5 Tips on Leaving a Church the Right Way

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Do his bride the honor of leaving well.

I met yesterday with a friend who is leaving our church. We had a good conversation about his reasons for leaving (they are legitimate) and then some discussion about how he can “leave well.” I told him that, based on my experience with people leaving our church or coming to our church after leaving another one, most people don’t leave well.

Here are a few ideas on how to leave a church well:

1. Have a good reason for leaving. Before you go, evaluate whether your reasons are good, legitimate and God-honoring. Here’s a thought-provoking post exploring good, possible, and bad reasons for leaving a church (and here’s a discussion about this post). I don’t think this list is comprehensive, but it’s good to make you think. If your reasons are good, go. If not, stay.

2. Communicate your decision to leave with the appropriate leaders. If you’re an active part of the church, leaders will need to know you’re leaving. If you are serving, communicate it to your Ministry Team leader. If you are in a Community Group, communicate it to the leader. If you are connected with an elder or pastor, communicate it with them. Personal communication is preferable to written communication, but make sure you communicate.

3. Tell these leaders the truth about why you’re leaving. If you have legitimate reasons to leave then you have nothing to hide or worry about. If the reasons for leaving will sting church leadership, deliver it in the spirit of Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Scripture commands us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), which means you don’t couch the real, sometimes difficult reasons behind a bunch of spiritualized nonsense. God may use your reasons for leaving to help the church or its leaders. I’ve had at least one “exit interview” that was immensely helpful to me as a leader — some of the truth of it stung, but it helped me grow. Whatever you do, don’t just leave without telling your leaders.

4. Appropriately transition or conclude your ministry commitments. If you’ve been an active part of ministry, your role will need to be transitioned. Hopefully you’ve been training and developing somebody to take your place anyway, but if you haven’t, give your leaders an appropriate time to find others to serve in your capacity. This period shouldn’t drag on, but you also should not just drop the ball on the people you’ve been committed to.

5. Leave graciously. In Ray Pritchard’s post on this topic, he writes:

“[Leaving] graciously means you refuse to speak evil of those who remain in the church. Look forward, not backward. Focus on your new church, not your old one. Think carefully before you speak about your former congregation. Don’t say anything that could be remotely construed as criticism. Even casual comments could stir up needless controversy. Let the Golden Rule guide all your comments public and private.”

If you’ve read this post and realize that you didn’t leave a church well in the past, it might be wise to circle back to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. If you have gossiped or stirred up division, you should make it right, apologizing not only to the leaders of that church but also to the people to whom you gossiped.

In the end, remember that Jesus loves the church you’re leaving and the one you’re going to — His blood was shed for both. Both churches are part of his bride. Do his bride the honor of leaving well. 

Acts 29 Network Over the last ten years, Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to almost 300 churches in the United States and networks of churches in multiple countries. Scott Thomas serves as president and director of the network, which focuses on the gospel and advancing the mission of Jesus through obediently planting church-planting churches. Founders and contributors to the Acts 29 movement include Mars Hill teaching pastor Mark Driscoll and lead pastor of The Village Church Matt Chandler.

More from Acts 29 Network or visit Acts 29 at http://www.acts29network.org/

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  • dpwinters

    Well-written and exactly the encouragement to do well what is most often done very poorly.
    It is easier to “just walk away”, but it is God-honoring to do so with the proper motives and communication.

    • Catie

      Article= good & needed
      (Almost) Everyone’s comments= not surprised, no one wants to feel guilty for leaving…

  • Jdccmacho

    this is soooooooooooooooooo goooooooooooooodddddddddddddd thank you

  • Susdgs

    I don’t like the movie, I get up and leave. Why make a big drama over it?

  • Pastorvabalos

    The Body of Christ needs a paradigm shift about the concept of Church.. Jesus said I will build My church….If you belong to the “church” that Jesus is building then there is no way you can leave this church. Church is the body of believers and we are connected with one another. Your legitimate reasons doesn’t give you the liscense to disconnect your relationship with the body of beleivers. Yes, there are many groups of believers fellowshiping in separate localities but it does not make the body of Christ disconnected. Yes, there are different roles, functions, levels of understanding of the truth and distinctions within the dody but never division because Christ is never divided. In reality, you cannot leave the church as long as you are following Christ. You cannot separate yourself from your brother or sister who offended you. true beleivers of Christ are eternally connected with each other.. So get a grip, no matter how legitimate is your reason for leaving the “church” you cannot be separated from the body of Christ..

