Pastors' Forum


Handling an Exodus

As a young pastor, it’s been difficult for me when people leave our church. At times, I’ve taken it very personally when people leave, as though I have failed. In other situations, I’ve found myself getting angry at people when they leave. I don’t want to be crushed or calloused. How can I process these situations spiritually, emotionally, and even logistically when people leave the church. I have to deal with all of this internally, but I also have to continue to lead my staff and rest of the church people through these situations. Can you give me some advice on how to handle “departures” both on a personal level and as a leader?


Pastor Mark Boer – Boise, ID
When I first began the church, although I knew it was very common for people to leave other churches, I wanted to believe that mine would be different.  It wasn’t too long before I got to experience the negative feelings associated with this type of loss.  It was much more difficult than when I witnessed it from the supportive position I held in another church years ago.

The way that I process these situations begins with differentiating between the various ways and circumstances in which people leave a church.  There are good and bad ways that it can happen.  We must realize that there are times when a person leaves and it is the right thing to do.  It may be hard for some to imagine, but I believe the Lord may even lead someone to connect with another church.  Maybe there is another solid church in your area that has a ministry emphasis that yours doesn’t.  It could be that it is a perfect fit for someone in your church.  It could be a place where they become far more fruitful than they would ever be if they stayed put.  I know that we, as pastors, teach people to not become offended, as we know it is a big tool of the enemy to destroy them.  We must also possess the maturity to not take offense when people leave. I don’t want people staying in my church because they don’t want to hurt my feelings by leaving.  I want people who are connected to the vision, growing, and making an impact in this world as a result.

There are many times when people leave and absolutely shouldn’t, but they do anyway.  Whether it is because of offense, backsliding, or just not following the leading of the Spirit, they do what they want to do because they want to do it.  They don’t realize the negative impact their actions have on the local body of Christ.  They have become a statistic in a culture of change.  They have just become another roving member of the church, doing little good for anyone and often leaving a wake of pain behind them.

No matter what the circumstances are, we must respond appropriately.  We must continue to love people – those with us and those who have left.  We should never speak against those who have departed but continue to focus on those who remain.  We don’t want to punish those present for the deeds of those absent.  At the same time, it would be wise to evaluate the way that we operate.  Are we doing things that are offensive?  Could we improve?  Are we conducting our services and ministry in a way that treats people like they are valuable and important to us?  Even when we do everything right, some will still leave (people even stopped following Jesus after a few strong statements He made), but we must keep pressing on.  God knew it would happen and called us anyway.  I personally don’t think it is wrong to let your staff see your pain in these situations.  But they must also see you bounce back, lead the church and focus on fulfilling the vision.

Pastor Bob Claffey – Rochester, NY
It is never easy when people leave, especially people you have loved and invested in. It is inevitable that people will leave your church (If they are not, your church would not be growing and evolving).  It is a mistake to try and convince them to stay; it will only bring trouble and misery ahead.

As a pastor, how do we process that people leaving? One thing that has helped me is to remind myself that I am a steward over God’s people. God has called us to be the under-shepherds. The sheep do not belong to us personally; stewards are not owners.  Ultimately they belong to God, and you need to release them and entrust them to God’s care. Understand that some people need to go so that God can bring you into a bigger place.  When we first pioneered our church we had a core of wonderful people who helped us get established, but as we continued to grow we had to make changes of how we did things. Some of our first church members didn’t like the change and eventually left us. As much as we loved them, we saw it as necessary so that God could bring us into a better place. We just have to go back and remind ourselves that change is good.  It is never comfortable, or easy, but in the long run it is good.

When people go, check your heart to see if there is something you could have done differently, learn from it, help them to leave on good terms and thank God that he is lining you up for growth.  Sometimes people have to go so God can bring in others to help with the work of the ministry.  Call a pastor friend and have a chat.  They understand what you’re going through.

Pastor Dave Williams – Lansing, MI
Times of sifting and pruning are extremely painful for a pastor.  As excruciating as these times are, they are healthy and necessary for a church to bear more fruit.

“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”  John 15:2

It’s not unusual for a pastor to take it personally. After all, you hear all the comments about “not being fed,” “church is now on the wrong track,” “he’s not taking me deeper,” a host of other hurtful but common phrases.  But I assure you, after 30 years of ministry I’ve learned that it is rarely – if ever – personal.

Of course the pastor feels the pain of people leaving.  It’s because he loves the flock and has “no greater joy than to know they are walking in the truth.”

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” I John 1:4

When a sifting occurs, it’s often the people you’d least expect.  For example, a couple has been praying for their family to come to Christ.  When they finally do, the couple leaves the church.  A once-faithful board member or support team member walks out the door, filled with accusations, and you wonder how many others they have influenced along the way.

The problem is, truth is usually lacking in most sifting times.  I believe it was a Concordia study several years ago that revealed something that opened my eyes.  When people leave a good church, it’s almost never for the reasons they say.  It is, over 90% of the time, some sin or family struggle they are embarrassed over or afraid of being exposed.

Pastor, you don’t want everyone in your church.  You want the right ones in your church – the ones God Himself has added to your expression of Christ’s body.  What a lesson.  If people leave the flock, it’s an indication that they do not accept you as their shepherd.

After my fourth year as pastor, our church had grown from 226 to around 1200.  The people who helped me lead the church when it was smaller became threatened by the growth.  I noticed more grumbling, rebellion, contention, and nervousness among them.  They started inviting people over to their homes and injecting their fears into new members.  I wouldn’t budge on what God had put in my heart, even though the “original” leaders disagreed, and finally there was a mass exodus – a hundred souls left in a matter of a few months.  Talk about painful – it hurt.  There were rumors and innuendos left behind that we had to deal with.

After they departed, I noticed something special – peace in the church.  Emerging leaders, submitted to order and the passion of our vision, began rising up.  The church launched off the 1200 plateau and within two years had more than doubled to over 2800 worshippers.  Income increased and enthusiasm flourished.

I did become a bit hardened, I think.  It hit me hardest about six months after the sifting.  I was dealing with the emotions, and feeling guilty that I didn’t try to persuade them to stay.  In retrospect, I know it would have been detrimental to the growth of our church if they did remain.  When individuals develop an attitude of superiority, a spirit of rebellion or are harboring some secret sins, it’s better to let them go – it’s probably God performing His wonderful, but painful pruning process.

