Why You Will Join the Wrong Church

I am no advocate of "church hopping"....

 

....but if one believes in the Universal Church, why is there often stigma attached to leaving one local church to join another?

In the past 37 years, I have been a member of two Baptist churches.  The first from 1980 to 2000; the second from 2000 to the present.  In my case, I do not doubt it was as a result of the Lord's leading me.  Is that a possibility recognized in the OP's article?

Or what about circumstances in which one leaves a church for another due to a job transfer, moving to a different city/state upon retirement, or any other reason resulting in a geographic relocation?  In such situations, there isn't (or perhaps only very rarely) any stigma associated with leaving a church.  So why might the perception be different if one leaves one local church for another in the same general vicinity?

Good point...

My answer about the stigma is that at least part of this has to do with the fact that so many people change churches for flippant reasons.  It's not entirely unfair to say that it's a bit of "guilt by association", as we tend to assume that since the Smiths, Joneses,and McGillicudies changed churches because the worship team played "Breathe", that when the Perrys or the Nelsons change churches, it's about the same reason.

One thing I really liked about the article is how it mentions the relational aspect of church membership.  I'm currently interacting with a family that's having trouble with the church they're in, and for all that church's faults (they're hardline KJVO, lots of rules with not much grounding in Scripture, etc..), it seems that the family has some real friendships there.  Hence I am minding my manners in interacting with them, not saying some things simply because of that.

(believe it or not)

To Many Christians Leave For Weak Reasons

To many believers leave a church for weak reasons.  The church is there to serve them instead of visa versa.  To many believers are critical of their Pastors for no real reason where he in reality they should be supporting their Pastor(s) 100 % and not get involved in knit picking them.  

I have seen people get up and leave and attend another church locally for no real good reason.  It is very sad and of course when they leave to go to another church they say God is leading us to another ministry instead of being honest with their church leaders.  How can you argue against that reason.  

Why People Leave Churches

Surely everybody knows that there are usually three reasons people leave a church.  1) The reason they tell the pastor.  2)  The reason they tell other church members.  3)  The real reason.

G. N. Barkman

"my rights"

I think that people leave churches partly because they believe that they have a right to be in a "good church," whatever that means to them. So when something happens that might genuinely be bad (people make mistakes), they feel like they shouldn't have to put up with .... 

That's why these people tend to bounce around. Haven't found a church worthy of their membership. 

You live with people in fellowship and they make mistakes. They sin. They act unbiblically.

Members need to remember that they are in the church to serve. To serve means to work for the betterment of others. Well, that necessarily means that God wants you in a place that isn't yet better

God could make things right - all things. That's coming. But for now, He wants us under the curse, struggling to serve. 

Leaving a church: two scenarios, perceived very differently:

1. Bob and his wife Betty are recent retirees.  They have been at the same church for 32 years, serving faithfully in numerous ministry roles.  One Sunday they tell their pastor that they have decided to sell their home in Minnesota and move to Arizona.  (They joke that they will just have to learn to live without the subzero cold, ice, and snow that make winters in Minnesota so enjoyable!)   They further tell their pastor that they are looking at joining a church "of like faith and practice" near their future new home, in which their particular ministry gifts & experience can be put to good use. 

Their pastor is saddened at the thought of their departure, but he wishes them well, thanking them profusely for their many years of faithful service.  On their final Sunday in attendance, the church holds a going-away potluck, with cake, gifts, and many "best wishes" expressed by all.

2. Bob and his wife Betty have been at the same church for 32 years, serving faithfully in numerous ministry roles.  One Sunday they tell their pastor that they have decided to leave the church to join another nearby church.  They further tell him that they bear no discontent with the church, and in fact will be saddened to leave, but they are feeling a call to use their particular ministry gifts & experience at this other church, for reasons perhaps not yet fully discernable to them.

Their pastor is outraged at the thought of their departure, struggles to suppress his anger, and curtly tells them that if they leave they're running from God and will be outside of His will.  On their final Sunday in attendance, they are largely ignored at the church.  Sullen glances, inaudible whispers, and few "best wishes" see them off.

---------------------------------------------------

Am I far off of the mark?  (I'm not claiming this happens in every church, but I know it happens in some.)  Assuming that Bob and Betty, in either scenario, follow through and continue to faithfully attend and serve in their new churches, why is it that such circumstances of departure can be viewed so differently?

Is there some form of territorial behavior that is manifested in some churches in scenarios similar to the latter one above?  

