Sometimes people leave your church! Some leave quietly, suddenly skulking away; others leave with a song and a dance and with maximum drama slamming the door loudly on their way out making sure everyone and their dog knows exactly why they are leaving and why the glory has now departed from your fellowship.
Firstly, let’s establish that people leaving is not always bad. Sending someone to plant a church would be a clear example of someone leaving and it being awesome. But when someone who doesn’t give, spreads gossip, causes division finally decides they are going – that’s a blessing. A church of 70 with peace is better than a church of 700 with strife.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. He is not telling the same parable three times, but talking about three people who all get lost for different reasons. When someone leaves your church there are different reasons behind it and your response should be different based on the person.
1. The Distracted Person
Some people are like sheep – easily distracted. Sheep get lost because they see something shiny or moving and wander over to it and lose the herd. They wander off – going to a market one Sunday, dealing with a family crisis the next, then they just lose contact with the flock and each week they don’t go it gets harder to come back.
How to deal with people like that – go and get them back. Go hunt them down and bring them back – they want to come back, they are just not sure how.
2. The Offended Person
The coin was lost because the woman lost the coin. Some people are lost because they get offended at someone else. “That person wasn’t nice to me” – well, welcome to a church that is open to everyone, including you, including them. It never ceases to amaze me how thin skinned Christians can be, getting offended over the songs sung, the attire of the preacher, the hair cut of the preacher – if there is a silly reason to get upset someone will. And of course, let’s be honest sometimes things happen that are offensive – churches are populated by humans and sometimes we badly let people down.
Some people get upset and just vanish. What to do? Turn the house upside down, sweep the floor – find the reason and make it right with the person.
3. The Self-Willed Person
Some people fancy themselves as the lone wolf – they don’t need a pack; they want to do things their way, they don’t want to listen to the preached Word, just TV speakers (why? because they can change channel if it upsets their theologies), some people don’t want to be around people they can’t control, some people want to come into the church and do church their way. The worst thing a pastor can hear is “my last church used to…” as they immediately think “well go back there.”
I once had a series of emails from an individual who did not want to be part of a church body. He did not want an organized church. I told him to find a church with less than 5 people because otherwise there needs to be organization. Even a family with a child is organized! He told me to be more like a certain church. I said if he liked that church so much he should go there, he pointed out it didn’t exist anymore. It didn’t – there was a coup and the church split every which way possible. Not really a good model for going on!
Some people leave because they want their inheritance, they want to walk in their dreams and they know they are not. But rather than admit they have flaws they need to work on in community, that they need the help of the church, that they need discipling, they blame you for withholding their inheritance from them, storm off, demand their way and leave.
Listen carefully: don’t go chasing people like that. Wait until they are eating the pig food then they will come back. If they don’t come back, you are better off without them. If you after them, it will engender strife and waste your time.
Let them come to their senses. It’s a waiting game, and it’s hard, but it is the only way to deal with the self-willed. Save your hunting energy for the lost sheep