On a personal level: (1) Keep pressing into God and His Word, (2) Keep hearing from God – He speaks, (3) Write what God says in a journal, (4) Don’t rehearse the pain over and over with your spouse or close associates, (5) Thank God that you are about to enter a new level, (6) Always hang onto this: God knows something about it you don’t know, (7) Never quit without a clear word instruction from the Lord.  People need to see you as solid, durable, and lasting.

On a corporate level: (1) Assure the people that sifting is a normal process.  Jesus always spoke in agricultural terms, i.e.: planting, maturing, harvesting … and pruning, (2) Keep casting vision in faith, (3) Always speak the truth kindly.  People will remind you, “they were good people.”  Maybe they were (but not usually), yet they weren’t the right people.  God is helping you to get the wrong people off the ship and the right people on the ship for great advancement, (4) Always radiate warmth, build bridges, and focus on the team God is raising up for you, (5) Under no circumstances, accept back into leadership the people who left, without a long period of watching them, (6) Know that God is building His Church and He has entrusted a great leadership role to you, (7) Keep winning the lost and equipping the believers … and never stop.

We’ve experienced siftings and prunings over the years since that first one.  They’ve always been painful, yet productive.  I’m glad I never quit.  Since that first sifting, we’ve planted 43 new churches and now enjoy over 14,000 members (here and in our satellite churches).

Sifting is a good thing after all!

Pastor Mike Cameneti – Canton, OH
One of the things that I think is so vital in helping us as pastors to keep things in perspective, is simply understanding that our church is not for everyone!  Over the years, I have had people come to our church, say it is where God has told them to go, quickly become members, get involved, and then leave shortly afterwards.  I’ve learned not to take it personally; there was obviously a need in their lives we could not meet, or they would not allow us to meet.

Another thing we need to recognize is that some people come with wrong motives.  Although we should not be judgmental, as a pastor, we should be aware that skewed objectives and those who come with the intent to manipulate may be in our church and may be the very kinds of people who are leaving, especially if they are confronted and convicted about changing some of those areas.

Something I’ve done over the years when someone leaves our church, especially if it is someone who has been involved for a long time and could possibly influence others to leave with them, is pray for them.  I also believe God to bring a manifold return to our church of faithful people who will stay, hook up, and be part of the vision.

I think every pastor has to understand that God gave us the heart to care about people.  So, when someone leaves our church, we tend to feel like we have failed and not done our job, and that is usually not true.  Although it is part of the pastor’s heart to want to help and see people receive that help, we have to guard our hearts to prevent the enemy from trying to make us feel inadequate or unqualified as a pastor, just because someone has left.

Keeping in mind that this is God’s church, not mine, and that they are His people, not mine, has made this area of ministry much easier to handle, and helps keep my focus clear.  The key here is to keep our hearts toward helping people without giving our hearts over to hurt and disappointment. With God’s ability, we receive help to find that balance in our lives and our ministries.

Pastor Stan Saunders – Chillicothe, MO
It usually hurts badly, when people leave the church. Occasionally it is a relief, sad to admit. People leave for so many reasons. These times have been some of my most challenging leadership moments. I spent much extra time in prayer during these times. I talked with friends in ministry more often, just after key leaders left the church. I was hurting, and could not really confide in anyone at church, other than my wife, Michelle.

I usually looked into the reasons why the people left. I had to admit sometimes that I had made mistakes that led to their departure. Other times it was as simple as personalities conflicting. Other times it was a disagreement where I was unwilling to yield, as were they. I usually tried to leave the door open for them to return, if they so chose to do so. I tried to be very friendly to them, when I ran into them in public. I made necessary adjustments, so that I would not run off so many folks in the future. Not nearly as many people leave today. But, we’ve been doing this for 25 years.

Many people who left have come back. We have a family who came back a few weeks ago, who had been gone for 14 years. Most of the people who left came back with wonderful attitudes. They are now filling many leadership roles in the church. Every person and situation is different. There are people we don’t want back. They were too disruptive to unity in the church. They have not come back either, or even tried to.

Finally, I would say that if a young pastor is losing people and hurting from it, he should probably try to confide in a more seasoned pastor. I would certainly make myself available to any pastor who needed to talk.

Pastor Gary Kruzan – Rushville, IL
I can’t think of a time when people left the church that it didn’t affect me.  I’ve been pastoring for 27 years and it still hasn’t changed.  I guess I could respond with several thoughts on this matter.

Someone said this once “When does it stop hurting when people leave your church?’ Answer: When you stop caring. The apostle Paul talked about the “care of the churches.” This came upon him “daily.” (2 Cor.11:28) Certainly if Paul had care for the church, we are going to have care for the church, as God called pastors.

I have, in past times when people left the church, looked so deep within myself that it was like making myself heave up things that were not there (I call it spiritual dry heaves, for lack of a better term).  I’ve received some help over the years and hopefully learned a few things since my earlier years.

A good friend of mine once told me it’s OK to look inside of yourself first, but not so far that you start to destroy yourself.  You may want to ask yourself what’s wrong with them and not just ask what’s wrong with you.

You will find after you’ve been doing this for a while, that there are some who need to go.

1 John 2:19 says they went out from among us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went, that they might be made manifest that

they were not all of us.  The next verse (vs 20) says we have an (unction) anointing and we know all things. You as a pastor will have that discernment to know.

In other situations I know I have “run” people off.  A lot of this due to a lack of people skills.

I have purposed to improve my people skills in more recent times.  Most of the time when people

leave your church, it’s usually over “little” misunderstandings.  We need to sharpen our tools, in order to handle conflicts, as they come.  One rule I’d like to share in conflict resolution, is simply this, whenever you argue you lose!

Pastor Sam Smucker – Lancaster, PA
It is difficult when people leave. It is hard to not take it personal. However this is part of church life and part of being a Pastor. We try to have an exit interview with people when they leave to learn if there is something we could have done different or if there is something we can improve on.

Every church has a personality and some people find it hard to connect. One thing I suggest is to realize we are all the Body of Christ and so pray for them that they find a place where they can connect and serve. Also work on crystalizing your vision so people know where you are headed as a church. Be who you are called to be and do what you are called to do. God will send you many people to minister to. Be faithful in giving your life and ministry to those God sends you.

