6 Things to Remember When Leaving Your Church

When switching churches, how you leave is just as important as why.

I didn’t know leaving would be so hard. I couldn’t really imagine how it would feel to separate ourselves from the community that grew us. That building and those people were synonymous with home. And after 22 years of life in that place, leaving felt like leaving home.

For a number of reasons related to God’s calling on our lives and the places He wanted to grow us, leaving was the right decision. But with such sincere love for the community we said goodbye to, it was important to us that we finished well.

People leave their local church for good reasons and bad reasons. Whatever the catalyst is for stepping away, how you leave is just as important as why you left.

For those making the difficult transition out of their worship community and into another, remember the following as you begin saying goodbye.

Leave Graciously

Emotions are important, but they can be deceiving. They can impair our judgment and tempt us to speak words that are neither beneficial nor wise. Sitting your pastor down to pour out your wounds and then walk out the door, or moving around the community to spark small fires before turning your back on them is foolish and selfish. Don’t burn bridges on the way out. Instead, spend a lot of time saying thank you and leave graciously.

Don’t burn bridges on the way out. Instead, spend a lot of time saying thank you.

Honor the People Who Brought You Here

Those pastors who labored over sermons, visited you in the hospital, cleaned up the trash in the parking lot after everyone else left. The women who made meals when you needed help, the old ladies who told you they were praying for you (and you knew they meant it), the youth leaders who bought you coffee when you had braces and couldn’t drive yet—honor them.

It’s easy to step outside of the house you’ve been living in and start breaking it down with subtle (or blunt) critiques. It’s easy to air the dirty laundry once you no longer call it home. Don’t trash talk the church that you left. Choose your words carefully, remembering that they are as much the Bride as that new congregation you love so much. Speak kindly and lovingly. Always.

Don’t Assume You Know More Than Those Who Stayed

When we sense God calling us in a new direction, it’s not hard to look over our shoulders and believe that we have “outgrown” our past. It’s not a stretch to believe we have somehow gained insight others missed. Remember that whatever is leading you away has to do with you. Keep it about you and the places God is calling you to. Don’t use it to pass judgment on the people who are called to stay.

Don’t Recruit

It may not be the right community for you anymore, but it probably is the right community for a lot of other people. When we start drafting members to the sanctuary across town, we are no longer showing respect for the church we came from or the Body of Christ as a whole. The Church is made up of local congregations spread across the globe. To recruit from one to another is competitive and shows a lack of perspective for the larger picture of the Kingdom.

Take Your Time

The temptation in a transition like this is to jump to the next thing and dive in head first. Give yourself space to pray, listen and visit services in your area without assuming you know what’s next.

And when you think you have found a place you’re ready to call home, take time to get to know the community. Rather than showing up on the first day with a list of suggestions and 10 ways you can help, just introduce yourself. Develop a better sense of their culture before volunteering to overhaul the worship team or asking to teach at the next marriage conference. Get to know them and let them get to know you.

Don’t Make it a Habit

Churches are full of broken people and will never be perfect; we each contribute to those imperfections just as much as the next person.

It’s reasonable to expect that at some point in our adult lives, we may find ourselves navigating a move to a different church community. But I would suggest it is less likely that God will “call” us into a new community every two years. Churches are full of broken people and will never be perfect; we each contribute to those imperfections just as much as the next person.

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Prayerfully consider where you will plant yourself and then grow down. Develop deep roots that become stronger in difficult seasons and that can withstand disappointments or conflict. Jumping from church to church every few years says more about us than it does about the churches we are in. Plant yourself and commit to rolling up your sleeves to work through the mess.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is perhaps best known for the picture he paints of what it means to love each other. Interestingly, Paul had a difficult relationship with the church in Corinth—to the extent that he stayed away at one point in order to not create more frustration and pain for them.

