5 really bad reasons to leave your church

There are lots of good reasons to leave a church. But there are lots more bad ones.

Let’s be honest: while there are some good reasons for leaving a church, there are a lot more bad ones. As a pastor, I hear some of them every now and then as people walk out the door. As a church planter, I hear them constantly as people walk in the door.

If you’re thinking about looking for a new church home, please don’t use one of these five reasons to make the jump:

1. “I’m not being fed”

Do pastors have a responsibility to steward the scriptures and care for their church spiritually? You bet they do. And it can be all too easy to overlook this while trying to manage staff, build systems, meet needs, put out fires, and develop leaders, all while overseeing the overall vision and direction of the church. But let’s be honest, if you own a smartphone, a personal computer, or a library card, you have access to some of the best preaching and teaching in the world. You can even find teaching archives of some of the greatest preachers of all time. Christian, you have access to more “meat” than any other generation before you!

To leave a church because you’re not getting “enough” is a cop out. Your primary call in the church is to contribute, not just to consume. As a Christian, you shouldn’t require spoon-feeding for the rest of your life. Eventually you need to learn how to feed yourself so that, in time, you can actually feed others. Remember, your call is not just to be a disciple but to make disciples.

2. “It’s getting too big”

I can appreciate the sense of loss that accompanies growth. When we first began, our church was little more than a small band of brothers and sisters meeting together in a living room. It feels very different now that we are a church of a few hundred people spread across multiple services. There are moments when I miss the intimacy and simplicity of those early days. But remaining small is a sad and unbiblical goal.

When churches are faithful to the Great Commission, lives will be changed and people will be added to their number. It may not happen rapidly, but on a long enough timeline growth is inevitable in churches that are faithful. If you have a problem with big churches, you really wouldn’t have liked the first church, and you definitely won’t like heaven.

3. “I don’t agree with everything that is being preached”

You know what? Neither do I, and I’m the pastor. As such I fully reserve the right to disagree with myself. And every now and then I do exactly that. Why? Because I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m asking questions. And my hope is that those I pastor are doing likewise.

If you insist that your pastor agree with you on every little thing under the sun, you are going to either hop from church to church for the rest of your life in perpetual disappointment or you will eventually give up and drop out altogether. Chances are that no matter where you go, you are not going to agree with everything that is preached. As long as your pastor isn’t preaching outright heresy, you can afford to disagree on secondary issues. And when you choose to stay despite disagreeing on some things, you, your pastor and your church are better for it.

4. “My Needs Aren’t Being Met”

When someone lists this as a reason for leaving, it is a dead giveaway that somewhere along the way he or she came to believe that the Church actually exists to serve his or her needs. This person has bought into the lie that, when it comes to church, it’s really about “me.” Here’s the problem: the Church actually isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus. It’s his Church. He came for it. He died for it. He redeemed it. He continues to build it. And one day, he’ll come back for it. It’s his.

This is the same Jesus who came to seek and to save the lost and then commissioned his Church to go and do the same. The Church doesn’t exist to meet your needs. You are a part of the Church that exists to meet the needs of the world. Put away the shopping cart and pick up a shovel.

5. Unresolved Conflict

Wherever you find the community of sinning saints, you will find conflict. Lots of it. The Church is one big family full of characters and misfits. Sometimes sisters argue. Sometimes brothers fight. Sometimes you want to bury your weird uncle in the backyard. But despite it all, family is supposed to be the place where you stick together. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

Paul addressed a lot of church conflict in his letters. Nowhere do I hear him encouraging believers to bail on one another or move on down the road to a different church where it’ll be easier. Instead, much of his letters consist of his encouraging and coaching these ragamuffin communities in how to do this very hard and messy thing together.

When we leave at first sign of real conflict, it shortchanges God’s best work in our midst. It sidesteps the process of repentance, forgiveness and grace. It negates the power of the Gospel to bring reconciliation where reconciliation might seem impossible. We and those around us miss out on all of it when we just leave.

Not all conflict is resolvable. I know that reconciliation is impossible where there is no repentance. I get that. But remember, repentance starts with us. And so does the extending of grace. And when we resolve to stick around and keep on repenting and extending grace, God can do far more than we often give Him credit for. Some of God’s best work happens in the mess.

This article was adapted from an earlier version that appeared on aaronloy.com.

About

Aaron Loy Aaron is a husband, dad, pastor, writer and church planter based in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is the founding pastor of Mosaic Lincoln.
  • Terry Slowe

    The church have an obligation to feed the flock, create opportunities and seek to meet the needs of the saints. Anything less is short chainging.

  • Chris Cerrato

    Hmm.. so then, churches shouldn’t do anything to attract new members, anything that offers them something, because the members of the church are to be contributors not recipients? Or perhaps, because I can meet the needs of my neighbors without going to church, church can be discarded entirely?
    Part of the Episcopal liturgy says “… for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” Members of a congregation SHOULD get something from their worship experience; perhaps not what they expect, perhaps not everything they wish, but…
    I do agree with 2, 3, and 5 wholeheartedly, though.