Dr. Jeff Walker – Palm Springs, CA
I founded the church I pastor over 26 years ago, so I have experienced all manner of people’s departures.  My pastorate is in Southern California, where people move on an average of every 2.5 years, so I have experienced a great number of departures. (The national average for Americans moving is every 7 years.)

When I was a newer pastor, I experienced the same emotions and self doubts that the writer reports.  However, I have chosen to “normalize” people leaving for the leavers, the stay-ers, and for myself.  I often say, “There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything” when members leave.  I celebrate them when they come to me first and let me know they’re going to make an exit.  The pastoral team lays hands on them and speaks blessings.  I cannot tell you how many people have ended up back in my church after months or years…even when they moved out of the area.  If they are cursed or coerced on their way out, they will have a much harder time ever coming back, even to visit.  If they leave “in the middle of the night” with no notice, I never speak negatively or against them.  It never pays.

About 14 years ago, several key families left at the same time.  I thought I would never survive any one of those families being gone, much less a small herd!  Well, of course, God didn’t stagger, and brought others in to fill in the gaps and the church was healthier than ever.  Most important, my fear was alleviated.  I have found a resting place in that experience ever since that episode.

Finally, when it is appropriate, I ask those who are leaving to attend another church in my city why they are leaving.  This is a potentially painful proposition, but the answers can be a gold mine for future planning and ministry strategy development.  Obviously, some will leave because of an offense.  Others, however, may have legitimate needs going unmet.  Try to take in their constructive criticism with a teachable spirit.  None of us or our churches are perfect!

Pastor Dean Hawk – Colorado Springs, CO
I feel your pain.  We just had a family in a key lay leadership position suddenly up and decide to leave. Of course they let me know by email versus a phone call or personal conversation.   First off, know your personality weaknesses and strengths.  We use People Keys (.com) for our staff and any potential new employees.  It combines the DISC personality evaluation with a TEAM evaluation and will “read your mail.”  One of the challenges of several personality types is the fear of personal rejection.  Ouch!  You got me there.  Others read this question and don’t understand what the big deal is.  “Shake it off!” is easier said than done for many of us.  Yet for most guys rejection is pretty hard to swallow.  Here are a couple practical steps I go through.

  1. Investigate: What is the source or reason for their departure?   Is there anything that I or my staff did or didn’t do that caused them to leave?
  2. Fix it:  If relationship can be restored or fixed, don’t be too prideful to do it.  Even if the individual may not be able to be recovered, ask yourself if there is a hole in the boat that we can fix so we won’t lose any others.  Too often we cast too much blame on the person leaving and we don’t accept any responsibility.  I have always found someway that we can improve or change.
  3. Bless it:  When you bless something or someone you take away the power for it to hurt you.  Whenever anyone leaves our church we send flowers or a candy bouquet.  No, not one with dead roses.  I tell my secretaries not to hold back on cost.  We want them to leave with a good taste in their mouth and leave the “barn door” wide open for the sheep to wander back in at some point.  Just last Sunday we had a family back who left our church seven months ago.  I don’t know if they will stay, but it was a great sign to me that they felt comfortable in returning.  I also send a personal note of thanks and appreciation expressing my love to them, any apologies needed, and speak blessings over them.
  4. Focus and Gratitude:  Rejoice in those who are a part of your church and do support you and the vision.  It’s too easy to become side tracked.  There are some people you are never going to satisfy.  Be thankful for who is on your team and focus on ministering to them with even a greater passion.  When people leave your church it will cause you to get bitter or better.  One will make you sour to the rest of your congregation and  the other will make you sweeter!

Pastor Mike Webb – Lake Forest, CA
It is inevitable that people will leave your church, but it usually hurts when they go. Those that leave you will go in one of two ways, either in the will of God or contrary to it. If they leave in the will of God, then there will be no hard feelings and everyone will remember fondly the time together. If they leave in the flesh, it will always be the pastor’s fault. That is because they have to justify their leaving. After all, it CAN’T be their fault!

60% of our people left during our building project some years back. This was due to lawsuits that arose from the behavior of unscrupulous contractors. I was honest with the congregation each step along the way and told them I understood the pressure that we were all feeling. I specifically told everyone that I understood if they couldn’t (or didn’t want to) deal with the pressure, but if they were going to leave, please come shake my hand and tell me goodbye. Not one person did. Instead, they left saying that I must have done something wrong or else there wouldn’t be so much trouble. In other words, they didn’t know what I did wrong, but it was my fault somehow.

The times that God has shown Himself the strongest on our behalf have been when others left us.  And as long as He is with you, that is all that counts. He will see you through and supply your needs.

I used to think that if I could just teach and minister well enough, no one would ever leave. Then I read John 6 where everyone left Jesus. When Jesus asked His disciples if they were going to leave, too, they said, “We don’t have anywhere else to go.” That sounds to me like, “We want to…if only we had some other place.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the miracle working Son of God. Apparently, Jesus didn’t teach or minister well enough to keep people from leaving Him. Also, when the rich young ruler left Jesus, Jesus let him go. He didn’t follow after him trying to convince him to stay. I think that is instructive for us, too.

The Lord told me once that if people were already spiritual enough to do the right thing, then they wouldn’t need me. We will never do enough things or do them well enough to satisfy everyone. We just have to keep our eyes on what we are supposed to do and trust God to give us those that He wants us to pastor.

Years ago, while I was working for Bro. Hagin, I was in the speaker’s room at Rhema prior to a service that Dr. Lester Sumrall was to minister. The room was full of nationally known ministers discussing a recent split in a mega-church pastored by a friend. Opinions were abundant about what happened, whether the church could survive, and what could and should be done. I noticed that neither Dr. Sumrall nor Bro. Hagin said anything. When it was time for the service to begin, everyone had filed out and only Dr. Sumrall, Bro. Hagin and myself were left. As I opened the door for Bro. Hagin to escort Dr. Sumrall into the auditorium, Dr. Sumrall stopped, looked directly at me and stated, “Every living organism must have a bowel movement from time to time!” Not knowing what else to do, I looked at Bro. Hagin, who said, “Amen.” They then walked into the service as if nothing had happened. I closed the door and rolled on the floor laughing. But I will always remember the point. Sometimes it is necessary for the wrong people to leave in order for God to lead you forward. Pray for them and let them go.

