Moving Away or Moving On–What to Do Next When Leaving a Church You Loved

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We live in a transient area of the country. Over the last 18 months, we’ve had approximately 70 move out of our city (Denver) from our church of 150-160 pre-COVID. Whether it is the politics, the market, or just wanting to live in a place that suits them better. Some have opted to go to other churches in the area that provide ministries that they hope will help them grow in the faith or have environments for them and their children. 

Whatever reason you have for moving away or moving on, here are some things from this pastor that I recommend you doing.

Moving Away

If you’re considering moving away from the town or city to another town or city:

  1. Pray over whether this is truly God’s call. Yes, politics play their role. Yes, the market can be steep. Yes, our homelands can call us. The true question is, “Is God really calling you to move?” He may be calling you as followers of Jesus to stay in a city or town as part of your Great Commission task. Then again, He may not! Before one does anything of this magnitude, pray and ask God for wisdom. Ask others to come along as well!
  2. Come talk to your pastor. He has spent months, even years, prayerfully and carefully shepherding you and your family. He does not see you as a mere cog in the ecclesiastical machine but as part of the family of God. Let him in on what’s happening with you and your family, especially a big move such as this. He has had conversations like this dozens of times in the past and provides not only care but some wisdom in moving on.
  3. Begin looking for another church that preaches unashamedly from Scripture and cares about each other and their community. Most churches have websites that provide information about the church. Along with seeing if they have environments for particular demographics, look at their Statement of Faith, listen to their sermons, and look at their calendar. Their Statement of Faith shows what they believe, and their calendar shows whether they are doing anything with what they believe.
  4. Consider, too, the neighborhood. Living near your church (or your church being near you) would be ideal. You will be a part of the neighborhood and community you and your church are trying to reach. 
  5. Check out the schools (if you are parents/grandparents with children living at home). Our schools are not just educational outlets but mission fields. If you opt to homeschool, what are some ways your family may become engaged in communities who are more and more drifting away from God’s design and values? 
  6. Talk to the Chamber of Commerce to get a feel for the community culture in the area. 

Moving On

If you plan to move on to another church in your town or city…

  1. Pray about this. (See above!) In addition, pray so God will truly reveal the reason behind your desire to leave. Is the church embracing heresy? Is the sanctuary too cold/hot/warm? Is the music not to your taste? Are there true theological concerns at play or are you leaving for mere preferences? Are you able to grow? What standards are you using to determine whether a church helps you “grow?” Moving on from a church must not come from a knee jerk reaction. No matter where you go, challenges will exist due to every church having imperfect people in need of grace and mercy.
  2. Come talk to your pastor. (See above!) Along with this will come some awkwardness. Moving far away is one thing (this usually has to do with job or family care). Moving to another church in the same town is awkward because, likely, there is something about the present church that facilitates this move. Over the years, I’m shocked at how few come and talk to their pastors (not just me–this is a pattern!). Some may feel the conversations will do no good. Others do not want to hurt feelings. The reasons are numerous–and all of them. But don’t just … leave. Refrain from ghosting. Have that conversation before you decide to go. 
  3. Ask yourself, “Are you expecting too much from the church you’re leaving?” As mentioned in #1, no church is perfect because imperfect people populate them. All have challenges and all are reminders of our need for mercy and grace. Ed Stetzer warned pastors not to always be looking to the next church or idealizing another church. They have the same struggles just in different ways. God gives us four things that every church must have: preaching of the Word, making disciples, observing the ordinances, and engaging our neighbors. No church will do these perfectly, but every church must be on that trajectory. Christ builds His church in His way, not ours. Make sure the metrics you use are not mere preferential and consumeristic but grounded on the Person and work of Christ. 
  4. Have you been a mere spectator or a servant? Sometimes, people join a church but do not get involved. Sometimes this happens because the systems in the church do not provide on-ramps to those who are new to the church, thus only allowing those already established and entrenched to serve because they know the church’s “culture.” It is the responsibility of the church to understanding the giftings of the members to help them serve in the right lane, but it’s also the responsibility of the member to find a way to serve Jesus. None of us are called to be spectators but to run the play on the field, serving Jesus and each other all the while. Before you leave, ask yourself if you have tried to find ways to contribute to Kingdom work. If you have, praise God! If not, help become part of the solution.
  5. Don’t apply a “scorched earth” policy when you leave. While you should talk to your pastor and other key people if you plan to leave, refrain from the gossip that can accompany leaving. If you have grievances that you have prayed through and are grounded in Scripture, then speak that truth in love and leave with a desire to see the church you leave flourish. Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to leave making sure everyone recognizes that you’re leaving and that the church will go south without you and your gifts and your tithe (yes, some have leveraged that aspect of worship to their own gain), and on, and on, and on. Don’t make it personal or take it personal. Make it productive and constructive.
  6. Keep the friendships you’ve acquired. This should be obvious, but the awkwardness of leaving a church while staying in town often means lost or discontinued friendships. As Jim Croce once sang, “But it doesn’t have to be that way.” We are brothers and sisters in Christ, even if we choose not to attend the same church. We must have a kingdom mindset, not simply a local church mindset, when it comes to one another. The extension of mercy and grace applies here as well. People are not simply there for us and when we’re done, we discard them like an old toy. We are called to love another (John 13:34-35), mutually pouring into each other. 

None of these are easy–for people or churches! Praying about these decisions accompanied with open dialogues will certainly help everyone move forward in a Christ-like way.

What are some other things to consider?

One thought on “Moving Away or Moving On–What to Do Next When Leaving a Church You Loved

  1. I am thankful for the wisdom of this post. As a pastor, reading this saddens me because, all too often, those who leave our church family do so without really considering many of the points that have been raised in this article. One of the things that I have wondered is, after praying about a move (whether to a new locale or simply to another church), have people really taken the time to “listen” to God for His answer. I say this because, as a pastor, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say they have prayed about something and, yet, they go and do exactly what they want to do anyway. Oh, how many people would just press on in endurance and faith if they only took time to really be still and listen for God’s answer. In fact, sometimes the “being still” isn’t even required. Sometimes God’s answer is clear. It’s just not heeded.

    Another point that I really appreciated was the “Come talk to your pastor.” How many issues can be resolved just by clarifying misunderstanding? How many grudges can be erased simply by letting someone know that you’ve been hurting. Several times I’ve had people come to me upset with someone’s inaction simply because that other person didn’t do something for them. Several times I’ve heard of people leaving a church (and sometimes in the church I’m pastoring) because they thought such-and-such about my thoughts or policy decisions and, yet, they never talked to me! On the other hand, several times I’ve had people who were disgruntled come and talk–some even come and yell in my face–and, yet, the conversation ended with better understanding for both myself and them. How I would choose someone yelling at me or even hitting me but solving a misunderstanding than just having them ghost the church. I pretty much always appreciate when someone brings a criticism or hurt to me.

    Such good points that you’ve raised, Matt. And the advice on emphasizing preferences over perseverance. So true too. Great advice. Thanks, brother.

    Like

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