How to Not Be Hurt When Members Leave

I often see articles on the internet from various faith-based websites about how when members leave, it hurts the minister. After all, some may suggest, the minister may have invested time in those who leave and can’t help but sometimes take it personally. I am sure there is a circumstance that calls for this sort of hurt and is 100% spot-on. However, when members leave, we also mustn’t think that the local work of the church is so much about us that our pride is shattered.

Several years ago a Christian woman needed to speak with me. The church where I was then serving was where she grew up, but when she married, she moved to another state and lived there for a few years and had a loving church family. As she recounted tales about how close she was with her church family in the other state, she remarked that ever since she had moved back home and returned to her childhood congregation, she hadn’t felt connected with the people she’d grown around. Why?

My suggestion was that as we all grow, we can grow together or apart. Since she had grown in the other state, her friends back home had done their own growth, and the two weren’t together. It wasn’t that anyone wished her ill or her them, but that they had grown and found a normal that sadly excluded one another. For someone who says that they feel disconnected, one can only wonder what steps they’ve taken to connect. The blame wasn’t those whom she’d left, but partly hers too. She was insistent on things being done according to how she’d grown, but since other folks had grown differently, they were happy to keep their normal rather than have her bring in her outside growth into the community (church).

Sadly, she struggled immensely with this. After telling me of the ways she’d tried to engage, I later learned that some of the things she’d tried to start and do with her childhood church just didn’t fit the personality of that congregation. She told me that she would cry on her way to worship because she dreaded the feelings with which she fought. She was thinking of leaving. What she wanted to know was what I suggested.

I told her that she and her family have to worship where they feel a part of and where they felt they can best serve and grow closer to God. Since it wasn’t at this particular congregation, she needed to give herself permission to move on. I told her that I hated that this was where she was, but that I wouldn’t blame her one bit if she found a church home that better helped her serve God. I didn’t take it personally, and it didn’t hurt me, given the circumstances. Did I want to lose her and her family? No, but her walk with Christ was more important than my pride in how many people attended the congregation where I preached and ministered. I told her she should leave.

After all, if she left, it wasn’t that we would become enemies because we’d still be members of the body of Christ and would be together before the Lord’s presence always if His mercy granted such. We were still serving the same Lord and batting for the same team but in different locations. I haven’t taken people leaving personally because I truly want what’s best for them spiritually. If I can help to provide that, then I will, but if I’m unable to serve in that way, I pray that they can find somewhere that is fitting for them. Sometimes if we truly love people as we should, we have to be willing to let them go if it helps them in the long run.

If we insist on keeping people in the congregations where we serve whom we know aren’t happy, their mindset can infiltrate the local congregation. If that happens, it could stunt that particular body’s growth and even cause divisions. If folks want to go, let them. If they want to stay, help them get to where they need to be. Whatever we do, we must realize that it’s ultimately between the person and God and that we are but mere servants.

Steven Hunter (PhD, Faulkner University) is the preaching minister for the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, KY. He's also authored several books for Start2Finish, and Classically Christian explores Christianity from a church-historical perspective. Steven enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and is a practitioner of Goshin Ryu Jujutsu—a traditional Japanese martial art.