Pastor John Huizing – Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
Over the years we have pastored, we have seen scores of people come and leave. When we were young in ministry, Ingrid and I would analyze (if not: over-analyze) why people would even go so far as to even contemplate leaving.  After all, aren’t they getting the Word and haven’t their lives been changed by our message and ministry?  What could we do to make them stay?  Over time, we have learned to stick with what we are called to do – to feed the flock that is among us, no matter what size it is and to become skillful in communicating the Word of Faith and demonstrating the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. We have endeavored to live by 1 Peter 5:2, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;”

The more we have learned to focus on our scriptural responsibilities, the more set apart we have become to the Lord and the calling and the less responsible we have felt for people’s choices and their “personal happiness.”  Of course, Ingrid and I love people and we do care about them deeply.  However, the Bible has more to say about them that are with us than those who are not. For this reason we have chosen to focus on those who are with us.

1 Timothy 4:16, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”  We still shed tears when someone leaves us, and, in most cases, we will always leave the porch lights on, hoping deep down they will someday return.

The second part of the question – how to handle departures as a leader – is much more difficult, since we do not have control over how others process the events.  We have had church members and staff members become quite distressed when someone left and you can almost hear the underlying question that everyone is thinking, but no one  is verbalizing,  “What is wrong with your leadership that so and so left”?  Besides the Lord being our judge, we also have time on our side. Over time we – as leaders – are able to prove what we are made of by walking in love, honesty and transparency.  We have always endeavored to emulate what Brother Hagin has walked before us – to bless when others criticize and to forgive when we and our values are misrepresented.  This is, after all, the way of the believer.

It takes a while for the truth, the details and facts to come out, but our endurance as leaders will keep us steady in the race.  I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul said, when he faced opposition and everyone left him, in 2 Timothy 4:

16  At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.

17  Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.

18  And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

We may as well realize that not everyone is going to like us, or agree with our message, or appreciate our method and style.  We are determined, however, that we are going to reach as many people as possible, beginning with those whose trust we have earned.

Pastor Dennis Cummins – Puyallup, WA
As we know, there are varying reasons why people walk out our doors.  They move, die, we ask them to leave, or they leave with an agenda.  When people move and die, it seems to be easier to handle than those we have to ask to leave, or those that leave disgruntled.  I have only had to ask four individuals to leave our church over the last 17 years.  These were sheep in wolves’ clothing that only had a desire to prey on the sheep and undermine the vision.  In these scenarios we act swiftly, walking in humility and resolve unwavering from the gospel.  Asking someone to leave the church is far from easy and it shouldn’t be easy.  I have to stand in fear and trembling as we have to make a judgment call upon another mortal being.  Then we move on.

People leaving our church evokes a whole new set of feelings and challenges.  When people leave our church we always have to remain objective and honest with ourselves, especially when my ego gets involved.  Let’s face it, as the pastor of the church, it’s pretty easy to take it personal when people leave us.  Lori, my wife is great at giving me a gut check when people have left the church.  She would ask me if we handled everything appropriately or if there was something that we should have done differently.  She would also remind me to pray to see if God needed to reveal anything to us that we could have done differently.  These principles all sound great, but in the midst of dealing with bumbling sheep that need a swift kick in the hind end; it’s pretty tough to put into practice.  I am learning that humility with resolve is the best way to deal with people that leave and the door swings both ways.  We never want to paint people into a corner to where they would never want to return.  We have found over the last 18 years in this church that people come and people go, and then most of them will come back because we walked in love.

It certainly hurts when people leave us and I think we need to have safe places to go and vent our frustrations.  Even with my staff, I share some of my frustrations, but then we move on.  One thing I do when people leave is; I remind my staff about how we can learn from past situations so that we won’t repeat the same mistakes.

The attrition rate is the ever evil nemesis to church, and that is why we have to focus more about who’s coming than who left.  Sure we handle it in love and unwavering truth, but move on.  I have lost hundreds of hours of productivity over people that have left us, stressing, worrying and talking about it all the time, rather than using the time to build the people that remained.  I tell you the truth, that I lost 160 people two years ago and another 85 last year…all because of forward thinking and holding to the vision that God has placed before us.  All I can say is, while it is not easy, it is sure worth it!  Ed Young Jr was quoted as saying that he is more interested in who is leaving a church than who is coming.  I think it is a very powerful statement.  Onward and upward.

Pastor Jerry Piker – Sunrise Beach, MO
I believe each of us, if we have been pastoring for any length of time, has experienced this. In my 22 years here, we have had many come and many go. The best thing I have found to help me is to begin to sow these people into other congregations. I pray for them to be used of God wherever they may go.

In the following scripture I have found peace with those who leave. It is not that they are my enemies, I make that very clear, but in my own heart I feel at times as though they have come against me. With this in mind, I want to treat them as I would want to be treated.

Luke 6:27-33 (Amplified)

27 But I say to you who are listening now to Me: [in order to heed, make it a practice to] love your enemies, treat well (do good to, act nobly toward) those who detest you and pursue you with hatred,

28 Invoke blessings upon and pray for the happiness of those who curse you, implore God’s blessing (favor) upon those who abuse you [who revile, reproach, disparage, and high-handedly misuse you].

29 To the one who strikes you on the jaw or cheek, offer the other jaw or cheek also; and from him who takes away your outer garment, do not withhold your undergarment as well.

30 Give away to everyone who begs of you [who is in want of necessities], and of him who takes away from you your goods, do not demand or require them back again.

31 And as you would like and desire that men would do to you, do exactly so to them.

32 If you [merely] love those who love you, what quality of credit and thanks is that to you? For even the [very] sinners love their lovers (those who love them).

33 And if you are kind and good and do favors to and benefit those who are kind and good and do favors to and benefit you, what quality of credit and thanks is that to you? For even the preeminently sinful do the same.

Verses 28 and 31, I try to apply to the situations.

As pastors we must believe that every person is valuable to the Kingdom. If we sow that value into another church or ministry we will reap back the rewards of sowing.  As we continue to bless those who leave, they will be productive in another ministry.  Recognize the value of what you have placed into people that will be a plus for someone else and realize that we are all working for a common goal and that is to further the Kingdom of God.

Some times this is very hard and the hurt may be around for a while, yet I have found this to help relieve the hurts I have when someone leaves. If love always thinks the best, then we have to think the best for the people and for the church.

Pastor Anthony Storino – Toms River, NJ
No one likes to see people leave churches, but the fact of life is they do and that is part of ministry.  As human beings it is hard not feel that somehow we failed.  First we blame ourselves, then after we are confident we on track, we start reasons or faults in the person who left.  All these in my opinion are normal response to people leaving.

