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Six Exit Doors of the Church

Featured / Leadership / May 26, 2009

When it comes to exit doors, however, the real question for the church leader is distinguishing between times to let go from times to lean in.

Everybody thinks about leaving the church at some point. Heck, I’ve thought about leaving the church…and I’m the one leading the deal. Somebody ticks me off, rattles my cage and I begin looking for the nearest exit door. I guess that’s natural.

Actually, leaving is natural. And sometimes it’s even necessary.

Below are six exit doors that you can find in the church. My goal is to create a profile for people who use these exit doors.  (there may be more, but I only came up with six)

EXIT DOOR #1 – MOVING & PLANTED

Sometimes people leave the church because of simple geography. Geography challenges community. When God decides to plant a member in another town, we get it. It’s like God’s way of scattering seed around the world.  Moving & Planted is a natural way of sending faithful members to do the work of ministry elsewhere.

When people leave because they are Moving & Planted the church should celebrate.

EXIT DOOR #2 – ABSENT & WANDERING

Let’s be honest. Sometimes people simply wander away from God. Maybe they’re wrestling with God (which is healthy) or running from God (which is not). Call me crazy, but if someone is having issues with Jesus they’ll probably reject His bride as well.

I see this all the time. When an unmarried christian begins dating “somebody special,” somehow God takes a back seat to weekend getaways in Charleston. When the Saturday night party scene has more appeal then a Sunday morning service, people exit.

Anytime people exit because they are Absent & Wandering it becomes the church’s job to reach out by simply being present and available (without smothering or becoming psycho).  Remember, the hounds of heaven will continue to pursue their soul long after they have left.

Don’t be surprised if the Absent & Wandering person exits loudly, by accusing the church with cliche phrases like “not being deep enough” or not “challenging me spiritually.” Don’t take those comments personally. Nobody wants to be the blame of their own spiritual demise. It’s much easier to blame the church, and they will.

EXIT DOOR #3 – PISSED & OUTTA HERE (with two birds flying)

This is the exit door that will drive every church leader to his knees and add gray hairs to his head.

Here’s what happens: life seemed to be going great, until somebody gets really ticked, really loud and super aggressive. It almost begins to feel like a movie scene where a gun waving psycho locks hostages in a bank. Lives are a stake. And we immediately get afraid of the potential for spiritual destruction in our church. Suddenly we become the cool-headed hostage negotiator trying to just keep everybody safe.

Here’s a rule of thumb: the way you leave a church is the way you’ll enter the next one. Our job as a church leader is NOT simply damage control (though I’ll admit it is a huge concern).  Our job is to help the Pissed & Outta Here person go to the next church without a lot of baggage.

Don’t fool yourself. They are going to leave. But if the church has inadvertently angered or hurt someone then it is our obligation to do whatever we can to resolve the conflict by taking full responsibility for wrongs committed.

Check out 1 Peter 3:15-17

15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

EXIT DOOR #4 – BLESSED & SENT

This exit door is the grand-slam of church work. It’s what we train for.

I want to be a part of a church who sends out worship leaders, pastors and missionaries to other regions of the country to impact the lives of people we will never meet. It is our church’s culture at every level. (when a small group apprentice leaves to start a new group; that’s sending)

Unfortunately, leavers sometimes want the church to misuse “sent” terminology by referring to them as “sent out” instead of “left.” It feels happier. Sometimes, even church splits misuse “sent” terminology as a cover-up for leadership dysfunction. That’s not right.

Here’s what it means to be “sent.”

  1. Sending is always intentional. – You should never send out without first training up. To be sent, you must apprentice. Sending is strategic and planned. It is not a knee-jerk response to a bad situation.
  2. Sending is always specific. – Because apprenticeship is a part of the sending process, the church should never “send out” without a specific vision for the calling. Sending implies mission.
  3. Sending is always celebrated. – Every time we send out, we celebrate. In the book of Acts, every “send” included prayer, fasting and the laying on of hands. When an apprentice is sent, the church parties (and if we didn’t party, we didn’t send).

EXIT DOOR #5 – DISSENTING & DETACHED

Sometimes, leaving is the result of a disagreement about doctrine or leadership (not personal, just business). Your church will not be a perfect fit for every person. That’s fine.