2 Bobs and Bettys.

Larry, it's tough to think that the real reason is being given by Bob2. It's like being turned down for a date. "I can't go because I already have to do X." -vs- "I can't go because I have to clip my nails that night." (You kinda know you're not getting the real reason.)

I know in #2 my pastors would say, "We'll miss you, sorry to see you leave. Blessings to you." (That sort of thing) But it would be hard for them to see them go and wonder why they're really leaving. Unless the church is sending them to a struggling work, but then it's the church helping decide.

Courtesy to the pastors

I do think that when one leaves a church that the under-shepherd(s) need to be consulted / advised

Church-leaving should not be done lightly

Regrettably, I left a church wrongly but for the right reasons about 17 years ago. Later (much) I apologized to the pastor.

 

If there's a point I'm missing.....

 

.....I'm still not seeing or understanding a substantive difference.

Let's say a church has a young man, fresh out of seminary (or Bible college even) who is serving in youth ministry, at this time strictly as a volunteer leader & teacher, since the church already has a vocational youth pastor.  Across town, another church has a vocational  youth pastor or youth director position become available, for which our young man in question applies.  As it turns out, he is offered the position, which he accepts.  "Congratulations!" everyone in the church tells him, including the senior pastor: "You've worked hard for this, and I'm confident you're following God's direction."

Now let's imagine a similar scenario, except for two things: 1) the young man in question has a heart to serve in youth ministry, but not necessarily the educational credentials of the other young man above; and 2) he desires to leave Church A to go and serve in a non-vocational  leadership position in Church B, perhaps because he sees a greater need there, or will have additional ministry responsibilities and/or opportunities there (albeit unpaid), or simply somehow feels compelled (maybe even by the Holy Spirit's direction) to do so.  In this case, why does it seem to me (from some situations I've seen in the past & still hear tell of in the present) that his reasons will almost invariably be called into question, and it will be assumed that there must be some ulterior motivation?

Like Jim said above:

 "When a pastor leaves a church = "God called me [somewhere else]"

When a non-pastor leaves a church = something sinful"

Not missing anything

Larry, I don't think you're missing anything.  It's just that the answer is pretty depressing.

What are you saying?

Are you faulting the church for NOT having a big congratulations, send-off party for the people who simply decided they would rather go to another church?  In other words, do you really think these two situations are nearly identical, or do you recognize that leaving a church for no apparent reason necessarily leaves some lingering questions.

G. N. Barkman

This simply illustrates my point:

Quote:

Are you faulting the church for NOT having a big congratulations, send-off party for the people who simply decided they would rather go to another church?  In other words, do you really think these two situations are nearly identical, or do you recognize that leaving a church for no apparent reason necessarily leaves some lingering questions.

Leaving with the intent and for the reason of serving elsewhere is not "for no apparent reason."

Once again, like Jim said above:

 "When a pastor leaves a church = "God called me [somewhere else]"

When a non-pastor leaves a church = something sinful"

What is said, really....

....is that Larry's disappointed (as am I) that all too often, a layman leaving one church for another is assumed to be doing something wrong.  Often they are, but the presumption is guilt by association.  

In other words, there's a nice midpoint between having a farewell banquet and shunning that those who are not sinning ought to enjoy.

Reality

A young single man in his mid-twenties is in a small (less than 20 members) struggling work. His parents are members but there is no one his age. He moves to another church in the area with a larger number of people his own age. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

The real issues

I have also seen people going to a church where they're more likely to meet someone, and if a young person (or old guy) can just walk down the street, effectively, and start meeting at another church of similar faith and practice, that raises a couple of questions.  First of all, if there are two churches close together of like faith and practice, why?  Is it denominations that have grown closer together, or is it the classic "Baptist church plant" where people split over minor issues?  

Second, could it be that our discipleship is so weak that one might go to a church of fairly different faith & practice simply because he doesn't know his own?

We might suggest that church swapping might be the symptom of bigger issues that we ought to address.

But Does it?

Larry believes my question above illustrates his point, but does it?  Larry, you did not answer my question concerning whether you believe the church that is being abandoned ought to have a special send-off social to honor the departing member.  As you did not answer the question, I will have to assume that the answer is No.  And if not, why not?  Is it not because there is, in fact, some difference between the two situations?

