Reasons why members leave or stay in a church

sheep migrationThe topic was important. Sheep-stealing is a derogatory term, especially when thrown at you. You turn defensive and reply, “The hole in your fence is too big. Can I help it if the grass over here in my pastures is crunchy, smells better and is more nutritious?”  That adds salt to the wound, and a fight is about to break out in the body of Christ.

Well many of the pastors who gathered at the discussion of membership loss and gain found that they had similar reasons for why members left their church. About eighty pastors discussed in twos and then in tens. These are some of the main reasons that were listed, but not in order of importance:

1. Unresolved conflicts and disagreements with other members or leaders.
2. General dissatisfaction and frustration with their, their children’s or church’s progress.
3. Location and convenience.
4. Members from other churches enthusiastically inviting them to their churches.
5. Attractive and better children’s and youth programs of bigger churches.

And what about the main reasons why people choose a particular church to start attending?
1. The pastor and his strengths, usually the preaching.
2. To a megachurch in order to have minimum involvement, no questions and commitment asked, and to remain anonymous while recovering from hurts or burn-out.
3. To a small church to know and be known, love and be loved, and to find an avenue of service.
4. They were persuasively invited by a friend.
5. Great music or other programs that meet the family’s needs.

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  • The Shepard didn’t lead his sheep into prison? Therefore to stay or leave is an invalid question? Only people who have been confined may have to confront those questions some day?

  • Very interesting and insightful …

    allow me to share my personal story to add to your statistics 😉

    I attended an AOG church since primary school until 19 Oct 2003 (about 30 years) when I first attended NCC and then stayed on.

    I was in a state of inertia in my AOG church and had no intention of moving at all but my dad was very ill (liver failing) and a relative invited my family to NCC, and we went in hope of a miracle for my father.

    Well, no miracle happened and my dad died two weeks later. However, Ps Prince’s preaching (not the boisterous praise and worship) that day impacted me and my family (including my ywo sisters who had stopped attending church for about 20 years since they started working) so much that the whole family decided to stay on in NCC.

    We could have returned to our AOG church since there were no push factors but Ps Prince’s preaching which helped us to see God and His Word in a new light is a major pull factor and the reason why we stayed on.

  • You are right on with #3 about small churches. People do join them for these reasons. Another reason is often they already have family or friends in that church. The small church atmosphere is indeed more personal where you can get to know everybody. You offer good insights.

    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  • Some people stay back to fight for truth, transparency & accountability in church. A good example is one of the churches in KL that brought the church matters to the court to decide, even now the crisis is not over yet. So, the reasons for leaving or changing church is not that simple, it is a combination of different factors.

  • I have served in a large church and a small church. I have been a member at a small church while visiting a then-mega church (70s), member at a large denominational church then finally serving a church where I had to get the numbers down (missing members) so that we could lower our conference commitments/apportionments. (You can tell I am Methodist/UMC!)

    Personally, I left the large church because the new pastor (IMHO) & some of my co-workers made it very difficult for me to remain there while maintaining my integrity. I admit that over the years I could have sought some kind of reconciliation with some of them.

    I served a small church where I saw people remaining because they were committed to “something” or “Someone” and the activities or lack of made no difference to them. I have seen people leaving because we did not have a youth ministry/programme, because they fell out with someone and did not want to confront or reconcile or resolve differences. They moved to one of the nearby churches and I was told they would be back in maybe 20 years time – it was the pattern in that community – or they would just drop out all together and be blasé about God, church, ministry, people. But it was seldom “their fault.”

    Now I observe that people choose what suits their or their family’s needs. I hope people choose a church to be part of because they know God challenges and grows faith there and that people believe they are part of the ministry in and through that body of Christ in that geographical location and beyond.

    I do ask my children’s feedback about the churches we have visited since arriving here in the US. It’s different from the church I served for 7 years in another part of the US but the older 2 detected similarities, too. Well, we kept to the denomination! But in the end, I think we will decide on where we join with others where there is the worship of God, the challenge to serve and the love to grow and be part of others’ growth. The preaching is only secondary, the Holy Communion and worship liturgy is primary for us. Isn’t it up to us to study the Word of God and hear God together with the community we join with? It is not just the job of the preaching pastor. Context of community not context of individuality.

