Scott Hodge


In and Out (part 3 and final…)

Jul 13, 2007

In my last post on this topic I talked about some of the ways that we try to help people discover UP FRONT whether or not The Orchard is the right “church home” for them or not.  In this post, I want to share a little bit about how I’ve chosen to handle myself on the other end – after people have made the decision to leave.

One of the conclusions that I’ve come to in my life is that most people do NOT leave churches well.  They just don’t.  And while I have a bunch of “theories/guesses” as to WHY, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that probably more often than not, it has a lot to do with whether or not there is an environment in that church that actually ALLOWS those people to leave well. 

I’ve been around churchianity long enough to know that some pastors just don’t make it easy for people to leave!  It’s like suddenly the person leaving becomes “marked” by the leadership as someone who creates division and strife – EVEN WHEN they have done their best to leave well.  It’s a “no-win” scenario!  And more than anything, it seems to reflect a deep insecurity in the life of the pastor who just can’t let people go well.

So, how do we (as pastors and church leaders) create the type of culture/environment that allows people the freedom and liberty to leave our churches if they really feel “led by God” to go? 

Great question, isn’t it?  And I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on this.  But in the meantime, let me throw out a handful of decisions that I’ve made in my life when it comes to people leaving.  Here they are…

  1. I will not try to stop people from leaving our church.

    This is important to me for a bunch of reasons…

    For one, “keeping people” who are thinking of leaving usually requires
    a change in direction or vision.  And if that happens, then I might as
    well resign as “lead pastor” and forget the responsibility I have of
    hearing God’s voice for the overall direction and leadership of the

    Now, before that gets misinterpreted, let me be clear about something…
    I want innovation to flow from every direction of our church
    community!  I desperately want The Orchard to be a place where people
    can dream and create.  BUT, SOMEONE has to steer, lead and guide the
    bus the direction that God intends for it to go.  And pastors….that’s YOU
    and ME.

    One more thing…  Trying to “keep people” usually just prolongs the
    inevitable.  And for their sake, why in the world would I want to do
    this?  I don’t “own” these people!  And let’s not forget that they too
    have the ability to hear the voice of God for their lives just as much
    (and sometimes even more so) than any of us as pastors.

  2. I will not chase after people once they leave.

    Why do pastors do this?  I just don’t get it… 

    Here’s a scenario that you have probably seen if you’re a
    pastor or around church ministry: Someone leaves the church without
    telling ANYBODY…  A month or two later you hear from someone that the
    person who left is now upset or offended that YOU didn’t call wondering
    why they had left.

    So then all the sudden, the responsibility now shifts from the way THEY
    left to whether or not YOU (as the pastor or staff person) went through
    the process of playing a guessing game wondering what happened!  “Are
    they still around?  On vacation?  At the church down the street?”
    depending on the size of your church, you may not even realize they are
    gone!  Especially if they are not serving or plugged in anywhere…

    Anyway…  I don’t chase after people once they’ve made the decision to leave. 

    Of course, there are exceptions.  There have been times when I’ve had a
    relationship with someone and truly felt like they are making a big
    mistake by leaving.  In those cases, I felt a responsibility as their
    “pastor” and “friend” to hit the pause button, pray with them, and help
    them make sure they were making the right decision.  But before I do
    that, I have to ask myself what my motive is.  And if it’s for anything
    other than out of concern for what’s best for THEM or the church as a whole, then I better think twice
    before doing it.

  3. I will always do my very best to take the high road.

    Regardless of whether or not I agree with their decision to leave, I
    will always do my best to graciously respond and bless them on their
    journey ahead.

    And if the person was a member of our church and there was some sort of
    misunderstanding or even offense towards me or the church, I will
    always do my best to resolve things by either personally meeting with
    them or having one of our staff or leaders connect with them.  But even
    then, there has to be some obvious humility, mercy, grace and
    teachability on both sides.

  4. I will pray for them.

When someone leaves – especially when they leave angry or upset, I always do my best to pray for them when they cross my mind.  This not only benefits them (because I believe that God hears and answers our prayers), but it also benefits ME because praying for them also keeps MY heart in the right place and deflates any opportunity to be offended or angry towards them. 

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to honestly pray for God to bless someone that you are bitter towards?  Not very easy.  So why wait until you get to that place, right?