Here's the difference as I see it.  When someone is moving to another city, or taking a staff position at another church, there are no questions raised about motive, or unspoken underlying problems.  When someone simply announces a change in churches in the same town, it raises questions about unspoken problems.  You fault the original church for assuming there is a problem.  I think it more appropriate to fault the departing member for failing to make abundantly clear that there are no problems. That will probably require more than an announcement to the pastor on the way out the door.  At the very least, make an appointment to sit down and talk to the pastor, and give him opportunity to ask questions.  If there are, in fact, no problems, he may ask the departing member to make a statement to the church, in person, or in a letter.  This will go a long ways towards removing suspicions of an underlying problem.  The situation itself raises questions.  The departing member has a Christian obligation to remove them.  Surely he owes his church that much.

Bert is correct.  One of the problems is a deficit in healthy relationships.  But when good relationships have been developed, one cannot simply abandon them without explanation.  You owe more than that to your fellow brothers in Christ.  After all, what is the church but individual members?  The departing brother is one of those members.  Why fault the other members for wondering why he is leaving?  He is a member also, and has as much responsibility as they to address wrong attitudes.  They didn't raise the questions, he did.  Let him address them humbly and honorably.

I believe we must return to a more healthy view of the local church, and proper church relaitonships, if we ever hope to see revival in America.

G. N. Barkman

Also why they join churches

What Bro Barkman says here works just as well for the reasons people give for joining churches.  According to recent stats they join a church mainly for the preaching.  But anyone with pastoral experience knows that the real reasons center on programs, music, and feel-good sermons.  They will sacrifice solid preaching and teaching every time for those three things, especially the first two.  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

"abandoned"

G. N. Barkman wrote:

...the church that is being abandoned.....

There's the impasse.  

Bro. Barkman, if you believe that someone leaving a church under the circumstances I've described  has "abandoned" that church, then we'll never see eye to eye on this subject. 

Since all of your comments appear to me to derive from that premise, which I reject, then we should just agree to disagree and leave it at that.

There are good reasons to

There are good reasons to leave a church and there are bad reasons to leave a church. Treating them as if they are the same is bad practice. It doesn't matter if the church is across the country or across the street. 

I confess that I am not quite sure what "feeling a call" means. I think there is a need for people to be involved in ministry in smaller churches rather than being the third out of five alternate substitutes in larger church. I think we should focus less on "feeling a call" and more on filling a need. If there is a need and you have gift, then consider filling it. And keep in mind that one of the biggest things smaller churches need is warm bodies to fill the pews, shake hands, and smile. There's no place on the ministry organizational chart for it, but it is a great need.

If, on the other hand, you "feel a call" to worship under the sound of a better band or get your children in a more hip youth group, you should probably reconsider. 

Leaving a "Church"

We recently had to re-locate and that meant that we had to leave our church. In many ways it was the one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'm one of those people who sees a church as a group of people who are a family united in Christ. We were small (60+ members), met in a school building, 10 years old, music was really not to our liking, preaching was sound but average, and there weren't many programs. But we loved the people and they loved us!!!! After 40 years in churches, that was the first time I had ever had that experience. Let me say that sound doctrine and good preaching are essentials, but sometimes I get the impression that we see church as a place we come for preaching and teaching (and maybe music and programs) but there's little emphasis on building relationships with "one another".

My advice: Some people might tend to stay longer if they were treated like family instead of consumers or an audience.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Ron is right.

Ron, Bert, and Paul have all touched on the importance of relationships in church membership.  Given the "one anothers" in the New Testament, that really is the heart of the matter.  That's why I used the word "abandon."  (I thought it would probably raise some hackles.)  But what else can you call it when a church members simply tells the pastor that he's "out the door," without the slightest responsibility to all the family relationships within the church?  If you did that with a biological family, it would be considered abandonment.  The Scriptures teach that relationships in the body of Christ take precedence over family relationships.  The reason we are having this discussion is because so many Christians have no concept of Biblical church membership.  That desperately needs to be recovered if Christianity is to become healthy again.

G. N. Barkman

The relationships don't have to end:

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Ron, Bert, and Paul have all touched on the importance of relationships in church membership.  Given the "one anothers" in the New Testament, that really is the heart of the matter.  That's why I used the word "abandon."  (I thought it would probably raise some hackles.)  But what else can you call it when a church members simply tells the pastor that he's "out the door," without the slightest responsibility to all the family relationships within the church?  If you did that with a biological family, it would be considered abandonment.  The Scriptures teach that relationships in the body of Christ take precedence over family relationships.  The reason we are having this discussion is because so many Christians have no concept of Biblical church membership.  That desperately needs to be recovered if Christianity is to become healthy again.

