Two pastors debate whether alienating some people to attract others is good practical theology or a failure of leadership.
To grow, often a church must first lose some people. Many church leaders understand the reality of that principle. When members who resist changes that promote evangelism depart, the church is freer to achieve its mission. But in the long run, does the church benefit from a philosophy of "If you don't like it, you're welcome to leave"?
The answers significantly influence how a pastor leads change in the church. Two experienced pastors explain their differing stances.
Health Requires Pruning
My wife and I felt cramped sitting in the tiny church office with Steve and Brenda (not their real names). They wanted us to know they had decided to leave the church.
It was hard to believe what I was hearing. They were pillars. Between them, they had served on the church board, preached in worship, spoken at women's retreats, coordinated the usher ministry, taught a Bible class, and given generously.
I considered them friends.
Steve and Brenda had become increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the church. Caring for the 99 sheep ranked higher with them than reaching the lost or displaced ones. They felt uncomfortable with our growing plans and growing pains. We had talked many times before, and they tried to be part of the solution, but ultimately they found themselves sitting on the opposite side of the fence from me.
I felt sad when they left, but I blessed them in their decision. Sometimes you must lose members who don't accept the church's mission.
Outgrown spiritual heritage
Fact: People leave churches. Often the reasons are good: a job relocation or a move to attend college. Or their spiritual convictions change. Over time, they no longer find themselves in agreement with their church heritage.
Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline and Prayer, writes about the five dimensions of spiritual life. These dimensions in many ways represent the main spiritual heritages of most Protestant churches:
- contemplative—the prayer-filled life,
- holiness—the virtuous life,
- charismatic—the Spirit-empowered life,
- social justice—the compassionate life,
- evangelical—the Word-centered life.
Many people, in their spiritual development, move from one tradition to another. What was once invigorating and positive becomes too familiar. Such people need a fresh setting; they've outgrown their heritage.
A friend grew up in a church with a strong social-justice heritage. He had a strong commitment to compassion, but he reached a point where he was drawn to a charismatic church. A different aspect of his spirit needed to be developed.
Each church must understand its spiritual heritage—where it fits, what it's good at. Some members will inevitably move on because their church can't provide what they want or need. I like to call this "graduating."
Some members graduate from "our style church" to "another style church." ...