There may be hundreds of reasons why people leave from the justified to the ridiculous or absurd.

I have found over the years that when a person leaves for whatever reason, because there can be many, is number one I’ve always checked myself out.  Believe it or not, sometimes we’re the reason.  So I always check me first, and if necessary make the correction.  If I‘m not the reason personally, then I check all departments in the church.  You never know; it could have been a bad worker in children’s church or a greeter or an usher who was not having such a good day.  If all that checks out, and I’m confident it wasn’t anything on the church’s part, I will try to contact that person via email, phone call or letter to see why.  Most the time whatever they tell you won’t be the whole story.

At that point, I give it to God, bless them, and move on with what God has told me to do.  I always leave an opening where if they choose to come back the door is open.  Over the years this has paid rich dividends.

Recently I went through an ugly church split (2 years ago); I won’t get into details about it. But 90+ people left the church.  It was a really good opportunity to get an attitude, because those people left on what someone said.  They took the offense of the person who left.  I never said a word against the person who left except to answer the accusations he wrote in a letter to about 250 people.  To this day I have never said anything from the pulpit about this person or anyone who left with them.  If people ask me a question about it I just tell them to get the CD from the Sunday I responded to the letter, and I say a prayer for them.

Some of the people who left have come back.  Not a lot, but some have.  And the number one reason they came was the fact that I never said anything about the person and that they realized they left for the wrong reasons.  They were following man instead of their spirit.

So when people leave the church it is not a happy time.  There is a grieving process that ministers go through, but we have to move on and continue with the assignment God has given to us.

Pastor Andy White – Chandler, AZ
1. To everything there is a season…

Life is a series of seasons, and there are many seasons in the life of every church.  And every season has a purpose. When we first started our church I thought I was in one season, God thought I was in a different season. Guess who won?  I thought we were in the season of rapid growth. We setup 200 chairs for our first service, had parking lot attendants ready, nurseries setup and decorated. No one came. Hmmm.  What can you think of at that moment except that you failed? The reason I thought that I failed was because I wrongly assumed we were in the season of Rapid Church Growth. The real season that we were in was: Character Proving. God was proving our character – would we spend the time praying? Would we spend the time seeking what He wanted us to be or would we adopt a ‘rapid church growth’ model. Would we treat people right? Would we be kind to people we poured into who then left? Would we speak well of them? Six months after we started, we had grown by zero; we were still 14 adults and kids. Eight months after we started we were 80 people, we had entered the season for growth. Our church vision and direction is unique and extremely solid.

One other thing about seasons. When people leave it’s possible that God has changed their season. When your season changes you have to change your goals. I have really great continuing relationships with many who have left my church.

2. Steward or Owner?

If our purpose is to be well pleasing to the Lord then each life is a stewardship, not an ownership. I get a lot of great people into my church that have been poured into by other pastors. I’m really grateful for all their hard work. And I’ve poured into others who have left our church and I hope they are doing well where they are. Church is much more like a bus station than a retirement community.

3. Body of Christ or Body Parts of Christ?

Actually, I’m really glad that my physical heart doesn’t take it personally when red blood cells leave it.  I’m really glad my lungs don’t feel the need to hoard red blood cells either. Even my feet seem to share the wealth. Remember you are a part of a body. Cells are supposed to come to you, through you, and out of you. You pour into them, put life into them, laugh with them, enjoy them and when they leave, help them – yes, help them. There’s something really Christian about that thought.

4. “Well Done”

For me, I really want to hear, “Well done,” on that Day. And so I really hope that I’m not giving myself to members. What I do hope is that I’m letting God love them through me, teach through me, pray through me, laugh through me, and preach through me. The way I rate how I minister is: How little did I interfere with what the Lord really wanted to do? There’s a greatness of power towards us, but how much is getting through us? Really, our job is to yield to the Spirit of God for this will be our standard. If the Lord appeared to you and told you to hold a red sign at the street corner every Friday for the next 5 years, I bet you would do it – even though others wouldn’t understand. When we’re really sure that we’re doing what God told us to do, then that’s the best. It doesn’t get any better. For me, the closer I am to God the less bothered I am when people leave.

5. Want to be unusual?

Want to be really unique? Help people to leave when it’s their time to leave. In our early years we had just signed a lease on our first church offices. We were going to stretch. Just after we signed, a seasoned minister of good reputation from my same church group started a church 25 miles away. I had 5 families in my small church who lived in that same town and who were consistent financial givers. Question: What do you think God wanted to do? I knew we could never be a ‘local’ church to them because they lived too far away. But we just picked up that lease payment. And it’s times like these when you have to decide: Is God real or isn’t He? What does a true shepherd do? The true shepherd does what’s in the best interests of his people. That was my decision. I gathered them together and told them about this man and that I recommended that they go there and help start that church. They did. Long story short—every bill got paid on time and that pastor is now one of my closest friends and what I’ve gained over the years far outweighs what it cost.

Bottom line: Nothing in the Bible says they will stay. As shepherds all we are told is how to treat them while they are with us. I’m just glad God never leaves us which is why I suppose He is so unique.

Pastor Jim Herring – Ft. Worth, TX
There are many tremendous benefits in serving people in a pastoral role.  You experience the joy of seeing people transformed before your very eyes.  You see people who are bound for hell gloriously delivered by the power of God.  You see people restored, healed, delivered, and equipped to serve in the Kingdom of God.

Hower, there are also some very painful aspects of pastoring.  One of the most agonizing occurs when people leave your church.  When my wife and I first started our church this was one of the toughest issues we faced.  We remember the flood of emotions and feelings that came which each unfortunate occurrence: remorse, regret, anger, and even betrayal.  What made it worse was the phraseology that was often employed to mask ulterior motives. “Pastor, THE LORD is leading us somewhere else.”  In some causes we recognized that this was true.  However, we also recognized that some people were just lying.  God was not leading them anywhere.  They simply got offended at something or didn’t get a position they wanted and NOW, “THE LORD, is leading us!”

How do you handle those types of situations?  We learned two truths that liberated us in a short period of time.  It helped us see things from a better perspective which took the sting out of the departure.

Number One: Focus on and celebrate the ones who are with you!