Typically, Dissenting & Detached people are career Christians. They’ve done church all their lives and have strong opinions on how church should be done; and you’re not meeting their expectations. Often, they were unhappy with their last church, then came to yours. And now…surprise…they’re unhappy with your church.

If you have a Dissenting & Detached member, be careful. You could have the makings of a church split on your hands. Dissent is a cancer that will destroy your church if not handled quickly. The church’s best move is to encourage this member to talk to leadership about their concerns. If there is still no resolution, they should be lovingly encouraged to look for a new place that fits them better. Leaving, unfortunately, becomes the only win-win solution.

If you are the Dissenting & Detached member, you must work hard to leave well:

  1. You must be able to say, “I have talked directly and pointedly with the church leadership and we disagree.”
  2. You must leave quietly, so as not to hurt the body of Christ of which you were a part. Leaving loudly or without a direct and pointed conversation with leadership is NOT a God-honoring exit strategy. Take the high road and leave well.

EXIT DOOR #6 – RUNNING from GROWTH AND GONE

As far as I’m concerned, this is the most used exit door in the church.

If your church is working properly, your members are growing. Sometimes growth is hard. Sometimes it’s painful.

Unfortunately, the goal for most Americans is not growth, but comfort. And the moment that church becomes the least bit uncomfortable, people will begin looking for the nearest available exit.

Scripture is pretty clear that we grow faster in moments of discomfort. When God calls us to reconcile because relationships are strained, people tend to reject godliness, run from growth and exit the church. When God calls for us to re-engage in ministry, people sometime reject godliness, run from growth and exit the church. When God calls us to confront difficult people instead of ignoring them, people can reject godliness, run from growth and exit the church.

I have seen more bickering women and more stubborn men leave the church because of their refusal to be godly and grow. What we really need is a few caring Christians to come along side to encourage growth and godliness in the lives of the Running & Gone.

When people leave because they are Running & Gone the church should pray, because you cannot force people to grow.

FINAL WORDS

Statistics tell us that within the first 5 years of a church plant’s existence, the plant will loose almost every person that helped her launch. For church planters, “leaving” (or as Jesus refers to it…”pruning”) becomes a natural part of growth, and a familiar scene on the landscape.

It hurts when people leave. We feel betrayed, frustrated and alone. It’s natural but seems so unfair.

Never forget that God is faithful. He is still at work building a community of people who love and surrender to Him. And He’s using your church to do it.


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Dave Milam
Dave Milam is a pastor, communicator and the founder of One Life Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a a gifted communicator Dave's right brained style of delivery helps his listener connect and remember God's truth in a uniquely visual way. Connect with Dave on Google+




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15 Comments

on May 26, 2009

Thanks for putting all this in words. I have experienced in the last year dear folks I know leaving Eastside and it boggles my mind. This helps put the leaving in perspective. Continued prayer and love and knowing God is in control gets us through.

on May 26, 2009

Helpful, encouraging, very well communicated. Thank you. My heart and life has truly been changed since coming to Kinetic.

on May 26, 2009

It’s important to distinguish capital-C Church from little church in things like this. In the latter case it is a mistake to assume the only (undesirable) reason a person could leave is because they are immature and cannot handle the pure light of God that is being showered on the congregation. That happens of course, but seeing as none of us has yet ascended there is also an element of self-examination in order.

Is it just church plantees who turnover within 5 years, or is that true across later attendees as well? My fear is that modern church in general does not know how to train full-life disciples… I’ve yet to hear anyone refer to the Great Commission in any context other than dragging new people to church. Surely the depths of Christ have not been plumbed within 5 years! Yet we don’t seem to know what to do with this group beyond telling them to find new recruits. Nothing wrong with recruiting, but if people get a “nothing more to see here” vibe it is small wonder they move on. We need to be setting people up on a lifetime track of love and service, with places for people at different points on that journey.

on May 27, 2009

Great comment Matt. I totally respect your insight.

I never want Kinetic to act as if we have everything figured out. The truth is, we don’t. That’s why it’s so important that we have the help and insight of those leaving.

Also, it is my life’s work to try and create a community of people who are interested in a lifetime of discipleship and not just a season of evangelism. Any insight you have in this area would be appreciated.

