5 HELPFUL TIPS FOR WHEN FAMILIES LEAVE YOUR CHURCH
Has the scenario below ever happened to you?
A family that you know well and have faithfully served informs you they’re leaving the church for another one in town. Maybe they don’t even bother to tell you – which leaves you pondering many possible reasons for their departure. It’s common for people in church to come and go over time. But rarely do we, as leaders, discuss helpful ways of handling these transitions.
We often spend considerable time discussing how we welcome people into our church family, but we spend very little time reflecting upon the process of a family’s departure from our church and the impact it can have both personally and organizationally. So, here are 5 helpful tips (plus a few reminders and questions) to consider the next time families leave your church.
1. Be careful of assumptions.
Do we really know the reason they left the church? Sometimes it’s obvious – the family moves to a new city or state, parents relocate for a new job, etc.
But other cases may involve several factors, not all of which may be presented to us. Depending on our experiences or interactions with the family, we may be tempted to develop a narrative that doesn’t reflect the truth.
We may do this to simply fill the void of unanswered questions, to cover shame, avoid conflict, or abdicate responsibility for a situation. And while this may be understandable, it isn’t helpful in dealing with the reality of a family’s departure.
We demonstrate wisdom by guarding our souls and not allowing our hearts and mind to dwell on inaccurate or unknown reasons someone left our church.
2. Don’t take it personally.
This is easier said than done. If you’ve served in ministry for any length of time, you know the pain, disappointment, shame, or frustration of people leaving your church. Depending on the context, it could even feel like failure or desertion.
That’s why it’s key for us to remember that it’s not always personal. There could be several reasons people leave, most of which may have nothing to do with us. A family’s exit doesn’t automatically mean our ministry was insufficient or unfruitful.
So long as we have sought to serve the Lord and families with humility and sincerity, we can endure in ministry and not fall prey to discouragement.
3. Where possible, seek to understand why.
Was there a family transition, unique need, or life event that impacted their ability to remain at the church? Was there an issue with a particular person or situation? Initially, we may not know that they’re gone for good or whether they’re attending church anywhere else at all.
A church’s communications systems and methods can go a long way in tackling these questions effectively. Consider which methods could help, such as online forms or direct messaging to allow people to share the timing and reason(s) for leaving.
This undoubtedly requires a healthy and thoughtful leadership team to utilize such a process. But it lets others know that we care when they are gone.
Taking the initiative like this equips our ministry team with a follow-up plan when church members become absent. In doing so, we improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the church’s ministry.
4. Remember, some people enter our lives for a season, for a reason.
Not everyone will remain a lifelong member of our church. Think about it: who knows how long we’ll continue to serve at our current church ourselves!?!
A wise mentor once reminded me that sometimes God sends people our way for a unique season and specific reason. And as mentioned earlier, our follow-up can help all parties involved navigate this transition in a healthy way.
Their involvement in our ministry or proximity to our lives may not be long-lasting. But the impact we have on them (as well as their impact on us) can prove vital to one’s ability to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
5. Consider the possibility of future encounters.
Think back to a family or individual that left your church. What would it be like if you saw them again in the grocery store or at an event? How might you interact with them? What was the tone of your final conversations with them? Was it seasoned with grace? Were you able to honor the transition for all parties involved?
In Romans, Paul exhorted believers in their relationships with others, that “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18) It may be rare for us to see or speak with former church members. But if such an occasion were to happen, would we be faithful to extend the same grace and mercy we hope to receive ourselves? Even in those final days of interaction, was my character and communication with them upright and uplifting? If not, we may need to go to the Lord and ask for healing and wisdom.
Additional checklist for when people leave your church, specifically when…
Check-in on the family as soon as you become aware of their departure. Consider the best method of doing so (email, phone call, text, or church form/communication). Reflect on what relationships they leave behind. Their departure may impact more people than we suspect. Seek to discover the various ways the family had experienced a sense of community.
Were they involved in a small group? Check-in on their leaders and peers. How has their departure impacted those in the group?
For kids/students – what school did they attend? Were there any on-campus ministries or key roles he/she held? Are there any mutual relationships you have at the school that may also be impacted by his/her departure?
STAFF MEMBER leaves
How does your church typically handle staff transitions?
Is there an understood process (e.g., Exit interviews, Farewell opportunities to allow members and leaders to say goodbye and experience closure)?
What impact will this staff member’s departure have on other ministries?
If possible, sit with the departing staff member so he/she can share responses to the following questions:
In what did ways did he or she feel they excelled in this role?
What did ways did he or she feel they struggled in this role?
In your opinion, in what condition are you leaving the relationships and ministry you oversaw?
What advice would you give the next person coming into this role? Are there areas that need immediate attention or improvement?
These types of questions can help discover any necessary adjustments to the ministry role itself, as well as identify early goals and expectations for the person following in his/her footsteps.
Volunteers often serve for a season. We do well to frequently check in on our leaders and volunteers to gauge their heart, willingness/ability to serve, and their effectiveness in doing so. On those occasions when a volunteer both steps down from leadership and leaves the church, consider the following:
- Did he/she provide a reason for the transition? Sometimes “I need a break” only scratches the surface of the heart’s deeper needs. Don’t dig more than he or she is willing to offer to you, but do check in as is appropriate.
- Extend gratitude. Be sure to both show and share how thankful you are for the way in which he or she served. If the individual steps down from a volunteer role but stays at your church, this may help him or her feel encouraged to serve again in the future.
- Check-in with those who served alongside him/her. Those that serve together share a special bond. It’s true for staff teams as well as volunteer teams.
- Without violating the individuals who left, check in with those he or she served with to make sure they’re cared for as well.
Our local church is part of the global and eternal Kingdom of God. And though our church is full of broken people, we serve a risen Savior that reigns victorious over everything. Jesus reminded Peter of this very truth, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) Even when church members, staff, or volunteers leave, we can take heart knowing that nothing will overcome the Kingdom of God. Recalling this truth spurs us on to obey the Lord’s call on our lives through all the seasons of life and ministry we face.
Nick Mobley has served in student ministry for 20 years and currently serves as Family Pastor at Northside Baptist in middle TN. His passion is helping families show and share their faith from house to house. He and his wife Courtney have 3 children, Samuel, Sophia, & Asa. They love ice cream, the outdoors, and think that Dauphin Island, Alabama, is one of the coolest places to spend a vacation. You can reach Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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