It seems that everyone has been talking lately about leaving churches and how to be graceful in doing so. And if it’s not how to leave a church, it’s how to take in someone who left another church or fire someone from your own church.
It’s a marketing nightmare. Churches are playing tug of war over staff members, pouting over laypeople leaving, and pointing the finger at everyone else for stealing people. Maybe this isn’t how it is everywhere, maybe I’m reading too much into it. I don’t think so. I would imagine that everything we see played out is only a fraction of what goes on in the hearts of church leadership.
It’s a difficult thing to swallow–your members leaving to go elsewhere. The knee-jerk reaction is to wonder why some other church is better than you. The Swerve Blog has a great entry on this. Christ offers some advice about this. He tells us that people will know we are Christians by our love for one another.
I’m not saying that the blogosphere is giving undue attention to this issue. I’m saying it should be less of an issue. There should be no inherent fear in leaving a church, and there should be no pouting at the loss of a member. If a member leaves for another church, they’re going to somewhere they will fit better. The body as a whole will function better.
I do want to mention two caveats to this. We all know that church-hoppers exist who will do this time and time again. This is a strain on the church, and the Bible doesn’t skimp on reproving someone for actions detrimental to the body of Christ. (See Paul kicking people out of the church or Christ reprimanding those only looking out for themselves.) But with every change, they are one step closer to realizing that the problem might not be with churches.
The second is that it is appropriate to mourn the moving on of a member. And some people will leave your church only to leave the church, and we should certainly mourn with God at these losses. Yes, it hurts when people leave your church. It’s a member of your family gone. We have a delicate balance to hold when people leave–to appropriately mourn the moving of a loved one and to praise God that his body of believers is becoming stronger.
The most important marketing move today might be how the world will see you respond to someone leaving. Are you truly happy for someone who leaves, or do you become angry with them? Do you have love-compelled sorrow for missing them, or is your sorrow catalyzed by anger or jealousy? This might be the key to understanding whether you are truly living with love or with a hidden agenda.