7 Responses to “In and Out (part 3 and final…)”

  1. ted says:

    Well said Scott, well said…

  2. This may be a long comment. We made the decision when we came to our current church not to chase those who left also. I think everything you shared in this post was on the money, but I want to add one thought on this topic. I think some people stay in church long after they should have left. What could possibly be wrong with staying a little longer, they think. Here is what happens, that person or persons begins to see the spots, wrinkles, and blemishes. The things they could overlook in the past that have now become major irritants to them. When you are excited about the church God has called you to, when you are sold out to the vision of that church, you can overlook those things, they are no big deal. When someone stays longer than they should, when they no longer are sold out to the vision, those little irritants become major stumbling blocks in their lives. At this point some will see this and find a new church where they can hook up with the vision and move on in their walk with God, some will not do that but will stay and stew. Not a healthy situation for them, or those around them. Like I said, long comment. Side note Scott – when is that baby coming! Must be any day now!

  3. Doug says:

    I agree with Ted… well said.
    I’ve had a major turn around in my own heart on this topic in recent years.
    As a church leader, I often took it personally when someone left, especially if it was someone in my circle, and they didn’t tell me about it. I would chase them and try to talk them out of it.
    As I gained experience, I would often chase them, not to bring them back, but to listen and understand why they are leaving. One, to make sure there were no “issues”, and two, so that I could understand their reasoning and bless them or “send them off”. Even if it was in a different direction, I know that they are taking something from their time with me/us, and will use it for the good, or will use it as a reason to do somthing different because it didn’t work. A form of backwards collaboration if you will. :^)
    I also recently left a church (well), but God didn’t necessarily lead me away. I knew that for some reason, I wasn’t engaging, and in turn wasn’t growing, and leading my family. We found another church, and God has blessed our decision immensly. I’m not sure that God led me away, but He has blessed my obedience to “seek” Him.

  4. GREAT STUFF…Don’t try to close the back door of your church…Knock a hole in the wall and make more room…especially for self-centered, Consumer Christians.

  5. Dana Kidder says:

    man, I wish you had written this two years ago!

  6. chad payne says:

    Investing Our People

    I’ve been reading articles on Craig Groeschel’s and Scott Hodge’s blogs about releasing members when it is time for them to leave our churches. Both have some great discussions on leaving the the back door slightly open for those who

  7. Tom says:

    Hi, I found your web page because I had a very interesting dream and woke up with the thought, “They will know we are christians by our love for one another”. I decided to search the phrase on the internet and found only a few references. I mean very few and your blog was one of the probably ligitamte 5 total. I saw on your blog the below statement and I think what people are wanting to do when they leave is to find out if there loved or worse yet even missed. I have been a believer all my life but a follower of christ for only a little while and I keep desiring, hoping, looking, for someone that is living the life found in the church mentioned in Acts where they truly and sincerely believe as our heavenly father that every person is treasured, that the sin of every person has been bought by the price of his son. Not just the wealthy or pretty people but those who are poor in spirit. Those who need love. The early church that were totally out of self and gave freely to one another as they saw that people had need, not as they asked, Who think of others being more important than themselves and the church grew because of “the love that they had for one another”. A love disperately desired by all. A contagious love that draws like a magnet that is so rejuvenating, fresh and genuine. Where does this love come from? None other than the source of all love, from our heavenly father, through his son, by the holy spirit that captures the hearts of men. How is it received? Through a life of crucifixtion. Of dying to your will and truly loving God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. Total devotion, total obedience. Christ who lives in me, not my will but his be done, total selflessness, even to the point of death on a cross, kind of selflessness. We can do all things through christ who strengthens us, even more we should do this to those we considered to be our brothers and sisters. Love that we have for one another in the faith. Not the love for hugh church buildings, large congregations and the money they bring, large baptism numbers, and the right video performance and modern music, church programs. But a true fellowship of like minded believers that want to truly live this life of total obedience, total devotion, total selflesness, total love of God and all the things that he desires and top on his list is the love he has for all mankind and the price he chose to pay so that all may choose a life with him forever, surround by his love. All we all desire and need is love. That is the true church. Church where are you? It’s nearly non-existent why because we lack a genuine Fear of God. We have made a religion of self-god or of self convience or what ever feels good do it or not do it. A church of self desire, instead of God desire. Drawn by the approval of men or women, not of God. It is a very, very narrow road that leads to heaven and those that find it, I believe are drawn to it because of the lure and desire to be loved and to love with all there heart mind soul and strength as the holy spirit leads right to there heavenly father which art in heaven.
    Why should you chase after them? Because you need to find out why the lure isn’t there for them, because if the lure isn’t there the love isn’t either. If the love is there they won’t EVER leave. They will be longing for more and be looking for ways to share it with others. If you need any further help with this simply as WWJD.

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