8 Healthy Ways to Respond when People Leave your Church

Every pastor faces it. Most hate it. You can’t avoid it. People will leave your church. When that happens, what should we do? In this post I suggest a few tips on how to respond when it occurs.

In my over 23 years as a senior pastor (and a another 12 as an associate), for various reasons I’ve probably seen hundreds of people come and go at the churches where I served.

In one year over 100 people left the church I planted after I gave my infamous “Willow Creek” talk. I had just attended one of Willow’s early conferences and within two weeks I delivered a message about all the changes we planned to make. It didn’t work. In my immaturity I had failed to wisely manage change.

Except for some blessed subtractions (those who leave who have hurt your church), unless you are an emotionless robot, when someone leaves it hurts.

Here’s how I’ve tried to process my painful emotions when people leave.

  1. I don’t disparage them to others after they leave.
  2. I reach out to those who had significant roles in the church. Often I will meet with them.
  3. I NEVER burn bridges. I wish them well and pray for them in person if possible.
  4. I don’t try to hide their leaving from other leaders, and neither do I broadcast it.
  5. When possible, I’ve used informal exit interviews to discover why leavers left and if there’s anything we can learn.
  6. When I see them again, I reach out and show genuine interest in how they’re doing.
  7. I don’t let myself become bitter. God has graciously given me short memories about hurtful church experiences. It’s all His grace.
  8. I remind myself that Jesus also dealt with those who left Him. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6.66)

How do you process church leavers?

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  • Excellent article. This has been a painful issue for me over the last year. A family in whom I invested a great deal of time and ministry over the last few years, and that my wife and I count as very close friends, left our church to attend another across town. There was no conflict that instigated the move. I have to admit that I am still hurting over this. I have to keep reminding myself that they are not mine to keep; they belong to Jesus.

    • Chad, been there many times. And by God’s grace with time, he does heal.