People leave churches, and they leave churches for all kinds of reasons. This is especially true of college students and young adults who tend to be more mobile and less attached. Sure, moving is a great reason to leave a local church – but that’s not the only reason people leave. Some of those other reasons are good and valid, but many of them are not. Regardless of what the reason is, the decision to leave a local church is not just a decision about where you’re going to spend a couple of hours on Sunday morning. There are bigger implications here.
Our decision to stay or leave a church is a reflection of something else going on in our hearts. It is also a reflection of what we truly believe about the nature and purpose of the church. For that reason, we should be very careful in making such a decision. It is a significant one, and one that I hope we would ask at least three questions concerning before we actually move forward:
- Is this church faithfully teaching and living the Bible?
It’s important to ask this question to establish a baseline. If a church is not faithfully and living the Bible, then leaving is a good decision because that church has really violated what it means to be a church at all. But if you ask this question first, and you have to honestly acknowledge that the church you are currently in is a faithful, gospel-loving, Bible-believing expression of the body of Christ, then you should have real pause before moving further.
- What is the real reason I am considering leaving?
If the church you’re a part of is a faithful one, then you need to reckon with the real reason that you’re leaving. Is it that you don’t like the preaching? Is it that the worship doesn’t suit you? Is it because someone in the church has hurt your feelings? Is it because the church down the street is more popular this semester? This is an opportunity to dig deeply, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you do so. At the end of that search, the real reason you’re leaving is probably simpler than you think. And more times than not, it’s an emotional one. Again, you should pause here.
After all, if you’re leaving this church because of an emotional reason, isn’t it just a matter of time until you feel that same emotion at the church you’re headed to next? Even further, does your decision to leave the church reflect a consumeristic mentality when it comes to the body of Christ? Consider carefully.
- Am I taking this decision seriously enough?
Then there’s one final question. Jesus died for His church. The church will live on into eternity. The local church is the bride of Christ. The church is the manifestation of God’s wisdom, a testimony to kingdoms and heavenly authorities.
When you look at it like that, it helps cast our decision to leave in the appropriate light. This is a big deal. And we should treat it like that. This is not a decision you make after one conversation or one bad sermon.
If you walk through these questions and others, and if you still are convinced that you need to leave a particular church, please don’t just drift away. Speak to your pastor. Talk to your elders. These are leaders who bleed for that local body of Christ. And whether you mean to or not, your decision will dramatically affect them.
Sometimes it’s time. And you need to go. But if you look at the church the way Jesus looks at the church, you should think twice before going somewhere else.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua (10), Andi (7), and Christian (5). He serves as Director of Groups Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. As a communicator, Michael speaks across the country at churches, conferences, and retreats and is the author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God; Transformational Discipleship; and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. Find him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.