If ten sinners come to your church on Sunday and one of them responds to the alter call, what happens in heaven?  Do the angels cry over the ones that left, or do they rejoice over the one who received?  Too often we can get so consumed with the one leaving that we neglect the faithful and wonderful people that God has entrusted to our leadership.

Number Two: Recognize that God is protecting you and the church when some people leave.

We had the privilege of hosting a crusade and the guest minister gave us some powerful information.  She said, “We have been pastoring for many years and we came to understand that sometime when people leave, God is protecting you.”  In other words, if a person stays they may spread strife and discontent through the church like an aggressive cancer.  In order to keep the rest of your body free from strife, it may be wise to let some people go.

Proverbs 22:10
Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; Yes, strife and reproach will cease.

Check out the Message translation…

“Kick out the troublemakers and things will quiet down; you need a break from bickering and griping!”

In conclusion, we have found it helpful to keep the following practical tips in mind.

  1. Recognize that EVERY pastor will have people leave.
  2. Don’t wear your feelings on your shoulder.
  3. Don’t view their departure as a time to “Tell them what you really think!”  (they’re not listening now anyway!)
  4. Focus on all the good things God is doing in the church.
  5. Praise God for your faithful and committed ones.
  6. Leave the door open!
  7. If they return, don’t just return to ministry as usually.

Some people who leave may never come back, however some might.  If you allow people to leave with dignity and grace it will be easier for them to return.  There is an old cliché that says “Don’t burn your bridges!”  If people do return, make sure to express your joy and your expectations.  If things need to be addressed regarding their past conduct and your expectations for their future conduct, make that extremely clear.  Often you may need to help them through a restoration process before they can serve in high level leadership position.  Finally, remember that we are to demonstrate the character and nature of God at all times…even when people leave.”

Pastor Tim Kutz – Bartlesville, OK
After 20 years in the ministry you would think that a person would get used to this, but you really never do.  The biggest reason that you feel the way that you do is the pastor’s heart that God has given you.  Anyone who is not or has not been a pastor cannot understand this.

Taking things personally is not an option.  People left Jesus in a “mass exodus”.  The apostle Paul was one of the greatest ministers ever and some very able, capable people had a falling out with him.

As it is with any other ministry, God calls people along side of you to help you fulfill what He has placed in your heart.  99% of the people who tell you that God has released them are not correct.  They are simply judging you and certain of your traits, vision or lack thereof, lack of leadership qualities, etc.  When they leave, they blame God for their lack of character, because no one wants to be seen as carnal.  They are trying to justify their actions with God’s stamp of approval.

And so, you are left there with your heart of compassion for the one who left and a heart of compassion for those who stayed.  It’s a pastor’s heart, and it’s a precious thing.  God addresses this very thing in a certain place that you should consider:

‘And as for you, O My flock, thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold,
I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats.
Is it too little for you to have eaten up the good pasture, that you
must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture, and
to have drunk of the clear waters, that you must foul the residue
with your feet?  And as for My flock, they eat what you have trampled
with your feet, and they drink what you have fouled with your feet.”
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD to them: “Behold, I Myself will judge
between the fat and the lean sheep.  Because you have pushed with
side and shoulder, butted all the weak ones with your horns, and
scattered them abroad, therefore I will save My flock, and they shall no
longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
Ezek 34:17-22

So many people don’t care how their actions affect the rest of the flock.  It’s called selfishness, and that is the mark of the generation that we live in.  They leave you perplexed and the rest of the church devastated.  Most choose not to leave quietly, with dignity and respect, they have to trample the pasture on their way out.  But we need to not jump down on their level.  God said that he would judge them.  Our part is to love and pray for people.

Many people who leave are putting themselves on dangerous ground.  They don’t understand that they are leaving themselves wide open to the devil; especially those who insist on trampling the pasture and muddying the water on the way out.  One who has a pastor’s heart will cover them with prayers, asking God to protect them in their ignorance and deception.  They are not our enemies, the devil is.

We teach people to meditate on the scripture.  We must do the same.  Matthew 5:44 says to pray for those who spitefully use you.  As you do this with a sincere heart, God will refresh you and renew you.

There are many things that you cannot say when people leave the church.  Keeping your tongue and emotions in subjection to your spirit will pay dividends down the road with those who stay, as well as personally.

Pastor Larry Millender – Tallahassee, FL
Surely all of us who have served as pastors for any length of time have experienced church members leaving us.  It hurts when it is people that we have poured our hearts into to help them.  I remember hearing Pastor Edwin Anderson say, many years ago when we had experienced a group of people who left us, “People are like scaffolding erected around a building that is being built.  God removes certain people when the edifice is at certain stages.”  I have had to guard my heart and emotions over the years when people have left us.  We tend to sense rejection and sometimes we may feel used by people for their selfish purposes.  I have lost people and then had them return to us years later to be an even greater blessing to us than they were before they left.

John Maxwell says this, “As leaders, we get to choose who we lose.” Occasionally, we lose some folks that it is a blessing to lose.  With those, we seldom feel hurt or grieve over the loss.

I would recommend that any pastor take these steps when people leave them:

1. Tell those leaving that you release them to go (if possible).

2. Speak blessing over them as they leave.

3. Take time to pray over the situation.

4. Find a scripture pertaining to loss and ask God to make it real to you.

5. Refuse to speak negatively about those who leave.

6. Focus on those who stay with you; they need you.

7. Believe that God will send even better people to replace the loss.

Some years ago Dr. Fusia Pickett was here preaching for us and she spoke the word of the Lord to me saying, “Pastor Larry, when God roots out the tares don’t go get them and replant them. Leave them alone.” These seven steps seem minor, but they help us to cope with the loss.

Pastor Terry Scheel – Fenton, MO
It is inevitable that some church members will leave.  Sometimes people leave in the will of God, and very often out of the will of God.  It is almost impossible not to take the departure of some members personally; however, it is most important how you handle these departures publicly.  When someone leaves in a turbulent manner, I have found it best not to draw attention to it from the pulpit.  I’ve observed pastors address these issues from the pulpit; and in each instance, it ended up making a difficult situation worse.  When you do have to say something publicly, always stay positive.  Being negative in these situations is not good.

When I have a person in leadership or who is viewed on the platform each service leave, I typically say from the pulpit they felt it was time for them to move on and we wish them well (I never get into details).  Even if they were leaving under unpleasant terms, I have found the Lord blessed my church by not demeaning them in their departure.

