There are many different reasons that families or individuals leave churches. Sometimes the church does not offer the programs that the family desires for their children. Sometimes the vision or leadership of the church changes. Often, though, in our fallen world, people get hurt or offended. Some leave churches in anger and bitterness, swearing to never step foot inside their doors again. Others leave churches because it hurts too much to stay.
A friend text messaged me recently asking, “How does one leave a church?” I don’t know that there is one right way. I only know how God led our family to leave a church 9 years ago.
In our situation, the vision and the direction of the church changed, and God’s vision and direction for our family had not. The church was morphing more into a seeker-friendly church. What we desired for our family was a Holy Spirit-led service where there was room for prophetic words and prophetic worship.
I will be honest. There were a lot of hurt feelings in the process of leaving our church. We had been a part of this church for nine years and these people were FAMILY. I remember literally pulling my hair out one day in the shower because I was so confused and distraught. This was ten years ago, and by comparison, we were young and stupid then. We probably didn’t do everything the right way, but we did do two things correctly:
1) We sat down with two different spiritual fathers that we trusted and shared with them our situation. We let them hear our hearts and we allowed them to speak truth into our lives. Our desire was to be humble and teachable and to act with honor and integrity.
2) We invited our pastor into our home and shared our hearts with him and worked through some miscommunication with him. In the end, we left his church, but we left on good terms and he knew exactly why we were leaving. When we see his family in public today, we can greet them with pure hearts.
In leaving a church, don’t burn a bridge. Don’t just quit showing up. It would be helpful if you could let the church leadership know that you are leaving and why – that way they can make changes if needed. One pastor that I asked about this topic had this to say:
“Even though it’s uncomfortable and scary to sit down and talk about it, it’s a hidden blessing to the pastor and deacon for one to let them know how their actions affected them. Regardless of how they respond, they need to know. As a leader, I’d much rather a follower leave letting me know why than just disappear. I don’t have to agree with the reason, but at least it gives me the opportunity to pray about it and take it to the Lord. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle of the two perspectives. If one leaves a church with unresolved conflict, it will hurt them in the long run…”
If you have been hurt by your pastors or church family, you have some further steps to take. This is what Jesus said we are to do for our enemies in Luke 6:27-28
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
In addition to forgiving those who have hurt you, you have to choose to love them. If possible, do something good for them. Bless them and pray for them. Do not gossip about them. That is the hardest of all.
The most important thing for you to do is to follow the voice of Holy Spirit as He leads you. Listen and obey, and you will know exactly what to do for your situation.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21
Leaving a church is hard. You will grieve the loss of your tight-knit church family. Some of your church family may turn a cold shoulder towards you now that you’ve left their flock. Hang in there. Allow God time to heal your broken heart. In time, He will plant you in a new fold. Relationships will form and you will find ways to serve again. In time, your family will be flourishing.
I know that my family has flourished in our new church. My husband is now an elder, I am a Bible teacher, my daughter is a worship leader, and my son is an employee. We are in the right place for this season in our lives. Our choice to leave our previous church was excruciating and difficult, but it was the right choice for our family.