We should talk.

on May 27, 2009

It seems that there’s a lot of writing going on here about people leaving the church. I’m not sure what the depth of the issue is, but being one who has left, it has a struck a chord. There are many reasons for people leaving (vs being Sent Out), and it’s not always because of a lack of growth or spiritual meandering going on in their lives. It can be a culmination of issues, hurt, problems, detachment, relationships, and many other things. Not all of them are necessarily the fault of the person leaving.

Loss of value in a church (from a previous post) isn’t always tied with personal spiritual stagnation. Detachment isn’t always the result of being unhappy with how the church is run. And sometimes the hurts and the wrongs are never addressed, because there is no follow-up.

on May 27, 2009

I totally agree with your first paragraph. You are EXACTLY on point.

I would even go so far as to say that “most of the time” the hurt and frustration is NOT the fault of the person leaving.

Unfortunately, even stuff that is not our fault is our responsibility.

When a neighbor’s dog craps on my lawn, I have to deal with the poop. It sucks, but it’s real.

I alone am the only person who can deal with my hurt. Nobody can do that for me. I am the only person who can forgive those who have offended or hurt me. Nobody can do that for me. I alone make the decision to engage in ministry. Not anybody else.

Fault rarely displaces responsibility.

In regards to “no follow-up,” please return my phone call.

on May 27, 2009

Good having coffee with you today, Dave. Thanks for meeting with me!

on May 29, 2009

[…] Exit Doors of the Church […]

on May 31, 2009

I think you’re pretty well on target, Dave. Healing from hurts in the past is a choice. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s up to the individual to work through it by reaching out – not necessarily the other way around.

I appreciate the upfront manner in which you’ve communicated this and I really hope that others can take from it what I have.

Thanks buddy.

on June 30, 2009

I actually have some time on my hands now that school is out for the summer and I am catching up on things and ran across your blog.

The fact that I still read your blog shows that Kinetic will probably never be far from my heart. I read over each of your categories and I have to say that not one category sums me up and why I chose to leave. I have to agree with Nathan’s post that there is usually a multitude of reasons etc. going on so to lump people into particular categories isn’t really fair.

It’s been about a year since I left and still haven’t found a church home…kind of like leaving a relationship with someone you loved…I’m still broken hearted so it’s hard to move on.

I guess my only advice in regards to this blog is to not too quickly lump someone into a category saying it’s okay if this person leaves because this is the category they fall in. People are unique and handle things differently. I also agree with not chasing people down…that’s not your job, but it is your job to see a problem that needs fixed and then act.

I was shocked the other night looking around the room at 10 people that were all dedicated Kinteic members at one time and only three still attended. The most shocking part of all is that one that still attended had no idea that most of the others had left. The other seven…well, we are individuals and have our own stories and I doubt any one of us feel like we fit in a category.

I’m not angry or bitter with you or with Kinetic…quite the opposite…I still love the church with my whole heart. It hurts pouring yourself into something for so long though and when you need it most…it’s not there. It’s not about me…if it was I wouldn’t have stayed the 3 years that I did. What hurt me most was to see someone I cared about dearly not welcomed into the family that I loved so much.

I only ask that when someone comes to you like you asked them to in your blog…that you don’t dismiss them into a category…I think if you really listen to all of the hearts speaking out to you, you may see some truth…

I love you Dave, and I pray for Kinetic often and not with a dry eye…

on July 1, 2009

Laura,

Just so you know, this post is simply an overview of my experiences to date. I’m aware that it’s dangerous to generalize all people and all situations into six categories. But generally speaking, most people who exit do fall into one of these six categories.

If your curious where I see you, call me and we can do coffee.

In regards to your other issue, I’ve decided to post the email I sent you on November 6, 2008: (only a small piece of our correspondence to underscore that we were each a part of the church and therefore responsible for her condition)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Laura,

Your email didn’t frustrate me. Actually, I loved it. I had one of those “out-of-body experiences” when I was reading it. Somehow, I pictured your dialogue as a one-on-one conversation with Jesus…POWERFUL.

The answers to your questions really seem to take shape when you begin looking at the issue from God’s perspective.