    I am still learning I think.

  • what about leaving a church because the pastor asked us to leave..cos we sinned and she is the most holy n no sinners must be around her ministry or the ministry will fall? we had a letter listing our sins that we supposedly committed.

    Anyway, that experience led me to grace preaching where the Lord taught me law and grace. And I love Jesus so much since. And the Lord has bring me to liberty in HIs Son Jesus…hallelujah..

  • Of all the reasons, it is interesting that you have not mentioned “God moved me, placed me here/there.” I know a no. of folks who have moved to other churches citing these reasons but in actual fact, it was more of the reasons you have mentioned in the list. (this was revealed as one probes deeper into “what do you mean by saying that you felt God is telling you to go to XYZ?”.)

    But there are also genuine cases of people moving to a different church not so much because they prefer one place to another, or the reasons you have listed, but that God is placing them somewhere else for His purpose and work. These people usually left in peace(as compared to many who left in pieces), still maintain some connections with ppl and the church they left, and have the blessing and support of the church they left.

    What saddens me, more often that not, is that people leave because of the reasons you’ve mentioned. Not that these reasons are totally invalid, but as children of God, we forgot to wait upon our Father and seek His will regarding our decision. most of us tend to focus on our needs, our good, our children’s good, our comfort but forgot about the needs of others in the “shabby” church/community we are currently in and how we might contribute to it and make a difference. most tragic of all, we miss out on asking, “Lord, what is your will?”

    Some years ago, I was at a verge of leaving a particular church in my mission field. My reason? I can’t stand the way things are being run there anymore. But God was gracious and taught me a great lesson. After all the reasons/complains, God said, “Jason, if the current church you are attending is so good/so great, why do I need you to be there? The reason why I place you here is because they need your help/contribution. That is why I sent you here.” I repented, and work on the task the Lord has set me to do – and that is to be a blessing to an imperfect church in an imperfect world. (hey, come on, i am just as imperfect) It’s not about me and my needs and wants(as valid as some of my needs are), it’s about His will. (read and re-read Jesus’s prayer and struggle at the garden of Gethsamane and you’ll catch a glimpse of doing the Father’s will). My needs are best met when I’m in the Father’s will, not when I get what I want with my own human wisdom and logic.

    For any of us contemplating a move to somewhere else, please wait upon the Lord and seek His will. It’s finally not about our comfort but about His will. And God will give you grace should He command you to stay even how unbearable it can be, and He will also give you grace should He command you to leave even how painful it can be.

    • Thanks for your insightful comments Jason. Yes, generally, the modern church’s capacity to serve and contribute has yielded to the consumerist bent of getting my needs and preferences, and that of my family met above all. Leaving with the blessing of mature leaders’ discernment is a mark of living as a community. Your comments have enhanced the conversation.

  • 10yrs ago i was told to leave a small family church because i broke off with a guy there. The pastors actually planned to sponsor my ex bf to study at SBC so that he would join their church as a pastor after graduation. They believed that i was not suitable for him.
    Thank God i left n found another church where i grew n know Jesus personally, met my husband n even set up our family here. I have forgiven my ex and the pastors in that church, but i still disagreed that their way of doing things, by asking me to leave to take away the stumbling block in his life, leaving me depressed n heart broken n lost. A sheep without a church. Now that i looked back, what a religious way of doing things. 2months after we broke, he went into a new relationship with a sis in that church with the recommendations n support of his pastors. Until now that church is not growing and still small.
    Thank you jesus for his restoration to my life and revealing His grace n true character! I think if our Lord is in that church, He would never ‘chase’ His sheep away, for ‘political church’ purpose.

    • Thank you HisBeloved, for this self disclosure. Relieved that you were able to forgive, get past this, and continue in his love despite what you have gone through. The Lord continue to have His hand upon you!

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