It’s hard when people leave a church.
It’s hard to leave. It’s hard being left.
Most who leave don’t make that decision lightly. They deal with some serious pain when they finally make the decision to go. As a pastor I’m more familiar with seeing good people leave the church than being the person who goes through the pain of leaving, so that’s what I want to address in this post.
If you’ve been a pastor for several years, you’ve had to deal with your share of such departures. Each one hurts. It’s especially hard when those leaving are long-term members.
The collective pain from years of those departures can wear a pastor down.
Even if the church is large and growing, it can be hard when people leave. But when the church is small, each loss is much more painful.
First, there’s the math. The percentage loss is much higher than in a bigger church. When a small church loses just one family it can mean massive changes in entire ministries.
Second – and most difficult – it’s not just a drop in attendance, tithers or volunteers. It’s the loss of people we know. People we’ve invested in. People we’re friends with. And that hurts.
No Answers, But Maybe Some Solace
It’s taken me a long time to hit “publish” on today’s post because, when I raise an issue, I like to provide solutions. But today’s post is not about answers. It’s a public recognition of our shared private pain. With the hope that we can find some sort of solace by knowing we’re not alone in these feelings.
Here are some painful truths many pastors feel when people leave:
1. It Hurts When People Leave the Church
There are two realities about pastoral ministry that we cannot change: 1) People will leave the church. 2) It will hurt when they leave.
We can deny those truths or acknowledge them. Denial gives them power and allows the next departure to surprise us – and hurt us even more.
Acknowledging it… well, at least we can remove the weapon of surprise from this nasty beast.
2. It Hurts When It’s Someone We’ve Invested In
Sometimes it seems like the people who are most likely to leave the church are the ones we’ve spent the most time with, helped through the hardest trials and seen the most progress in.
I understand that people need a fresh start after they’ve been through some emotional and/or spiritual trauma. But it still hurts to invest all that time, energy, emotion and compassion only to hear them say buh-bye after you’ve helped them get healthy again.