The Signs

Few things are more heart-rending in pastoral ministry than when individuals or entire families decide to part company with their church family. Those we have grown to love make decisions to leave, many times suddenly, without explanation or courtesy. While the reasons for such departures are many, I have noticed certain trends in church life that often culminate in back-door exits. In other words, their staying power is placed in jeopardy for all or some of the following reasons.

1. Offenses 

Jesus warned us that offenses would accelerate in the last days (Matthew 24:10). Many people prefer flight over fight when it comes to resolving differences of opinion, personality conflicts, unmet expectations, or relationship bumps in the road. Some live to be offended. The Scriptures provide many helps in the areas of conflict resolution, but it seems that many today are spiritually shallow and scripturally illiterate. It’s easier for them to depart, thinking the grass is greener in their next church. However, I have discovered that unresolved issues follow people to the “next pasture,” only to discover that, given time, they simply reappear with new faces.   

2. No Skin in the Game

Consumer attitudes often develop in local churches. Many ask, “What can this church do for me?” They fail to understand the beauty of serving over receiving. Records indicate little or no participation in giving. Often, tithing is shunned. Sadly, however, some of these people expect financial help and are free to make demands when in a pinch. They bring nothing to church dinners. They arrive late and leave early for services. They seldom attend outside functions. In short, they have no skin in the game and become easily dissatisfied and critical. Most consumers leave blaming the church instead of accepting personal responsibility for their actions.

3. Hit and Miss

Sadly, church attendance in America is at an all-time low. In spite of the megachurch boom, statistics indicate that the average evangelical church has less than 80 attenders. Someone aptly said, “Those who miss church eventually do not miss church.” This is a sad reality. Like anything else, church attendance should become a habit. However, when Christians allow other activities to steal their worship times, spiritual de-sensitivity results. I’ve watched the pattern for years. First, they miss one Sunday, then two. Then, they miss three-to four Sundays in a row. Then, it becomes all too easy to allow family and fun activities to crowd out their worship times. Attendance becomes more miss than hit, and eventually becomes a thing of the past. Excuse making becomes the norm. Some even become angry when loving pastors and others express concern. 

4. Poor Social Skills

I personally believe that social skills are on a downhill slide in America. The advent of social media, along with the absence of teaching good social skills in the home has caused many today to remain on the sidelines of social interaction. In short, many are shy or socially crippled. They neither know how to effectively interact with others, nor do they take initiative to press past their shyness or insecurity. They self-isolate in crowds! I’ve watched this dynamic for years. They don’t smile. They don’t initiate any kind of greeting, and they pull away. And of course, they feel disconnected. However, in my experience, most of them leave, blaming the church for being unfriendly. What they fail to understand is that their body language says, “Leave me alone!” 

5. No Close Connections

The local church is a “family,” or should strive to be. Obviously, in today’s convoluted world, where time management is always a challenge and family and work demands fill our days, it becomes difficult to gather with our fellow churchgoers. If we’ve ever needed small group opportunities, we need them today. It’s nearly impossible for us to know everyone in a faith community. Church statisticians remind us that if individuals fail to link with 3-5 others in a given church, the probability of long tenure is greatly minimized. Going back to our discussion on poor social skills, we discover that many leave, even if they enjoy the overall ministry of the church. People need to feel connected. 

6.  Birds of a Feather

This I must mention. Sometimes in local church life, individuals become dissatisfied with whatever, and instead of righteously working out their issues, turn to mutiny and divisive measures. They gather “supporters” around them and undermine spiritual authority. In every church I’ve pastored, I’ve had to deal with subversive attitudes. And let me tell you, it’s every pastor’s nightmare. The Leviathan spirit must be cast out. Leviathan and Jezebel spirits cannot be allowed to go unchecked. They must be confronted and if they refuse to repent, must be ousted. This is non-negotiable. These spirits will attempt to control and manipulate until confronted and cast out. If not, a “little leaven filters through the whole church,” and spiritual disaster results. Discord must not be allowed. 

7. Euodia and Syntyche Strike Again

From time to time in families, children squabble. They fight. They tattle-tale. The same things happen in churches. Personality differences, hurt feelings, and disagreements are met with unkind words and an unwillingness to forgive and move on. Afterwards, tension remains on high alert. Often, those involved want the pastor to side with them. And like parents in the home, such conduct must be sorted out through prayer and confrontation. Usually, such squabbling includes “his story, her story and then the right story.” At times, individuals feel wronged and leave the local church. This is most disconcerting. Evidently, when Paul confronted two women, Euodia and Syntyche, who were at odds in the Philippian church, the issue was successfully resolved. However, in many cases similar quarrels cause guilty parties to exit the church family. This we should weep over.     

8. Unrepented Sin 

Sin is a great divider. In other words, when individuals refuse to obey the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, they sometimes become belligerent. Instead of humbly submitting to the Spirit’s prodding, they self-isolate. Shame and guilt move in and bring spiritual compromise. I’ve seen this happen again and again. One of the greatest foes I deal with in pastoral ministry is the propensity of many Christians to drink socially. Sadly, more and more are becoming addicted. An occasional drink turns to frequent drunkenness. Instead of seeking help and repenting, many are leaving churches, only to tout reasons of legalism and calls of judgment. While I personally subscribe to a teetotaler conviction, I refuse to bend on the subject of drunkenness. I stand helpless and watch as alcohol ravages homes of professing Christians. Many are out of church today because they are bound and refuse to acknowledge their sin. And of course, alcohol is but one of several challenges facing the local church today.     

9. Time to Go

While the psalmist encourages us to become “planted” in one church (92:13), I believe there are times when leaving a particular church becomes both healthy and necessary. I do, however, believe these times constitute the exception, not the rule. Leadership malfeasance, doctrinal error, moral issues, and matters of conscience perhaps make it necessary for individuals to locate another “pasture.” As a rule, I suggest that instead of leaving, you ask yourself, “What is the Lord trying to teach me during this time of corporate soul-searching? Your church needs your faithful attendance, love, prayers, and support during the good and bad times. In the home, our children at times become unruly and problematic. We don’t throw them away. We do, however, exert godly discipline. We ask the Lord for wisdom on how to deal with them in a sustainable manner that will make them and us a stronger family unit. It’s the same for the local church.  


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