issue 33 whenpeopleleave bsutton 072623

Issue #33: When People Leave

Faithful & Fruitful Pastoring

I will never forget when I heard a senior leader say, “if you think that every person in your church now will be there this time next year, you’re only fooling yourself.” At first, I was a little taken back and honestly not sure I agreed with him. After doing a quick mental survey of the people in my church, I couldn’t see how any of them would leave.

Boy, was I wrong! That man’s words proved to be prophetic. People left routinely.

And yet, I never got used to people leaving the church. I still haven’t. To this day, it saddens me, and I take it personally.

People leave for all kinds of reasons. “I am not being fed.” “I don’t like the pastor.” They get mad at someone or something in the church. The church down the road has a better youth ministry. They don’t like the music. The reasons are endless.

So…how do we respond when people leave our church? Because it’s not if, but when. Here are five ways.

  1. Don’t take it personally. I just said I still take it personally, and now I am telling you not to take it personally. That’s because it’s easier to give advice than take it. Regardless of my ability to heed sound wisdom, this point is true and crucial. When someone leaves your church, it usually has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. I had a recovery mentor who made us commit to live by certain truths. One of them was, “I will not take anything personally.” His point is the one I am making here. People’s decisions are more about their issues than yours.
  2. Try to debrief. Even though their reason for leaving has more to do with them than you, try to figure out why they’re leaving. Even if their reasons are ridiculous, you may gain insight into how to improve your ministry.
  3. Trust God. When people leave, it is painful. But if you trust God and believe the Bible, you must believe this is happening for your good and the good of the church (Romans 8:28). All things are working according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). Trust the Lord.
  4. In some cases, celebrate. Often times, the person who leaves is problematic. When they exit, I call that addition by subtraction. Their departure means less problems and more peace. This is cause for celebration.
  5. Remember, they won’t be the last. It’s tempting to think, “I am glad that’s over. Now I can shepherd the people who will be with me forever.” Remember to look around. In a year, not all of them will be there. Such is the nature of church ministry. People come. People go. The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Keep in mind the words of the Apostle Peter. “Shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5). You are responsible for the ones in your care—not the ones who leave. Make sure you’re doing your best by God to shepherd the ones who have decided to stay. Which means, don’t be consumed with the ones who are now gone. You are not responsible for them any longer. You are responsible for the ones who agreed to stay. Be thankful for them. Love them and pastor them faithfully.

Be sure to check out my new podcast—Faithful and Fruitful Pastoring.
It’s on Spotify and Apple. It’s for pastors and ministry leaders and designed to equip and encourage you for you ministry.