“I don’t like my/your church.”As a church planter and pastor, I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever heard those words or even read them in reference to our church; however, I am confident that they’ve been said, or at the least, thought. I continue to be astounded at the volume of people who silently leave churches, whether ours or others with that thought in mind. After many years in collegiate and now church ministry, I think I can describe some of the signs that someone is leaving your church:
- Increase in “clan-nishness” – This happens when folks begin to associate only with a select few people within your church. It’s an unhealthy indication that they are not willing to plug in to other’s lives, only those who make them comfortable.
- Arriving right on time and leaving quickly – When church becomes simply an event to attend, folks begin to treat it as a religious meeting. They are not interested in meeting, hanging out, or in depth fellowship with the people of the church.
- Fault-finding – It becomes more and more difficult for them to identify anything wonderful or positive that’s happening in the church or the members’ lives. They only seem to be able to identify and zero in on things that bother them.
- Undermining leadership or church vision – Rather than being supportive and helpful, they seem to want church done on their terms and in their prescribed way. They are unwilling to invest wholeheartedly in the vision of the collected leadership of the church and instead find ways through conversation, attendance and giving (or lack of it) to express their dissatisfaction.
- Attractive absences – It seems that “whatever” will be enough to cause a person considering leaving to miss a gathering of the church. Different excuses are offered, but the end result is that they could “take it or leave it.” The gathering of believers at that church is no longer compellingly attractive to them.
- Determined Discontent – It doesn’t matter that whether or not their concerns are addressed and their questions are answered. In some cases, it appears that they just don’t want to hear explanations. They are determined to be discontent.
- Invitational Death – A sure sign for someone considering leaving is the absence of invitation in their life. If they had at one point been bringing guests and “talking up” your church but do so no longer, then it is probably because they don’t want to involve someone that they know in a fellowship that they know in their hearts they may soon be leaving.
- Lack of Conversational Intimacy – People who are on the road to leaving suddenly talk about sports, the weather and movies more than they ask you about your faith, your prayer needs or dreams and hopes. They don’t want to engage you on an intimate level in conversation because they know that your relationship with them will be changing soon. Rest assured, if a person doesn’t ask you questions about you, they are most likely consumed with themselves.
Confusion of church and relationship to Christ
Many folks who leave a church do so for arbitrary reasons. The worship is more appealing at So-and-So Baptist Church across town. Most Holy Methodist Church just got a young preacher who is a dynamic speaker. The Jump-Up-And-Down Program at One Heckuva Steeple Presbyterian suddenly seems to “meet the needs” of their family better than your pitiful programs. Whatever the reason, they all seem to sound hollow when compared to the mission of Christ when He said that He came to “seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19.10)
In fact, in our Americanized, drive-through religion world, there is a huge confusion about religion and a relationship with Christ. It was so in Jesus’ day as well. He found Himself (and even initiated) in conflict with the religious leaders of His day often. The problem was that the religious leaders had more head knowledge about God than they knew God Himself.
The same is true today. Wherever you have a gathering of people who embrace facts and doctrines about God without pursuing intimacy with Him through a love relationship with Jesus Christ, you have religion. However, it is not ultimately fulfilling to just show up at all the proper religious events and services. A lifetime of simply “showing up” doesn’t transform us. An intimate love relationship with God opens our lives for His gracious work within us.
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17.3)
There is a huge difference in knowing about God and knowing God.
Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…” (Philippians 3.10)
One can know about God and not love Him with all their being. However, that love relationship is what Jesus described as the first and greatest commandment in Matthew 22.37. He also said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14.15) When you truly love another person, you will want to please them in your relationship with them.
It all hinges on a love relationship with God, and that’s where many current and former church-goers today are confused. They think they can love God without loving His people. The New Testament is loud and clear that a Christian was not created to live in isolation. The Spirit within us places us in fellowship with other Christians – not for personal growth and enjoyment – but to accomplish and fulfill the stated mission of Christ. We are the body of Christ, and it takes all of us, working together in mutual humility and service, to extend His kingdom.
There are, of course, good reasons for leaving a church, but in our society it seems that few folks leave for good reasons. A church is so much more than just a random collection of people. It’s the bride of Christ expressed locally. Few consider that when they stop attending that they are rejecting people who make up the bride.