I stated in the first comment in this thread that I have been a member of two Baptist churches in the past 37 years, leaving one for the other 17 years ago.

That doesn't mean that friendships & relationships from the church I belonged to for the first 20 of those 37 years ended.  Many of those people to this day remain friends, who I see or talk to regularly.  That includes my former pastor, who I had dinner with about six weeks ago, as a matter of fact. 

I'm failing to see how leaving one church for another locally is somehow worse (which is what you seem to maintain) than if I had simply moved 1,000 miles away & there joined another church (which you don't seem to have any issue with), perhaps never to see any of those friends ever again. 

Either way, I would have left my former church.....

---------------------------------------------------

Addendum: I could name some pastors recognizable to most everyone on SI who have served at 3,4, even 5 churches over their pastoral careers.  Whenever they've announced their departures from one church to go to another, do the same standards you seem to be arguing for apply?  Have they "abandoned" their former churches?   Or are pastors leaving one church for another exempt? 

is this debate a "large church" vs. "small church" question?

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Ron, Bert, and Paul have all touched on the importance of relationships in church membership.  Given the "one anothers" in the New Testament, that really is the heart of the matter.  That's why I used the word "abandon."  (I thought it would probably raise some hackles.)  But what else can you call it when a church members simply tells the pastor that he's "out the door," without the slightest responsibility to all the family relationships within the church?  If you did that with a biological family, it would be considered abandonment.  The Scriptures teach that relationships in the body of Christ take precedence over family relationships.  The reason we are having this discussion is because so many Christians have no concept of Biblical church membership.  That desperately needs to be recovered if Christianity is to become healthy again.

According to Karl Vaters, a pastor who blogs about small churches at Christianity Today, most churches are small churches but most Christians attend large churches (in North America, at least). I think he puts the "cut-off" in his definition at around 300, anything below is a small church, anything above is a large church. It seems to me that it is easier to have a consumer mentality if you are a large church member whereas if you are in a small church you have more of a family/relationship mentality.

If someone leaves a large church (for any reason) it is often hardly noticed. But it's a gaping hole in a small church. Every loss is felt deeply and personally, especially if the choice was based on satisfying some personal "need" that isn't getting "met" at the small church.

Personally, I wish more Christians would commit themselves to lives of service and relationship building in small churches. Large churches have their place, but it is the small church where the needs are most acute. We are saved to serve, not to be served.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Let's be careful

Although I would agree with others that many (most?) church members today don't know, or have, a clearly good relationship with their churches, we need to first of all make sure that we're not blaming them for this.  I for one am willing to consider the likelihood that a huge proportion have never had it effectively taught, and an even bigger proportion have never experienced it being modeled.

This can, but does not have to be (per Don's comments), a question of big church vs. little church, though I think we'd all agree that anonymity can be easier at many megachurches.  

But that said, Acts 2 features a megachurch that did OK, despite starting from ground zero with no Christian experience by anybody, even the leaders in a manner of speaking.  No BJU or Maranatha grads to help things out, not even a printed edition of the New Testament.  As far as I can tell, things happened as they shared time and meals together.

And we Baptists, whatever our differences, can certainly agree on a potluck, no?

Big Church Small Church

We just moved to a new area and are church hunting. In big churches, people can get lost ine crowd and that may be what they want. There are churches that have Sunday am/pm and mid-week services and no time left to build relationships, and some people want that. We've visited some big churches. In one, no one spoke to us or welcomed us, including the pastor whom we met twice in the hall. In another, we were invited to a small (10-12) group and got to make some friends. In another we were invited out to lunch after the service. One small church "howdied" us to pieces; another gave us the silent treatment.

One additional note: in one large church the pastor encouraged the people to speak to people they didn't know and not to be embarrassed if they discovered that they were members of the church.

If you can absent yourself from your church for 3 or 4 weeks and no one notices, there may be a problem. If the pastor doesn't notice that one of his sheep is missing, there may be another problem.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

The Relationships Don't Have to End

Indeed they do not, and ought not.  But they probably will if there is no effort made to leave the church in an honorable manner.  Simply telling the pastor you have decided to leave and go to another church across town is hardly sufficient.  There needs to be communication with the church as guided by the church leadership, after the leadership has had opportunity to talk to and ask questions of the departing member to assure themselves that there are indeed no problems.