Knowing this and reflecting on his charge in 1 Corinthians 13, we gain fresh perspective on how to love the communities we have left. Let us love them in a way that is patient, kind and not self-seeking. Let us love them in a way that is not boastful, prideful or dishonoring. Let us love them in a way that keeps no record of wrongs. Let us love them in a way that protects them, trusts them, hopes for their future and perseveres against conflict. Let that be the way we love them, even after saying goodbye.

Top Comments

Daniel Sides

3

Daniel Sides replied to Kirsty Young's comment

Hi Kirsty,

I get it. Totally. Being single and looking to a church to connect in can be difficult at best and faith crushing at the worst. I went through a decade where I stepped away from God because I just couldn't do it anymore. Dates who I wanted, did whatever I wanted, met my wife, got a good job, got married, bought a house, etc. It was a good life. And really, I has a blast. I was happy.

But when we had our first child and I began to have to think about life a little differently, and frankly, a lot less selfishly, I began to realize that my life couldn't just be about my happiness. So we started looking around for a place that was good for me and my unchurched bride to rediscover or discover in my bride's case, our faith.

Now that I'm another 15 years down that road I look back and my biggest regrets for the time I left my faith were not the things that happened to me (I was having fun!) but the things I did to others. I was so selfish. I didn't love my wife well. Oh I loved her, but just not that well. I didn't love friends well. I didn't love my family well. And I'm still suffering consequences from all that.

Honestly, if I had to do it over again I'm can't say for sure what I'd have done differently. I know what I wish I had done differently but I don't know if I could have.

I wanted to make this comment to tell you that life has it's seasons and the season you are in now won't last forever. Change is guaranteed. And when new seasons come for you try to be open to what God may have for you.

If you are reading Relevant you must believe but my guess is you feel disillusioned. That's EXACTLY where I was. But you have to realize that the western church is badly broken and it can be excruciatingly difficult to find a faithful fellowship. But I do believe God when he says "you will find me when you seek me with all your heart". You may or may not find a fellowship that clicks for you but the brokenness of the church is man's doing, not God.

God cares for you like a loving, gentle father cares for his children. He desperately and passionately wants relationship with you. Don't give up. :)

17 Comments

Jeff Raker

1

Jeff Raker commented…

Excellent points. The most difficult thing to watch as a Pastor is people who can't own their choice to leave. The blame and different stories told to different people only create chaos and distrust. Sometimes God calls us to move on. Own it, as difficult as it may be to say good-bye. Thanks for compiling this Biblical list

Kirsty Young

6

Kirsty Young commented…

When I left the church I grew up with it was a good leave. I had friends and family there and the church felt like home. I had to leave because I moved away. Many people from the church came to my leaving party. I feel there will always be a place for me there, I'm still in touch with many friends from there and I go back there from when I visit my parents. The church and some of its people are still part of my life.
When I settled into my new home and town, I found a new church. I was part of it for nearly four years. Although I was part of its community, I was never able to become part of anyone's life there. I moved again and left without saying goodbye to anyone. No one there became close enough that I told them I was leaving or to say goodbye to. I stopped going about a month before I left town because I was busy and had too much to do. No one contacted me to say they missed me or to ask how I was. I'm not in contact with anyone from there anymore. Just over two years later, I no longer go to church. I moved again and walked into a church full of strangers and knew I would ever be part of anyone's life there. I had that in the church I grew up in, with family and friends I grew up with. To me a church is the people. If your not truly part of the people, then your not truly part of the church. I was a stranger in town in need of finding my place in its community, people I could connect with. I was lonely in my last church and couldn't cope with that again. I don't go to church anymore, haven't been part of one now for just over two years, except when I visit my parents and go to my old church. I think how you leave depends on who you are within the church. I felt like a nobody in my last church, no one cared if I was there or not so making a fuss and saying I was moving seemed stupid and pointless. I would have been embarrassed telling and inviting people who didn't care and wouldn't have turned up.

Kirsty Young

6

Kirsty Young replied to Cedric Jones's comment

The Christian God, the God of the bible.