    • Michele

      The Episcopal liturgy says “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” We do come for solace but also for strength to do the work of the kingdom.

  • Doug Wilkening

    It’s probably not a good idea to judge or criticize people on the basis of the reasons they give for leaving. Let me give you a real-life example to illustrate.

    A middle-aged woman in my own church, who had once taught Sunday School, but then had essentially been a pew potato for the last five or ten years after that, left, giving the usual reason that her needs were not being met. Her first Sunday at her new church, the new pastor took her aside, spoke with her for a few minutes, then “assigned” her to start a ministry for young first-time mothers. Then he held her accountable to get it done. Today she is a leader and is thriving in her new ministry role.

    Why didn’t she thrive at her old church? It’s simple really. Our church is tuned for self-starters. If a person gets up off his or her duff, takes the initiative and starts something, there will be an outpouring of support, both encouragement and financial, from the congregation. But you have to be a self-starter. Nobody will twist your arm. This woman simply needed to be in a place where they kick you in the butt to get you started, then apply peer pressure to keep you going.

    Now, an entrepreneurial environment and a directive environment are mutually exclusive, a congregation can’t be both at the same time. So, this woman was 100% correct to say that the old church wasn’t meeting her needs, although I doubt that she understood why, she just had a gut feeling and she went with it.. She needed the direction. And without question she made the right decision.

    By the way, in no way is our church doing the wrong thing. We consistently produce about ten times the number of pastors and missionaries as the average evangelical church when the numbers are normalized for size of congregation. But we’re not the right church for everybody, and I doubt that any church is.

  • Abbot John-Anthony OSB

    Perhaps you might want to add …. A Controlling,Bullying Pastor!

  • Mimi Peck-Llewellyn

    Or perhaps not, Abbot. Look at #5.

  • Jessica Mundy Crichlow

    I think maybe what I hear this article saying is not that the church should not be meeting people’s needs, but that, as in a marriage, we are only in control of our own response and our own actions in our relationship with our church. Just as in my marriage the fact that my husband may not always meet all the needs that he is responsible for meeting does not give me the right to leave him, so not getting all of our needs met at all times should not be the sole reason to leave a church.

    This is the reason I am careful not to read or listen to anything about marriage that gives advice or direction to the husband – because then I will start thinking that I know what he is supposed to be doing for me, and finding fault and making demands. Instead, I need to be hearing what my responsibility is to him. Yes, God has given my husband responsibilities toward me, but I am not in control of that, and as soon as I try to be, things get nasty.

    If my husband is not fulfilling all of his responsibilities as a husband, it is not my job to try to change him or demand of him what I think he should give me (though I can, of course, make my needs and desires known) – that is God’s job, and God’s alone. I can only go to God with my needs and desires believing that, “my God shall supply all my needs, according to His riches in glory,” and that “the gentiles run after these things and God knows that you need them.” In this way I can receive His love, which will overflow to my husband, and thereby be happy in an imperfect marriage. And watch with wonder and delight how my husband and I are both changed by His grace.

    Maybe it is the same way with a relationship in a church. There may be very, very good reasons to leave a marriage (indeed, there are provisions made for that in the old testament) or a church, but unmet needs alone is not one of them. I have left quite a few churches, believing at the time that my beliefs differed too much for me to fit in. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do or not. Thank God He works all things together for my good and his glory, even my mistakes.

  • Adele

    I disagree with #4. I think a better term would be ‘It does not meet my wants.’ Needs are vital spiritual things the church and its members ‘needs’ to grow spiritual and stay rooted in Christ. Although a person cannot benefit from spiritual growth and a faith community if they are selfish in their communion with the church, ‘Needs not being met’ is a valid reason to leave a church. I am a selfless, outgoing, eager contributor who wants to serve and participate. My church is very closed off to welcoming members, it is unorganized and has a lot of opinions that go against basic doctrine. (Our bible study was led by someone who questions if God is all good and isn’t sure Christ is God – as a Christian attending an Episcopal Church, that is a need not being met that interferes with spiritual communion and growth). I have attended my church four years and only one person has made an effort to be friendly (I’m known for always being laid-back, friendly, kind and eager to help) – I really feel isolated in the parish and not welcome. Do I attend church to have friends? No, I go for communion with God and I do have gratitude that I can get communion and Christ’s church, but what is a church community if we do not love one another and reach out to form a community in Christ. My church feels more like individuals who fill a sanctuary, going their own directions. I look forward to moving out of the city and hopefully finding another church.

  • Joe Gallant

    Of course there will be exceptions to the rules and of course we will all interpret each point above, and each situation, differently. Why are people taking such strong stances in their responses? Oh wait, because this is the internet.

  • Terri

    I’d like to see a list of 5 reasons to know when it is time to find another church. Growing up I was taught fire and brimstone and the only way I was getting to heaven was good deeds – the MINUTE I sinned I was a failure. I left that church at 17 –my pastor told me I was going to Hell for something I had done and it took me 33 years to get back to God where I was no longer afraid, but felt loved by Him.

    • Dallas Swoager

      The guy over at the liberty for captives blog writes fairly extensively on the subject. I haven’t been as on board with some of his me recent posts, but he is overall really solid.

