I recently visited a church and listened to the pastor talk about people leaving the church and the impact it has on his psyche.
My heart broke for him as he mentioned several, seemingly nonsense reasons people “say” they are leaving the church.
So what do you do when members leave your church?
We are all sensitive to criticism, but when it comes from those we work diligently to serve it can feel like a personal attack.
The consultant part of me wants to take the pastor up to 50,000 feet and let him see things from a different perspective.
Often when we rise about the fray we can see things as they really are, and not what one or two disgruntled people make it seem.
5 Things to Do When Members Leave Your Church
1. Find Out Why
In customer satisfaction theory, drilling down to the root cause of a complaint is the best way to determine if there needs to be a correction made.
A complaining member can be looked at as a friend because they are often voicing concerns that others think but may not be expressing.
I always say it is better to know, even if it hurts, than to not know.
Because people talk. And if something needs correcting it is better for someone to voice the complaint with the church, than other church members.
I’ve seen disgruntled people have a negative influence on otherwise happy people. It is like a cancer that spreads and needs to be contained.
Complaining church members can be challenging but often there are nuggets of opportunity that can be gleaned from their complaints.
Discerning what is nonsense and what is a practical improvement opportunity can be the difference between improving how the church provides its services and catering to someone who has a personal agenda that will never be satisfied.
For example, the pastor shared the story of a couple walking out of the church right when he was encouraging church members to participate in the final stages of a capital campaign for a new kids building.
For the hundreds of other people in the auditorium that day, it was an inspirational plea to support the kids financially without the burden of church debt.
Walking out of that service was nonsense.
2. Determine Lessons Learned
As painful as it is for a pastor to hear someone is leaving the church, there can be lessons learned in the process.
Talk to a trusted, honest confidant and gauge their perception.
Ask if there is something you are missing or if there is anything you or the church could have done differently to avoid losing a member.
More times than not, it is a matter of choice for the member and it wouldn’t make much difference what the church did.
If there are things to learn from the situation, use your leadership team to put a plan in place to correct it.
For instance, if a family announces they are leaving because they are looking for a children’s program for their young kids, get a team and make a plan to develop a children’s ministry that will support young families.
3. Trust God
Sometimes people leave a church because God is moving them.
This is difficult to understand but I am a firm believer that we all have seasons in our lives.
And seasons come and they go.
People may be called to a particular church for a season and then God has a plan to use them elsewhere.
This is when it is important to trust God and believe that He is who places people in their respective roles in the church.
4. Be Thankful
Every church has experienced that, what I call, a high maintenance member.
The person who complains about everything.
The lighting, the sound, the seats, the carpet, the restrooms, the AC…..you know who I’m talking about.
Sometimes it is a relief when people like this leave.
They are people who don’t contribute and only add to the problem rather than be part of the solution.
Sometimes you have to be thankful when some people leave.
5. Reach Out
Often people leave a church and simply don’t tell anyone. They just disappear.
Make sure you have systems in place so you know when a committed church member disappears.
There are times when there are issues that the church is not aware of and the member has left to lick their wounds.
Reaching out at times like these can help to bring healing.
For example, a woman who works at a salon I go to was a volunteer at her church.
She shared a story of how she got inappropriately reprimanded by a church volunteer and was accused of something that was not true.
The unfortunate part of the story was that the church delegated correcting the volunteer to another volunteer and the results were disastrous.
Not only did this woman leave the church but she completely stopped going to church. Sometimes offenses happen that require pastoral support to correct.
If someone simply disappears, it may be a sign that pastoral intervention is needed.
Churches are simply big families. It is a collection of people who do life together.
This is why it can be so painful when someone decides to leave.
However, figuring out how to learn and grow as an organization, and accept natural member movement, can liberate how you mentally process learning that a member has left your church!