  • guest

    This was helpful. It sounds very good, but in reality much more complicated. This article assumes that you can just honestly tell your leader why you are leaving and he will listen and move on. This information is hurtful and if your leader is hurt, he could not let it go, especially if you are close to him. Even as we are experiencing now this could be seen as threatening  and threaten references for future leadership positions. Maybe an article on how leaders can let people leave well;) 

    • redneondot

      I met with my pastor twice to discuss some important issues, not even mentioning then that I was considering moving on. I felt the Lord was telling me to “wipe the dust off my feet”…But I really wanted to try and work things out first so that I would know that I had done all I could do to keep the peace between us. Both times he assured me that “all is well”, then both times publicly humiliated me from the pulpit within a couple of weeks afterward. I decided that meeting the third time with him would bring nothing good, so I quietly left. I now have reason to believe that he found out where I was going once I left there and contacted the pastor to bring a bad report about me. The Lord reminded me of a dream he gave me about 3 years ago in which I saw this pastor publicly embarrass me, clearly this was a warning dream. I believe I will pay closer attention to dreams God gives me from now on. I know that God gave Joseph dreams; his brothers were jealous of him, and felt threatened by him. I forgive him but I will be much more careful when dealing with authority figures. I pray that I will always have respect for them, but sometimes I see that telling a pastor you are leaving is not always wise or the best thing to do. It is a case by case decision and should be done prayerfully. In my situation, I think he would have been angry either way, whether I told him or not. I then found out from someone in the church I attended, that there were inuendos that people that were leaving were backslidden. Isn’t it time that pastors start searching their own hearts for answers. Instead of assuming that anyone leaving for any reason is simply a “rebel”

      • Catie

        Dude…You’re an easy target. Keep feeling sorry for yourself and people will keep targeting you. Stop whining and get bold. Stop using the bible to support your persecution pitty party. Make a sound decision when picking a church and be confident that you’re where God wants you to be and don’t blame God for needing to “move on”. At least take the blame and say, “its me, i wanted out, i didn’t want to deal with the pastor anymore even though God can handle it all for me, i know i should’ve stayed” God doesn’t just change his mind so you can run away…. Hes God, He can handle it!! That’s the devil lol wanting everyone to break up and be sad and offended and hurt and scarred and sad… Come on man!!!

  • L Waveney

    I am in the process of leaving the church that i attend,i am an evangelist,my reason for leaving i feel like i am in a colt they do things that is man made doctrine bcause they think they know everything and its too much compromising so i am dusting my feet and moving on………

  • Comments

    Did you have to explain when you joined, probably not so why should you have to explain why you are leaving.

    • C

      It seems to be more focused for leaders. My husband and I are leaving because we’re relocating and both of us hold leadership responsibilities. It’s almost like leaving a job. :)

  • Moorewayne13

    People never leave if CHRIST is (in) there heart, they make the adjustment and grow past human foolishness

  • pastorswife2020

    I wish churches who have hurt pastors would do follow the same advice!

  • Elm

    It’s a tough one…some of the leaders I know are amongst the most sensitive and emotively driven. Going to see your leader to tell them you’re leaving is indeed the right thing but by no means easy! I think it the discussions should ALWAYS start way before you leave, that way leaving need not be inevitable and can be a platform for discussion. Rather that than…’I’m leaving, goodbye’?!

  • jb

    This article is helpful and written without anger twords church’s. In my current church I feel like my future is “pre-destined”. They keep pressuring me to go into children’s ministry as a children’s Pastor and it is expected that I will go through their Bible college started by a couple outside of the church.I also am working full-time and going to school. I stepped into a position in children’s ministry there that just did not work out. When I stepped into the ministry I feel lost and frustrated. I dreaded having to prepare the lessons every week, find teachers and have little help. I got out of the ministry but overall I am not happy. It is very hard to leave a church with friendships. I don’t want to affect them or pretend and stay in church to keep my friends. Maybe I just don’t have a heart for the kingdom of God.

