Christian must weigh whether his or her personal preferences are a good enough reason to leave a church. I confess that I chose my current church because of its vibrant worship arts program and contemporary music. Music is very important to me, especially as I am sometimes singing on the platform. If my church went back to only hymns and choruses, I would probably be looking for another place to attend.
As Christians, we should be going to church to worship God, serve Him and His people, and receive biblically-based instruction on living in a godly way. Church should also be a place that uses our talents effectively and promotes building relationships with others.
Sometimes another church is a better fit for us. One size does not fit all, no matter how hard church leaders try. I feel that church leaders should stop trying to shame people into staying in their church. This causes people who leave to feel guilty, like they have done something wrong. This attitude comes across as judgment and creates a stigma about leaving.
Instead, Christian leaders should be able to let people go to another place of worship with their blessing and wish them well.
© 2015 Carola Finch