Why People Leave the Church


Mike Glenn advises pastors on how to maximize the gifts and resources of their congregations.

People leave churches for all kinds of reasons…

  1. They move to a different part of town.
  2. They fail to get fully connected in the life of the church and gradually fade away.
  3. There is a pastoral care crisis that the church fails to respond to in a way they needed.
  4. They feel hurt and stop coming to church.

Pick up any publication about churches or church growth and you’ll find at least one article on how to keep church members from leaving “out the back door,” growing indifferent to their faith and spiritual growth.

Over the past several years, there has been a change in why people leave the church.  More people are finding out current church practices don’t help them grow in their relationship to Christ or participate in the work of the kingdom around them.

This was the big AHA! moment of the “Reveal Studies” done by Willow Creek. Those most serious about growing in Christ found the church irrelevant and in some cases, a hindrance to their growth.

Pastors are stewards. The role of the steward is to maximize the investment of the Master. Thus, pastors are called to maximize the gifts and resources of their congregations. This has several implications for how pastors lead their congregations and spend their time.

First, Jesus and Paul both spent significant time training leaders. Pastors of churches making an impact on our post-modern setting will redirect their time to train men and women to lead in their areas of giftedness.

Second, pastors must be willing to give up traditional roles as lay people are willing and gifted to work in these areas. In our church, the deacons do most of the hospital visits. They are magnificent in this ministry. Over the coming year, our deacons will make over 10,000 pastoral care contacts. They are a significant part of our church’s strength. Because they are so good at this, honestly, I’m not needed. I’m free to apply my time and efforts in other ministries.

Third, as people continue to discover who they are in Christ, how they’re wired and the purpose to which they’re called, some will develop ministries outside the traditional structures of the church. This is normal and good.  Not every blossom blooms the same. This diversity of ministry will reveal the love of Christ in ways the world will have to notice.

Fourth, pastors will need to learn to share the glory of success. To be honest, when the members started bragging on how much the deacons meant to them when they were visited in the hospital, it stung a little. Those were the compliments I used to get.

Soon I discovered that as our members took responsibility for the various ministries of our church, we became stronger as a church. Giving went up because people knew their money was making a real difference. Excitement was contagious as people shared their stories of how God had used them. Worship became a genuine expression of gratitude brought by the people themselves to our services.

More and more, I understand my role as pastor is that of a mid-wife. That is, I’m called to sit with my people, listen and help them find a way to give birth to the dream God has already placed in them. And like any birth, the dream’s arrival brings a lot of joy to the family. The family is made stronger and from that, able to face the future with hope.


Does your church have a process to identify the gifts of your members?

Does your church release your pastor from traditional expectations to develop the ministries that will serve the church’s future?

As a pastor, when are you the happiest? When you succeed? Or when your church does?

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