I have had some groups of people leave over the years, finding the grass greener at another church.  When I was younger, I would take it personally and get very upset, wondering what I did wrong and how I was going to make it.  However, I have learned that my church was better off without these people.  The church is like a garden.  From time to time the Lord does some pruning (removing that which is unproductive).  The congregation may look a bit light for a Sunday or two, but the Lord fills the seats back in with productive people who have good attitudes—and the church offerings have always increased.  Also, it is best never to try and talk someone into staying when they feel it is time to leave.  Jesus had a bunch of people leave Him, and I don’t see Jesus trying to talk them into staying.

Some people will leave no matter how wonderful of a pastor you are—don’t take it personally, that’s just the way it is.  Teach the Word and love people.  Many will stay and some will leave.  Bless those who stay, as well as those who leave, and the Lord will continue to bless you!  Remember, stay sweet even in the midst of bitter situations!

Pastor Bob Hoover – Decatur, IL
We all have had this problem (feelings of rejection) to some degree, but think we all can be helped. Every person in our congregations has battled this, or are now dealing with this common problem. It is something that should be openly taught, so that everyone can be able to handle this as the Body of Christ. That way it is everyone having a good understanding of how to handle it in a scriptural manner.

It was not uncommon for people that left our church to return at a later time because they already knew how they would be accepted, loved, and appreciated because they had heard teaching on this from the pulpit.

At the church I am at now, I taught for six weeks on this—Overcoming the Effects of Rejection.

The people were very open to this teaching. A book that helped me much was—Excuse Me…Your Rejection is Showing by Noel & Phyl Gibson (A Sovereign World International Book).

Pastor John Brady – McAllen, TX
I totally understand the feelings of rejection, hurt and frustration when people leave my congregation.  When I stepped up to the role of Senior Pastor, I took every exodus as personal issue or insult that really hit me hard.  Over the years that has softened considerably.  I have to admit I was very insecure in my calling and leadership skills when I was younger.  I took a person leaving as a sign that maybe I wasn’t very competent or not doing a good job.  It still can hurt, but I have learned that someone leaving is not an indictment on me or my ministry.  These are some of the things that I have learned.

Personal Level:

1. I had to be comfortable with who God created me to be and the vision of this church.  I know what I am called to do.  I know what our church is called to do.  If people do not fit into that role I cannot take it personally.  It is my job to obey God, and it is His job to increase the church.  I have actually sent people to other churches because I know they will not connect with us.

2. Unhappy people are unhappy with people around them.  Many people have issues that they have not dealt with.  These issues make them unhappy and they want to blame someone else.  Many times that someone else is the Pastor.

3. If your church is growing then people need to grow with it.  Sometimes people stagnate spiritually and you are trying to stretch them.  They refuse to stretch and they have to move on.

4. Keep your heart right no matter what.  I have people who refuse to talk to me or to acknowledge my presence in public if they are in the same room.  We made God-changes and they didn’t like it.  The church grew and they chose somewhere else.  I treat those people like a million dollars.  They get uncomfortable, but they are going to have to get used to me because we will both be in heaven.  I find when I have the temptation of holding a grudge, reach out and the act of true love will destroy that temptation on the spot.

Leadership Level:

1. Many times my staff has been affected by the loss of a committed family.  I have found it helps to talk about the situation with my staff and help them come to terms with folks leaving.  I explain that many times folks come in at a certain level—they become comfortable with that level, as growth comes many times folks can’t go there, emotionally or spiritually.  It’s best to just bless and go on!

2. I’ve also had folks leave over circumstances that very well may have needed to improve.  I’m always open to constructive criticism, and will take concerns to the Father for Him to address in my life and ministry.

3. I have also had many opportunities to help disgruntled folks leave.  I have found it is not healthy to let a disgruntled person hang around.  We follow the Matthew 18 principle.  (This can be tough—especially if they are Board Members, or have a pew with their name on it!)  But it is important to lovingly address the problem and be firm in your decision.

4. There have been a couple of times over the past thirteen years when I had to address the committed members over a situation that would bring strife or dissension to the body.  We had a couple who were actively engaged in helps ministry and their marriage suddenly was heading for a divorce.  Many in the congregation wanted to take sides.  It was important that this couples challenges did not become the church’s challenge.  Through this situation, the faithful members came to realize that I would not sit idly by and allow the church to be thrust into turmoil; and that it would be handled without telling all the “dirty laundry” of this couples relationship.

Pastor Mark Garver – Madison, AL
When people leave the church, if we can discover why they left, it is sometimes helpful.  If people are leaving because of doctrinal differences, they don’t like the way we feel God has told us to do things, or other similar things, I find it is best to let them go no matter how much I have put into them.  Chances are they will never be happy at our church and there is also a chance they will make others unhappy as well.  If they leave offended I usually do not go after those who have departed in this matter either.  But I do go after those who are not in either of those categories.  This helps me emotionally to know why the people left.

One thing I had to grow into as a Pastor is not living emotionally by the cheers or jeers of the people.  I had to decide what I do is for the Lord and not for the people.  I minister to and love on those that the Lord has entrusted to me, but my approval and reward does not come from them.  That seems to help me emotionally when someone leaves who I have poured my life into.  I do not know if it ever gets easy when someone you love and have helped grow in God leaves.  One thing I do try to do with everyone who leaves the church is keep a “bridge” open for people to walk back across it if they get over their offense or God changes His mind and they should have stayed at our church.

A number have returned and are doing quite well in the church presently.  I think the account of John Mark in the Word is a good example of someone who made a mistake and left and then was able to come back and be useful at a later time.  Even Jesus had someone he poured his life into and was on his board of directors (treasurer) betray and leave him.  My point is you can do everything correct and still people may leave, and Jesus even told Judas to do it quickly, maybe so the pain of it could be over sooner rather than later.  The Lord moved on by going into prayer and looking to his assignment.  I think that is how we handle it as well.  I pour my heart out to God in prayer and let the Spirit of God comfort me; even a Pastor needs his broken heart healed sometimes.

Another thing has been keeping volunteers trained.  Whenever I put someone in a leadership position, I am always reminding them to train others to take their place.  Even if the person stays in that leadership position for life, the people they have trained can be used in other places in a growing church.  I think if a Pastor does this and requires it of his leaders and staff, then you will not ever feel that if someone leaves a entire department of your church will have to shut down until you train someone else.  It will also help the leader to understand that life and church will go on without them if they ever leave.