G. N. Barkman

Big Church Small Church

Yes, there's probably a good deal of difference relating to size of churches, but I seriously doubt that there really should be.  If largeness translates into weak relationships, then largeness is a problem.  However, as we know all too well, smallness doesn't necessary equate with healthy relationships either.  Large or small, the need is to give more attention to New Testament precepts about relationships within the local body.  9 Marks books are helpful to that end.

Some of this is probably a pastor/laymen divide.  Seasoned pastors usually have a lot of experience with departing members, and can often see indications of problems that others may not see.  Church members don't usually have a lot of experience with departures, and haven't given much thought to all the implications and ramifications.  Here is where a willingness to be guided by mature, seasoned pastors can ease the transition and hopefully enable it to be Christ-honoring.

G. N. Barkman

Consult

If a church member is interested in leaving to serve in another ministry, and is not "running away from" their current congregation, wouldn't you expect that they would consult their current leadership before the decision was finalized?
That's not to say that every decision must be approved by the pastor, but i would think they would value the wisdom he has to offer. It seems to me that this kind of approach would prevent most misunderstandings, and if someone is not interested in input from their pastor, then that indicates the presence of more serious problems.

Large church "problems"

  • The financial secretary is a paid staff position (part time)
  • The church clerk is a paid staff position / doubles as a church secretary
  • The treasurer is a paid staff position
  • Virtually every ABF is taught by paid staff
  • Church website? Hired out to a professional b/c you just can't rely on a layman to do it

 

 

Both sides of the pulpit

 I have been recently on both sides of the pulpit and the pew.  When I was a pastor for almost 7 years,   I experienced people leave and give nothing but a text that they have found another church.  Very few will be honest about why they're leaving because most people do not like uncomfortable and confrontational situations.  Rather than lovingly dealing with their problem like a spouse would in a covenant marriage, most people will take the easy way out.  

I experienced a family who told me one thing and then told all the other families in the church their grievances against me and my wife. 

 Very few left because of theological differences, although they were the most honest ones. 

 But I think all of them had something in common, and it had to do with relationships.  People were not connecting with others or they had a problem with another family or a problem with the leadership on some personal relational level. 

 Eventually the church needed to close down and we helped bring in some new leadership to restart.  Being on the other side of the pulpit for the first time in several years was very eye-opening. 

 I stayed with the new church plant as the Ex-pastor of the previous church for almost 3 years. It was the most uncomfortable church situation I had ever been in. At the beginning, I had some major clashes with the new pastor  and I think any other normal church member would have walked away and I really felt like doing that several times.  However I was determined not to be one of those families that had done that to me .  so for the last couple of years as much as I tried to be enthusiastic, involved and supportive of the new church,  something just never felt right.  My wife and I have been praying as to what we should do but we' were determined we will not leave this church unless it is absolutely clear that God is giving us no other choice.  At the beginning of this year my job made some major changes to my schedule which was totally out of my control, that made it impossible for me to attend. 

 It became obvious that God wanted us to leave and we did so with grace.  By the way, the new leadership knew I was struggling with staying and were thankful that I did not abandon ship because I didn't feel comfortable. 

 The next big decision was where do we go now ?  For a few months we attended a Bible church that had great preaching and we were actually very welcomed by the people.  However the music was mostly Hillsong and other shallow contemporary stuff which just did not seem to match the theology and the level of preaching.  I was a little uncomfortable with that but willing to stay because the most important thing is the preaching. Then I ran into the elders of another church  at a conference and decided to give their church a visit.  Most of the people in this church are a different ethnicity than me and my wife, but the theology, preaching, music, worship liturgy all seem to be on the same page and I immediately knew this was the place where we are supposed to be now.  My heart felt settled. 

 All three churches that I've mentioned in this " after the pulpit" experience of mine are solid in their theology and all three seem to be healthy in terms of their polity and practice.  But for some reason or another there was something subjective that I can't explain as to why I didn't feel like I belonged  at the first two.  I think a lot of people feel the same uneasiness when they know they're in the wrong place but don't wait on God to make the move.  Having been the pastor of the church that I gave up to new leadership to start a new church,  really felt like taking up the cross and denying myself for the sake of the kingdom.  Staying in that church for three years also felt like taking up my cross and denying myself for the sake of the kingdom. 

 But I'm glad that I waited for God to show me his time and his circumstances to move me instead of making that decision when I felt the most uncomfortable leaving behind a gaping hole with little more than an email to explain myself. 

 


▴ Top of page