  • Recovering Evangelical

    Do you think “I just can not bring myself to believe this theology” is a good reason to leave?

    • Doug Wilkening

      Yes it is. God wants you to be honest, both with yourself and with Him. Remember, you don’t find God, He finds you.

  • Ronnie

    I wanted to transfer my membership from one Baptist Church to another but the Pastor said no. He stated I would have to be baptized again because I had belonged to a Primitive Baptist and this was a Southern Baptist. Later, I started going to a Methodist Church where I have been a member for almost 25 years. They had no problem with my baptism and accepted me as I am.

  • http://www.ibfellowship.org/ John Chester

    I sharply disagree with #1. A pastor who doesn’t bother to teach and adequately feed his sheep is simply not doing his job. A church that tolerates a pastor that doesn’t teach is more than likely going to be unhealthy in a myriad of other ways too, Remember Jesus’ post resurrection charge to Peter? Feed My lambs, tend my sheep, feed My sheep (John 21:15-19). Spiritual feeding is the central responsibility of the pastor. If that responsibility is not being fulfilled, you should look to move on.

  • Cliff Capehart

    Aaron,
    1) It is estimated by Lifeway Research that over 1 million people are leaving the church annually because of poor leadership. They aren’t leaving God, rather they are transitioning to coffee shop Bible studies and home fellowships where they can be in fellowship with other believers building friendships and learning together. Gallup and Barna poles show similar statistics.
    2) It is estimated that over 37 million dollars this year alone will be stolen by church leaders from their congregational tithes and that dollar amount is considered to increase yearly as it has in the past. (sorry I can’t remember which Evangelical Mission Board posted this research recently).

    As an ordained minister serving 18 years in full-time ministry I have had to deal with Senior pastor stepping down for adultery, spiritual abuse, financial abuse, neglect of their wife and children. His actions and his confession to the congregation. I won’t even try to explain the trauma the congregation went through during a six month period that this unfolded.
    Second was a pastor that was a narcissist who so mishandled the finances that he had the church as a dab of his own non-profit. The church thought they had four industrial buildings they were paying for and the board of directors nor the elders had a problem with it.
    Third church, a group of members decided they didn’t like the way the senior pastor was running the church so they decided to sue him. It ended up taking a 3500+ member church down to 400, the pastor reputation slandered yet proven innocent by court of law and the church property sold off in chunks as the new leaders started another church in a nearby city from the equity.
    I could go on to share story after story of churches where this behavior is being acted out daily, this is why people are leaving the church in general. People are tired of being preached how to live life one way while their so called leaders are living the opposite.

  • Glenna Dixon

    Wow, OK I think this is a fabulous article, this gentleman did nothing to point fingers at people who left for legitimate reasons, you need to do what you and God feel is right, however, if you are wavering it is important to take responsibility for your self and consider these statements. Every place you go has quirks, conflict etc… Consider these as support, no one is judging that you left because of bullying, fear etc. The point is God wants us to be fed and grow, but He can put he food in front of you, it’s our choice whether to eat. Just are sure you’re doing everything for the right reasons, and Yes there are several right reasons too.
    God Bless you all and thank you for your hand in my growth

  • Dave Teich

    I’m a fairly new Christian. I became one 8 years ago and I’m 61. I’ve only experienced the one church in my life that I am now a member of. Church, by the way, is absolutely the last place I would have looked for God but he brought me there nevertheless. This church fit like an old shoe the minute I walked in and I fell in love. A new pastor came in at about the time I joined, and he was good….for awhile. Then he was bad. People were unhappy, there was conflict, he wasn’t honest or contrite about his mistakes. The atmosphere was miserable for awhile and a number of people did leave. I don’t worship the pastor, so I stayed, but I have to make clear that I’m mostly sad about those who left. Eventually this pastor left and we got an interim who is fabulous, and who we would love to hire as permanent but she has to move to another part of the country to be with her husband. So now I’m on the Pastor Nominating Committee, and have read over 95 resumes from pastors, which has been a real eye-opener in terms of a) their own qualifications and b) the situations in the churches they are leaving. I find myself wondering if ALL churches are as messed up as those I am learning about. I can’t judge whether people should leave/stay although I’d like my brothers and sisters to stay, but my experience is limited. I have been “mugged” in church by vicious people and I can understand why a personal wound would override an impulse to seek the spirit, simply because the church may not be a safe place to be vulnerable like that.

  • ilona maki

    Of course anyone can leave a church for any reason. Isn’t this the land of freedom of religion? Am I going to church to pay a pastor’s salary, who is just bringing me down, and adding nothing to my life as a social being? I’m way older than a millennial: one thing I’ve learned is to use my own judgement, and not let someone else hold the reins to my conscience. Churches can be very damaging. The authentic churches are the ones who aren’t afraid to let people leave of their own volition. We all have “needs” that need to be met; some communities will help us better than others. Jeesh! Don’t let a church “guilt-trip” you into staying!

  • reveranna

    Thank you for this. My mom always says, “If you’re not being fed, take off your bib and put on your apron.”

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