We live in divisive times. As such this era of angst, red states, blue states, choosing sides and picking enemies has filtered into the church and has made pastoring more challenging than ever. Blame consumerism, politics, sinfulness, or selfishness for the discontentment that has led many folks to break up with their church by either walking completely away or seeking greener pastures.
I have had people leave because they didn’t like my preaching; felt that we talked too much about money; or didn’t like the style of music in the worship service. Some folks didn’t like the denomination’s stance on (pick the topic): the Bible, women in ministry, homosexuality, speaking in tongues, social justice, our colleges, evangelism or the end times. Once a lady broke up with the church because she received a thank you note and she didn’t like the way the thank you was worded. I’m not kidding, she left over a thank you note. One week, two different families told me they were leaving the church. One was breaking up because they thought we were too liberal. The other was breaking up because they thought we were too conservative. Go figure.
When people break up with their church, usually there is a stated reason and then there is the real reason. For example, people know that if they gave the real reason (i.e. “my kid didn’t get picked for the lead role in the Christmas program”), it would make them look like a church version of a wacked out Hollywood parent. So instead of being honest (“I really don’t want to tithe and don’t want to be reminded of my disobedience!” Hmmm… maybe I do talk too much about money), they give a more spiritually sounding reason. My favorite is: “we aren’t being fed.”
The “we aren’t being fed” excuse is a popular church break up line. Usually, it’s spoken by someone not involved in a small group, not reading their Bible on a consistent basis, not tithing (there I go again) and/or not spending time in prayer. If their actual eating habits mirrored their spiritual disciplines they would have starved to death long ago. But it’s easier to blame the pastor’s meatless sermons. “We aren’t being fed” sounds so deeply spiritual. You can’t argue with someone who is simply looking to grow in the Lord, can you? Another popular exit reason is given when their adolescent child is unruly. Again, it is easier to blame the youth pastor for the misbehaviors of their Jr. Genghis Kahn rather than accept responsibility for their parenting skills (or lack thereof) or the free will being exercised by their little tyrant.
Listen, if you are looking for the perfect church. Good luck. It doesn’t exist, not as long as people attend. I tell people all the time, “our church isn’t perfect because they let me pastor and I am not perfect.” No one has hollered an “Amen” to my “not perfect” confession, but I think a few disgruntled folks have wanted to express it. The truth is our Enemy loves it when people storm off or quietly slip away from a church that is attempting to follow after God. As long as they are gone, the Enemy is happy.
Instead of church shopping when you don’t like something in your church, how about trying this tactic instead: pray and serve. Pray for your church. Pray for your pastor. Pray, serve and love with a Christ-like attitude. Pray that you can be part of the solution instead of problem. Determine that you are going to love, love and love some more. You’ll be surprised to discover how great your church really is when you are praying, serving, loving and giving.
Amen and Amen. this is Truth. Can I be like Martin Luther and post it all over town?!?
Excellent and so TRUE! You will never grow spiritually if you don’t feed yourself. You have to dive into the bible, go to biblestudies, teach sunday school or childrens church, participate in a group at church, missions, youth, kitchen duties, decorating. Play an active role in the church and you will find yourself growing to your amazement SPIRITUALLY. The Holy Spirit is working on you and will lead you to want more. You will grow in knowledge as you lean on your seasoned members of the church for advice. Attending Sunday School will help you bond with other congregants and learn to pray about their problems as well as ask for prayer for your own. We are a MIGHTY BIG SUPPORT GROUP IF YOU ALLOW US INTO YOUR LIFE.
Thank you Pastor Rob! Janice Spayd
Thank you Rob. I pastor a smaller church. We are currently recovering from the loss of some people who needed something better (they meant bigger) for their kids. I have even been told that we wish I were the pastor of (big church in town) so it is not about me. The loss is still difficult and finding leadership and critical mass to run the programs they wanted is now even harder. I don’t begrudge people wanting more for their family. I just wish they would be willing to dig in and help it happen here rather than looking elsewhere. Bless you as you serve Christ and His church.
What would you recommend for people who attend service and Sunday school, serve joyfully, worship enthusiastically, volunteer, represent in the community, read our Bible daily, Share Jesus at work, attend meetings and Bible studies, pray with most everyone including waitresses and the guy at the QT and still leave on Sunday without connection or that inner discernment of communication with the Spirit?
Well, Tim… I think I would commit to praying for your pastor, leadership team and that the Holy Spirit would be evident in your church. If no change after a bit, I would talk to your pastor and see if he/she senses the same thing or if others are and together you could join in prayer. I would talk to some of the mature Christians and see if they would join in prayer. I think seeking the Lord is the key.
We train our churches to be enormously petty, small and practically shame each other into accepting mediocrity. Never mind we don’t bother evangelizing the lost. It’s no wonder people aren’t that loyal to a given church.
Meantime, half of my old church argued with itself over worship style, until it split, and the old-guard nursed itself into insolvency, and the church was eventually dissolved, and the buildings were sold.
Never mind the notion that worshipers needed to be stimulated in new ways each week like ADHD victims. Which necessarily makes worship unpredictable and often made to appear, if not actually be, disorganized.
For a year I was fortunate to attend the largest church in the area (7,000 worshipers) over six services. Every service was the same, from week to week. They never interrupted the routine with kid’s programs, or special musicians, or choirs. The music was simple, and yet well presented with a worship team, guitars and drums. It was never loud, and there was a good mix of hymns sung in new arrangements. Everything was singable. It wasn’t an effort at performance art sold as ‘worship.’
What I appreciated most was that everything was predictable, routine, well-rehearsed, and well-presented. There was never a cringe factor.
This was a complete departure from my old Nazarene church, that offered the most ad hoc, loosely-organized (as in badly organized) worship services, where the sound system squawked and whistled and there would be long gaps in timing, and generally unprofessional presentations of the music and the word.
I noted that the mega church was built upon “chronic” and consistent evangelism. Evangelism was their main thrust. Not worship style. Again, their worship was plain Jane, if not exactly sixty-minutes long. They often invited people to the front to accept Christ. It wasn’t unusual for over one hundred people to come forward at a time.
Meantime, there was strong loyalty to both the church and the pastoral staff. Moreover, the congregants seemed ‘fine’ with whatever the church offered as worship, since many hadn’t known the difference between a ‘worship service’ and a ‘warship in service,’ before they became believers.
It seems to me that if our churches focused more on fulfilling the great commission and the great commandment, we’d have fewer people looking to church hop.