I’ve been actively involved serving in local churches for over 30 years. I could share a long list of reasons why people came to a church and reasons why people left a church. Some people stay for a season and some people stay for a lifetime. Some people leave after a period of time – like seven years – in search of something new. Others leave because they don’t get their own way or something changes. Recently someone left because the congregation voted to change the church name. Someone else left because we offered RightNow Media subscriptions to everyone in the church. Some people move. Some people get pulled away by kids sports and weekend adventures. Some people just quit going to church.
I try to get the people who are leaving to tell me why – I don’t beg them to stay and I don’t argue with them – I just want to know so the church or I can do better in the future. It’s not helpful when people won’t share what is bothering them. Some things can be changed, some are misunderstandings and some things are just not going to change because they are necessary or not possible.
Satan wants to do everything he can to get the church people to be so busy quarreling among themselves they have no time to reach out to lost people who need Jesus. Some people in the church struggle with mental illness or toxic personalities. Some people in the church aren’t really Christ-followers (possibly unsaved religious people who like to be active in the church). Selfinshness and sin can make a church family sad.
Carey Nieuwhof wrote a helpful article about people leaving and included that when toxic people leave the church it’s actually a blessing. My pastor friends refer to it as a “blessed departure.”
Our church has a membership covenant that makes it easier to ask toxic people to leave. I think I am usually too nice and patient with people that are causing trouble and division. An angry person spreading rumors can cause a lot of damage. I always hope people will have discernment to see through the gossip and the lies. I also hope our church would be quick to show grace and forgiveness. We pray for church unity all the time.
Here’s that section about toxic people in his article:
6. When You’ve Lost a Toxic Person
As much as you may not want to admit it, there are toxic people in this world and in the church.
An unhealthy person can infect your team like toxins infect the human body. After some exposure, everyone feels sick.
The optimist in you and me hopes toxic people will become better. The good news is, sometimes they do.
Unhealthy people can grow healthier with the right care and attention in a healthy environment.
But some toxic people just don’t. Some remain difficult, despite all attempts.
And as you know, if you don’t address toxic people—or worse, let them gain influence—they can infect your whole organization, diminishing your effectiveness and taking everyone’s focus off the mission.
When they leave, be thankful.
If you want to know how to spot a toxic person, here are 6 early warning signs.
I also have a great discussion with Dr. Henry Cloud about how to handle toxic and foolish people in your church. It’s worth a listen.
You can listen to it (and even subscribe) for free on my Leadership Podcast here, on Episode 160.An unhealthy person can infect your team like toxins infect the human body.from article https://careynieuwhof.com/when-to-panic-and-when-not-to-panic-when-people-leave-your-church/
Thom Rainer says you need to add 32 people a year to maintain a church of 100 weekly attenders.
Let’s start with a scenario that your church has an average worship attendance of 100. I use that number for simplicity. The median worship attendance is 65.
Now, let’s ask a simple question. How many attendees do you have to add to your attendance in a year to stay even?
The answer for a typical church is 32 with a worship attendance of 100. You can double the number to 64 if the church’s attendance is 200.
Did you get that? A church has to increase the number of attendees by 32 percent each year just to stay even.
In a church with 100 in attendance, an additional 32 attendees would have to be added to stay even, and they would have to attend every Sunday. If they attend every other Sunday, the church would need an additional 64 attendees.
Where have all the church attendees gone? Let’s look at four important components:
Component #1: Deaths
The death rate in the United States is 1.0 people per 100 population. The death rate is likely higher in churches since many congregations have an aging membership.
Component #2: Moving Out of the Community.
The mobility rate in the United States was 9.3 percent in 2020. The good news is that the rate of mobility is declining. It almost reached 20 percent in 1985. Many of the moves are considered local, but most of them still move out of the church’s community.
Component #3: Transfer to Another Church in the Community
This number is not as precise as the previous two because it is based on the churches where we have this information, typically churches we consult. We think our estimate of 7 percent is close. In other words, your church will lose 7 church members to another local church for every 100 in attendance.
Component #4: Declining Attendance Frequency
We estimate that the attendance frequency is down about 15 percent per year in U. S. churches. For example, if a church had 100 members who attended every Sunday, the average attendance would be 100. If all those members attended every other week, the average attendance would be 50, or a decline of 50 percent. Declining attendance frequency is the number one factor in church decline in the United States.
So, here is our summary. For every 100 persons in attendance in your church, you will lose each year:
- 1 to death
- 9 to moving
- 7 to transfer to another church in the community
- 15 to declining attendance frequency
Thus, if you add 32 attendees for every 100 you have in attendance now, the church will stay even. Anything less and the church will decline.
But there is hope. More on the hope factor soon.from article at https://churchanswers.com/blog/why-your-church-has-to-replace-32-percent-of-its-attendance-to-stay-even-each-year/
Sometimes certain people need to leave for the good of the rest of the church.
Here’s another post Carey made that encourages us to let people that don’t fit to go somewhere else.
Some people will find a better fit elsewhere
Releasing people doesn’t have to be a sea of nastiness. In fact if it is, you’re doing it wrong.
Think of it this way: if someone isn’t passionate about your organization’s purpose, they will actually be better off somewhere else.
I tell people that all the time. We are not a church for everybody.
THE church is for everyone. But your church isn’t. You’re one part of a much bigger body. You alone will not reach your entire city. We need each other as church leaders.
You’ll be serving people by letting them find a better fit, and finding like-minded people will help you accomplish your mission more effectively.
Seriously, some people will honestly thrive in a different environment than yours. Why not celebrate that?
Let them go. You don’t own the Kingdom.
If you struggle with this idea that the church isn’t for everyone, I wrote this post for you.from article at https://careynieuwhof.com/leave/
Some Bible Verses on How to Make Your Church Experience Better
- Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Philippians 2:1-3 (NLT)
- Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:13-14 (NLT)
- Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. 7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. 8 That is why the Scriptures say, “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.” 9 Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. 17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. 25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil. 28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. 30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:1-32 (NLT)
You Might Miss Out if you Leave
I have seen some people leave for numerous reasons and later express their disappointment that they missed out because they didn’t stick around to be part of what God did through the church after they left. I have heard from people who left one church and later realized the church they went to wasn’t better, it was just different. If you feel it’s time to leave be careful not to burn bridges and ruin relationships. You may want to come back.
Pray about it and plug into a local church that focuses on lifestyle worship, encouragement and evangelism, learning ministry skills and learning to be more like Jesus, and letting Christ’s love and the Holy Spirit’s power flow through you to the people all around that desperately need it. Be committed to being a disciple that makes disciples (that’s a fully devoted follower of Christ).
Maybe you can pray for the people you see experiencing conflict in the church and try to be a peacemaker. Maybe someone needs to apologize for selfish actions or attitudes and commit to honor God with their service and be a blessing to others. Maybe someone needs counseling or help to heal and/or change. Maybe someone doesn’t even realize they are injuring the church family and/or the cause of Christ with their words and actions.
Maybe God is calling you to humble yourself and help your current church become healthier and more effective. Think about what your church could accomplish if their people all stuck around and got along.
I hope you found this post encouraging.