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.”
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:
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.
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.