Pastor Matt Beemer – Manchester, England
Because we host a lot of short-term visitors and apprentices from the USA, we have always had a large number of people come and go from the church here in England.  It’s not uncommon for someone to be here for a year and then leave.  I found early on that as visitors came and really sowed their lives into the ministry (as we instructed them to do) then went on to their next assignment, some in the church would feel let down, or even get angry.  At first I didn’t understand it because I thought that the apprentice had only done exactly what was expected of them—so in my thinking it was unreasonable for people to get upset when they left.

However, I then realized it was actually a form of grief, and they were exhibiting some of the same stages of grief that a person goes through having had a significant loss.  This understanding helped to have more understanding for them, and also helped me know how to help them through the emotions of it.  It was really helpful for me because I knew how to help someone through a grieving process.

I then started to purposefully build a culture where it was a safe and good thing for people to come, AND for people to go.  Just as we can rejoice when someone moves to heaven!  They are still our family even though we can no longer see them or talk with them; and in the same way no matter where people go from our church, we still call them family.  So we talk about our ‘extended’ family all over the world.  The scripture that I use regularly in referring to the culture of our church in relation to people coming and going is, “they are blessed coming in, and blessed going out.”

Though the kind of departure explained above is not necessarily what you were referring to in your question, the reason I have shared it is that this “Blessed coming in, and blessed going out” culture is so strong in the church, that now when people leave for negative reasons, it doesn’t affect me or the church near as much as it used to.

Pastor Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia
People leaving your church is an inevitable part of ministry.  I heard a pastor comment once that, “right now two things are happening at your church:  people are coming and people are leaving.”  We see that people left the ministry of Jesus and the early church was not immune to regular departures.

When possible, you may want to determine why certain people are leaving.  There are a number of reasons that are acceptable and will be beneficial for both the church and the person leaving.

1. Vision. Not everyone will be thrilled with the vision that God has put in your heart.  A clearly articulated vision from heaven will both draw people and repel people.  Perhaps they find a vision in another church that has a mandate more suitable to their own.

2. Theology.  We have had wonderful evangelical people leave our church when they find out that we speak in tongues.  Since our church’s primary target of people to reach is the lost, not existing Christians, I am happy if they find a healthy church that is aligned to their existing beliefs.  They will be happier there and not cause division with us.

3. Another church meets their needs better.  Your church is more than likely not the best church in town, neither is mine.  It is one of the places where God has placed his blessing and favor.  There are certain ministries that may be more developed in other churches that individual and families need.

4. Style.  You will naturally draw people like you.  You can intentionally attempt and should reach other generations, but there will be other churches reaching certain brackets better than your church and thank God they are.  Your music and preaching style will attract some and make others feel uncomfortable.

5. Unfilled expectations. You cannot keep all the people happy all the time.  Some come to your church with un-biblical expectations that you will visit them regularly and go to their son’s baseball games.  You may not able to change their views and they will seek a church to meet their interesting ideas.

There are other reasons that people leave, but are harder to deal with internally.

1. They don’t like you.  The reason you take it personally is because it is personal. They don’t like your stories, your kid’s hobby, or the fact that your wife just cut her hair.  Thank God that He accepts you because here on earth, not everyone will.

2. You made a mistake. God said left and you went right.  It is unfortunate that our leadership slips affect others.  Hopefully we can learn and not repeat them in the future.  These really bother me because they are avoidable.  I pray that these people who leave over my mistake find a wonderful church home and I must leave them in God’s hands.
3. You are not delivering ministry adequately.  Perhaps like in Acts 6, people are being neglected and complaining because legitimate needs are going unmet.  Bring the necessary resources to bear with God’s wisdom so that the vision is realized.  It may mean doing ministry in a different way with new leaders.

I would encourage you to analyze these departures when you can so that you can learn from them and perhaps there is a trend developing that can be corrected.

There is still the internal pain to deal with.  God wants you to care about people and not be hardened.  How is it possible to truly love people and not become an emotional mess when they do not love you back?  So many times pastors comment in their pain and bitterness, “after all we have done for them…”  They usually list all the kindness that was shown to the person over the years and yet the member still chose to leave.

It seems Paul dealt with this also:

2 Cor. 12:15 (NLT):  I will gladly spend myself and all I have for your spiritual good, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me.

I believe one of the greatest keys to navigate these emotional land mines is to keep growing internally and realizing more and more who we are in Christ.  God desires that we find our greatest satisfaction in Him, not in what we do.  Our personal identity must come from our relationship with our Father, not in the success or failure of our ministry.

Two books that continue to help me tremendously along these lines are:

Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Sr.
The Search for Significance, by Robert S. McGee

Both books may reveal things in your heart that are uncomfortable, but both bring godly and Biblical answers to issues that every leader must face.  I would recommend a careful study of these, perhaps with a friend or group.

May God help each of us to navigate the tricky waters of our emotions as we minister to imperfect people while we ourselves grow and develop.

Pastor Bill McRay – Nashville, TN
This issue is one of the most difficult and most frequent problems any pastor must deal with.  It is easy to say “Don’t take it personally.  Just pray for them and let them go.”  But it is not that easy to do.  In over 30 years of pastoring the same church, I have seen literally thousands of people come and thousands of people go.  So has every other pastor I know.  It is just part of pastoring.

There are many reasons why people leave a church, some legitimate, some not.  The ones who leave for the wrong reasons, there is usually little any pastor could do to prevent it. However, I must make every effort to insure that they never leave because I or the church has failed them.  To insure that, it is necessary to have the ministries and systems in place to, as much as humanly possible, prevent people falling through the cracks.

We must also do everything we can do to close that back door.  People must have purpose.  With men purpose comes with responsibility, a job.  With women purpose comes with relationships.  Give every man a meaningful job and hook every woman up in meaningful relationships and you will close your back door to all but the most uncommitted and those easily offended.  The spiritually immature, like the poor you will have with you always.  So you will always have people leaving the church for something.

I heard this story attributed to the late Pastor John Osteen.  If it didn’t come from him it did come from someone as wise as him.  Someone asked Pastor Osteen to what he attributed his great success as a pastor.

He replied “I just drive the bus.  People get on and people get off.  I just keep on driving the bus.”  When I heard that years ago, it set me free.  I just keep on driving the bus.