Daniel Sides

3

Daniel Sides replied to Kirsty Young's comment

Hi Kirsty,

I get it. Totally. Being single and looking to a church to connect in can be difficult at best and faith crushing at the worst. I went through a decade where I stepped away from God because I just couldn't do it anymore. Dates who I wanted, did whatever I wanted, met my wife, got a good job, got married, bought a house, etc. It was a good life. And really, I has a blast. I was happy.

But when we had our first child and I began to have to think about life a little differently, and frankly, a lot less selfishly, I began to realize that my life couldn't just be about my happiness. So we started looking around for a place that was good for me and my unchurched bride to rediscover or discover in my bride's case, our faith.

Now that I'm another 15 years down that road I look back and my biggest regrets for the time I left my faith were not the things that happened to me (I was having fun!) but the things I did to others. I was so selfish. I didn't love my wife well. Oh I loved her, but just not that well. I didn't love friends well. I didn't love my family well. And I'm still suffering consequences from all that.

Honestly, if I had to do it over again I'm can't say for sure what I'd have done differently. I know what I wish I had done differently but I don't know if I could have.

I wanted to make this comment to tell you that life has it's seasons and the season you are in now won't last forever. Change is guaranteed. And when new seasons come for you try to be open to what God may have for you.

If you are reading Relevant you must believe but my guess is you feel disillusioned. That's EXACTLY where I was. But you have to realize that the western church is badly broken and it can be excruciatingly difficult to find a faithful fellowship. But I do believe God when he says "you will find me when you seek me with all your heart". You may or may not find a fellowship that clicks for you but the brokenness of the church is man's doing, not God.

God cares for you like a loving, gentle father cares for his children. He desperately and passionately wants relationship with you. Don't give up. :)

Daniel Sides

3

Daniel Sides replied to Kirsty Young's comment

Hi Kirsty,

I get it. Totally. Being single and looking to a church to connect in can be difficult at best and faith crushing at the worst. I went through a decade where I stepped away from God because I just couldn't do it anymore. Dates who I wanted, did whatever I wanted, met my wife, got a good job, got married, bought a house, etc. It was a good life. And really, I has a blast. I was happy.

But when we had our first child and I began to have to think about life a little differently, and frankly, a lot less selfishly, I began to realize that my life couldn't just be about my happiness. So we started looking around for a place that was good for me and my unchurched bride to rediscover or discover in my bride's case, our faith.

Now that I'm another 15 years down that road I look back and my biggest regrets for the time I left my faith were not the things that happened to me (I was having fun!) but the things I did to others. I was so selfish. I didn't love my wife well. Oh I loved her, but just not that well. I didn't love friends well. I didn't love my family well. And I'm still suffering consequences from all that.

Honestly, if I had to do it over again I'm can't say for sure what I'd have done differently. I know what I wish I had done differently but I don't know if I could have.

I wanted to make this comment to tell you that life has it's seasons and the season you are in now won't last forever. Change is guaranteed. And when new seasons come for you try to be open to what God may have for you.

If you are reading Relevant you must believe but my guess is you feel disillusioned. That's EXACTLY where I was. But you have to realize that the western church is badly broken and it can be excruciatingly difficult to find a faithful fellowship. But I do believe God when he says "you will find me when you seek me with all your heart". You may or may not find a fellowship that clicks for you but the brokenness of the church is man's doing, not God.

God cares for you like a loving, gentle father cares for his children. He desperately and passionately wants relationship with you. Don't give up. :)

Daniel Sides

3

Daniel Sides replied to Cedric Jones's comment

Hi Kirsty,

I get it. Totally. Being single and looking to a church to connect in can be difficult at best and faith crushing at the worst. I went through a decade where I stepped away from God because I just couldn't do it anymore. Dates who I wanted, did whatever I wanted, met my wife, got a good job, got married, bought a house, etc. It was a good life. And really, I has a blast. I was happy.

But when we had our first child and I began to have to think about life a little differently, and frankly, a lot less selfishly, I began to realize that my life couldn't just be about my happiness. So we started looking around for a place that was good for me and my unchurched bride to rediscover or discover in my bride's case, our faith.

