When People Leave

I recall reading an article by then pastor Joe McKeever about a family in his church who had been going through a very difficult time. He spent considerable time counseling and praying for them. He was personally invested in their spiritual and physical health during this time of crisis. After a lengthy period of struggle, the family emerged in good shape and were glad for all his assistance. Then, suddenly without warning, they called and informed him they were leaving the church. McKeever was devastated. He was shocked, betrayed, and honestly explained that it took a while to get over it. Once they didn’t need him, they left the church. That’s how he felt about it. That’s how any pastor would feel about it.

More recently, I came across this article called “The Monday Hello.” It is one of the best resources I have found about the pain and frustration that ministers go through when people attend their church for a while and then leave for another one.

I have had to deal with this reality in each of the congregations I have served. There’s a difference in losing a church member who never attended in the first place, and then having someone you have become friends with decide he can no longer attend the church in which you are the pastor. Often times it goes something like “We like you, pastor, but . . .” A lot of times it relates to activities or programs that you’re church either isn’t or can’t offer. It is a development that pastors of all denominational brands have had to respond to and understand. Then there are times when people visit a few times and don’t return. It is tough to explain to folks why this happens sometimes.

What I really appreciate about “the monday hello” is that the author gives good advice about how pastors ought to respond to people when they pull away. There are times when people contact you and let you know, while other times they perform a “disappearing act” and you never really figure out what you may have done to cause them to leave. Most pastors I have talked to feel somewhat responsible about losing a church member, even though in reality they may have had nothing to do with it. After all, they’re the pastor.

There are possible lessons to be learned from the exit of some church members, and in some ways these can help the church change, become stronger, and more effective in its ministry. However, there are other times when the departure of these members or the exit of those who attend a few times may be a way that the Lord is taking care of his church. It had been a while since I had thought of it this way, and this article helped me see that again.

It’s always a joy when people are baptized or join the church, and even more so when they become active through there service, giving, and participation in life on the congregation. I guess in a sense, though, we are all temporary and passing through. And if we are doing our best to work in our corner of the Kingdom field, then that’s just about all we can do and trust the Lord with the rest. We need to love and encourage people while they are in our lives, and then bless them as they move on and focus on what God is doing in the life of your congregation. The Lord truly does “add to his church” and as this happens I will do my best to accentuate the positive things that God is doing and leave the rest up to him.

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