Here’s where I am: I know that God is going to hold me personally accountable for how I decided to respond to the issues at hand. If I’m honest, I have absolutely no control over the behavior and choices of other people. I can only control my response.

SO…
Because I want my church to reach out to unfamiliar people; I must take initiative to reach out to unfamiliar people and not wait for people to greet me.
Because I want my church to be a family; I will become proactive in creating that family.
Because I want my church to be hospitable to people they don’t know; I must invite complete strangers to lunch and show the love of God. (I must become hospitable)
Because I want my church to have leaders who follow-up promptly; I will become a leader who returns phone calls and emails to the best of my ability.
Because I want my church to be selfless; I will show up with a selfless heart and serve without expectation.

(at least that’s where I am)

Please know that I’m praying for you. Seriously!

And if you have any specific advice for me in the process, YOU KNOW I’M OPEN!

Dave Milam

on July 1, 2009

Dave,
Thanks for responding.

I feel the same now as I did then about your response.

I DO want those things…and I tried to the best of my ability to BE those things. I can’t tell you in the first two years how many people I invited to lunch or to small group etc. I also can’t tell you how many hours I served at the church. I WAS proactive. There came a time when my well ran dry. I had my own personal things going on aside from the church, but as soon as I stepped back from children’s ministry leader, small group leader etc. to take time to fill up my well…that’s when I started seeing things from a different perspective.

I saw things from the eyes of someone “not included” for the first time. Kinetic has great small groups that love each other, but I didn’t see much inclusion outside of the “groups”. My boyfriend on more than one occassion being new to the church asked someone to lunch to which the reponse was “Sorry, I can’t I’m going to lunch with my small group”. Not, “Hey, I got plans with my small group why don’t you come!”. On the tail end of leaving he reluctantly agreed to help with frontline in hopes to get connected…he was never followed up with. I could go on, but I won’t. Why would you actively choose to be part of something that you felt didn’t want any part of you?

Have you ever been in a dating relationship where you were constantly giving…doing your part to make the relationship better, but the person you were with wasn’t doing the same? Well, it sucks. It’s an empty relationship and as much as you want it to work it can’t unless the other person is willing to see that they have some ownership in the relationship too,

I could go on, but I think you see my point. Yes, we should all be proactive, but when people open their hearts and no one reaches out…you can not place all ownership of the problem on the person…the church needs to have some accountablity,

How many people need to exit the doors under ANY category before the church starts to ask WHY?

I find it interesting that in my last year at Kinetic only two people ever called me to ask why I wasn’t at church…neither attend Kinetic anymore…only one person ever invited my boyfriend to a small group…that person no longer attends Kinetic either.

This isn’t a gripe session on everything Kinetic does wrong. I really believe that Kinetic does MANY things RIGHT!!! I think that the church is missing something BIG though…and I don’t know what it takes for people to take notice.

I care about people…I don’t care about trends, or categories etc. I look at the people that touched my life the most during my 3 years at Kinetic and most are still a part of my life…I wonder what my reponse would be if one of them came to me about a problem they saw in our relationship. I hope that I wouldn’t listen, tell them that it was their responsibility to fix it, and then show them the exit door.

I know all of this sounds harsh and if I was the only one that felt this way I wouldn’t be writing now…and I’m not speaking on behalf of one or two that have felt similar pain…I’m speaking on behalf of dozens that I personally watch go through it while I attended and continue to watch now from the outside. I know you sat down and had coffee with many of them like you did me, but in the end nothing changed…we all found the door.

on July 1, 2009

This is a great discussion. Thanks for having this with me.

You stated, “I think that the church is missing something BIG though…and I don’t know what it takes for people to take notice.”

I’m ready to listen and “take notice.”

Help me understand. What specifically do you believe the church is missing, (in addition to added inclusiveness) and how do you propose fixing the problem?

It would be helpful if you could give me a complete list of perceived problems as well as recommended solutions.

on July 2, 2009

I think you need to really see a problem before you can fix it.

Of course I don’t have all the answers, but I will email you my ideas hopefully tomorrow I have some time 🙂

I always enjoy a good “discussion” Dave 🙂

on July 2, 2009

Awesome. I can’t wait to hear your ideas!

Would you mind posting your thoughts here? I’d love for the entire kinetic community to hear how we can improve what we do .



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