Now that I'm another 15 years down that road I look back and my biggest regrets for the time I left my faith were not the things that happened to me (I was having fun!) but the things I did to others. I was so selfish. I didn't love my wife well. Oh I loved her, but just not that well. I didn't love friends well. I didn't love my family well. And I'm still suffering consequences from all that.

Honestly, if I had to do it over again I'm can't say for sure what I'd have done differently. I know what I wish I had done differently but I don't know if I could have.

I wanted to make this comment to tell you that life has it's seasons and the season you are in now won't last forever. Change is guaranteed. And when new seasons come for you try to be open to what God may have for you.

If you are reading Relevant you must believe but my guess is you feel disillusioned. That's EXACTLY where I was. But you have to realize that the western church is badly broken and it can be excruciatingly difficult to find a faithful fellowship. But I do believe God when he says "you will find me when you seek me with all your heart". You may or may not find a fellowship that clicks for you but the brokenness of the church is man's doing, not God.

God cares for you like a loving, gentle father cares for his children. He desperately and passionately wants relationship with you. Don't give up. :)

Kirsty Young

6

Kirsty Young replied to Daniel Sides's comment

Hi Daniel, each to their own I guess. I think the thing is that I question so much of what seemed to be presumed. I things like being told when I was growing up that life feels like there is something missing without God, we are weak but he is strong, only in Gods strength. Everyone made it sound as though life was all doom and gloom without God. They made it sound like there was a big bad dangerous world out there, that none Christians were awful people, floundering and unhappy living godless lives in a godless world. They made it sound dark and miserable. It isn't like that at all. Some of the none Christians I have become close to are wonderful, caring people and my life is better because of them. I feel like I've been lied to, to keep me where I was. Because of this I now question how much of what I've been taught is true, is real. My Christian family and friends keep telling me I feel and think things because of this or that, but they are wrong on so many levels. It seems to me that leaving the town I grew up in changed me. I grew as a person, I've experienced something other than the cocoon of life that was all things Christian. It seems as though they are still wrapped in that cocoon and only know me what's in it. It's like I've left the cocoon and what's outside isn't what they thought it was.

lynda t

159

lynda t commented…

After attending church for over 25 years, our family decided to leave. It was very hard, we were very invested in the church not only in our volunteer time but in our relationships. As probably in most places it's very hard to find spirit filled church, and we ended up having to travel to attend a church. This made it very difficult to feel like you're part of a community or to even be very involved. We decided to look for church closer, and found a church but never felt connected. It felt more like a duty or an obligation than a desire to be with the Lord, learning His word. But through all of it the hardest was when people would ask why we left the first church which we attended for so very long. It's very hard to become involved in a church when you feel like you cannot be honest and open about the reasons you left the previous church, because you don't want to fall into that group of being critical or judgemental, of being accused of pulling people away or keeping people from attending the previous church. Especially if you attended the church for so many years, where it was such an integral part of your life.
This article was very good and I think really touched on an issue that is so prevalent today. Would have liked to see suggestions of how to handle the situation instead of so much what to avoid saying. I still don't know what to say when people ask, and I find I often take the blame upon myself.

A Rob

29

A Rob commented…

Good reasons why to leave a church:
You're starting your own Church.
You have to move and God's calling to live in another place.
You may have to serve a lot more people than those who are in your church.
Learn to seek out God in a variety of ways and staying in your church may limit that.
This was a good article for those reasons and that last one I said there wasn't to say that your church isn't good enough, I'm saying that there's a lot of good things created from God that we all should try to seek out. But then again, a church could provide that for it's listeners however there maybe limitations and limitations could lead to pain and hurting. The beautiful things that God has created has to be discovered and it's up to us all to discover them on our own at some point.

Cedric Jones

6

Cedric Jones commented…

Wow, this is what helps us to bring unity to the Church and maturity to her members. As the Bride of Christ, I believe it is imperative that we continue to consider the weight of our decisions by taking time to process the impact they make.

Thank you,

Iceman

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