    • Bobbie

      It is sad to see you think that you may not have a heart for the kingdom of God. When you trust and rely on the spirit of God to lead you then the frustration and feeling of being lost will not be there. I had a similar experience of being pushed too fast into children’s ministry and fell apart at the seams. I tried to explain that I was not on a solid enough foundation spiritually to do it. I did respectably leave that church and was pulled toward the childrens ministry again at another church. This time I had a better relationship and learned how to trust the leading of the spirit and it was a far different experience. The scripture tells you that you can do all things through Christ and that is truth. If that is not holding true to you then seek out a more personal relationship but do know that your heart was created for the kingdom and everything you go through is preparing your heart for its purpose. I encourage you to be straight forward with those who you deal with, you never know how God intends on using this situation for growth not only for you but for them as well. God’s glory will be revealed when you operate in the truth.

  • Brian

    My Pastor suddenly quit after twenty years of being there last week,

    He was my Pastor since I was 6.

    When I decided it was better for my spiritual health to leave I went to talk to the new pastor.

    My old Pastor was replaced by His brother, who said, “everyone that leaves backslides”
    and “you and your girlfriend will break up.”
    I feel that these were scare tactics to keep me to stay because there were many others who were leaving.

    What do you do when a man does that? what are some good scriptures to encourage you, and reminder you, that just because you leave a church, that doesn’t mean you’re backsliding or leaving Jesus.

  • Edilson de Melo

    Well, I am in the process of finding a new church for me and my family, I just left mine 3 days ago.

  • D.B.A

    I am a Minister with a church, we relocated with my family. we moved from City A to City B where our church of A is not present and had to join another church after trying 2 church. we spent about 5 years in City B and have to now relocate to City C where we have the church of city A which i have joined and already part of the ministerial team since i moved about 1 year before my wife. Now she has joined and do not wish to join church A but prefer the city B church and have already join them. this has brought alot of tension. I need an advice..ADB

  • Brian P.

    I read the other, linked to article. I’m one of those unbelieving spouses that would rather go to another church or not attend at all. The reasons I’d prefer another church over the one my wife likes are several. Our church knows little of church history, little of Christian theology, little of outside world views, etc. The musical content is self-absorbed. The liturgy is slip-shod in its planning. Given I don’t believe in the Resurrection and things like that and don’t have angst about eternal this and that, it can make it painful to watch others caught up in what they’re caught up and ways that don’t either seem to be transforming them to deep inner joy found in living a cruciform life. Frankly, it’s all quite uninspirational. I don’t want to be where they are. I’d rather be free and honestly seeking freedom in living for others. That I have to do such through living a lie (living in the closet as if I were a believer) before those who think they’re the real believers can be difficult at times. In these articles that disparage others/outsiders, please remember that we are real people too and that same of us sincerely want to make this world a much better place.

    • http://www.signal-7.com/ Andrew

      Dude why, as a nonchristian, are you even going to church? It’s not for you. It’s for people who have been regenerated by Gods Holy Spirit.

  • Redeemed

    I’m not one for changing churches like I change my pants, but I do think that we sometimes place too much importance (or stressing too much about it) of someone staying with their church or not. Your church home is part of “the Church” and I cannot find anywhere in Scripture where anyone is warned, called out, or otherwise counseled on leaving one gathering and going to another.

    As you recall, the first “churches” were people gathering in a multitude of homes, not in large church buildings. There were many different homes and I would suspect many different approaches to as to how the gospel was being taught/preached. I can’t imagine anyone sweating out the fact that Mr and Mr’s Matthew were going to leave Mr. and Mrs. Paul’s home and start going over to Mr and Mrs. John’s home for worship.

    I have been at my current church for 13 years and plan on moving to another church this coming year. I have discussed with the pastor, on two occasions, my concerns for our church (lack of growth and his not being more engaged in the day-to-day operation of the church) and he has chosen to continue his way, saying that we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I feel that if I stay, I will be a negative influence (as I can’t sit quietly while I see what I believe to be the pastor taking advantage of the membership’s largess) and I certainly don’t want to be that. So, it’s best for me to move on to another fellowship. I will take with me many fond memories and blessings of my many years there and will continue to pray for God’s leading at that church.

  • Joreg Sogsey

    how to do you leave when your leaders, have you under discipline for over 1 year and half, what would be the right words to express without causing any problem?