Christian Unity
When People Leave: The Private Pain Of The Small Church Pastor
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.

3. It Hurts When They’ve Been Friends

Not everyone in your church needs to be your friend. But some should be. Yet a lot of pastors resist having friends in the church because when they leave, it’s really painful.

Ellen Jacobs addressed this issue poignantly from the perspective of a pastor’s wife in her blog post, It’s Hard When Friends Leave. Here is some of what she wrote.

Whether the reason for leaving is bad or good, it leaves a wound behind.

So what do we do? I think we mourn for a while, perhaps a long while if needed. We ask God to dress our wound. We process, we pray, and time goes by.

And you know what we don’t do? We don’t write that person off. We don’t forget all the good that existed in that friendship. We don’t subconsciously (or consciously) vow to never open ourselves up to people again.

Good words, Ellen.

4. It Hurts When They Leave Without Telling Us Why

Church consultants recommend doing exit interviews to help us understand why church members left. That’s a great idea. In theory.

Exit interviews work well in larger churches, but it’s one of those principles that doesn’t transpose smoothly into the smaller setting.

Exit interviews work well in larger churches because the person conducting the interview probably doesn’t know them personally. But it’s one of those principles that doesn’t transpose smoothly into the smaller setting.

When people leave a smaller congregation, who should conduct the exit interview? The pastor they now have an awkward relationship with? The deacon they’ve been gossiping with? The new family who barely knows the church and the issues involved?

No. In a small church, the pastor calls and/or emails the person they haven’t seen in a while to ask if they’ve been sick or on vacation. Even though we have a strong suspicion of what’s really going on. If they answer the phone or return the email, that’s our exit interview. And it can be very awkward and painful – for both sides.

If they don’t return emails or phone calls – which happens quite often – there’s nothing to do but feel hurt for a while, then soldier on. The silent, unanswered departure is never easy.

Since this post is about making private pain public, here’s a hard truth that I’ve heard some small church pastors admit to each other. We don’t always make that call when we know what the answer will be. We know we should, but we can’t always handle the rejection.

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January 19, 2018 at 10:00 AM

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