Recently I had an important conversation with one of my friends. He’s apart of a church–attends, gives, serves–and loves his church, but recently he’s had allot of friends leave his church. His statement to me was, “All my friends are leaving, what do you think I should do?” His heart was pure, he wanted to hear God, do the right thing, and lead his family in a way that brought honor to Jesus, and his church. I asked a few simple questions, we talked. After our talk he called and told me he decided to stay. Here were my questions…
Who brought you to your church, Jesus or your friends?
He told me about how he and his wife relocated to a new place. He couldn’t make the drive to the church he’d been in for many years. Leaving his old church he visited several. When he decided on his current church he told everybody, including the pastor, the Lord led him to this church.
I think this is a huge question. People come to church for many reasons. Some our sent by the Lord, they just have a directive they are suppose to be there. Others are invited by friends, and still others come for a variety of reasons. Answering this question, do I go to church because of friends? The answer will tell you who you are following, Jesus or your friends. At some point every Christ follower has to make a choice as to who will be more influential.
Why are your friends leaving?
He told me the church had been going through allot of change, even hard times. It seemed to him most of his friends were critical. They wanted more information about what was happening, but to his understanding his friends never asked anyone who could give helpful answers, instead, they just kept talking as if they knew. He was influenced by these conversations, that’s why he called me.
This question also has massive implications. People leave churches for the same reasons they come to church. Some hear the Lord telling them the season is over, others leave because their friends leave. Still others for a variety of reasons. Are your friends leaving because they are offended? Are your friends leaving because they disagree with some part of the vision? Have you asked them beyond the “God told us” comment? And when you ask them, does your conversation stop after they answer, or do you encourage them to resolve any difference/offense you discern? Do you tell them to make their voice heard? I seriously believe it’s a friends responsibility, as a good friend, to not let a friend leave the Church the Lord has sent them to and planted them in! I can think of many people in my church I would not allow leave without being the great friend who challenges their reasons. Sadly, many Christ-followers sit passively by while their friends wander away. Be a friend to somebody. Help them sort through their offense. Help them conquer the temptations to leave because of unmet expectation. In every church, every person loves the newness together, it’s like a kid with a new bedroom. But the newness wears off, and at that point we’ve got to be a friend enough to help one another grow.
Fact: Just because your friends leave, doesn’t mean you should leave. Paul tells us, “God sets the members in a body.” Over the years I’ve watched people follow other people blindly to a life of compromise, inefficiency and disappointment unintentionally, simply because they were friends. Do not make the mistake of leaving your church too soon.
Fact: People mostly come alone. Very few people come to a church in groups. It’s because of church they make a new friend, best friends and life-long friends. Have you considered that maybe the only reason you are friends is because of your church? It’s a sobering thought to think most of my friends wouldn’t even be my friends if a) it wasn’t for my church and b) my pastor didn’t introduce us.
Fact: People mostly leave in groups. It’s a hard fact to accept, and I don’t like it much, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. We seldom “grow” alone, and we seldom “go” alone. It takes both a church and a friend to grow disciples, and it takes both a church and a friend to go elsewhere. Accept this fact, especially if you are a part of a group that’s leaving, you may be leaving for the wrong reasons, and if you do you can miss God for you.
My friend said to me, “We decided to stay because we realized we’d invested much, and if we were to go it wouldn’t be beneficial to the people we loved who were staying. We decided to become a part of the solution, met with our pastoral teams, got involved in a greater degree.” He explained to me the reasons his friends were leaving were mostly because of false perceptions, what they thought was reality. He told me some of his friends had sharp criticisms, but mostly they were letting one element/circumstance/experience determine the rest of their expectations. He concluded by saying, “We realized there was this point in our journey where we needed to stop attending to receive friends, and start attending to give friendship. He told me, “It’s been the best decision Jeff. We’ve grown closer to people we’ve known for years because of a small shift in our thinking.”
No doubt, there are external realities to leave a church. In the culture we live in Pastor’s and leaders are being crushed by the weight of expectations. Sometimes it leads them to do dumb things, but I’m of the opinion pastors don’t wake up in the morning intending to do dumb things. Most reasons people leave churches are just hooey. They critique and scrutinize to the point where they can’t stay. I’m not saying there aren’t some reasons to go, but if you’ve got to keep mulling it over and over in your head it’s not the church, it’s you.
Frankly, merited reasons to leave a church are few and far between. Yes, the Lord calls people out, but not as often as you would think. Most people play the “God card” when they’ve got nothing else to lean on. It’s easy to cover our lack of forgiveness, disagreement with how things are being done and our own struggles to be a Christ follower with nothing more than a “God told me…” In the end it can lead other well meaning people–our friends–down a dangerous road of destruction. As for me, I don’t follow my friends, and I don’t think you should either. I follow Jesus, He’s planted me at The Rock Church. If he tells me to go, well, he’ll tell a lot of my friends also, as they send me. For now, I don’t follow leavers, I follow believers.