Scott Hodge

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Leaving A Church (Warning: Long One…)

Feb 14, 2006
13 Comments

Why is it that most people do not leave churches well?  Or is it just me? 

I doubt it.

Most of you know that three and a half years ago we began a major, major, major transition/turnaround at the Orchard.  (I’m not talking surfacy type changes either – I’m talking changing the ENTIRE focus, direction, strategy and culture of our church community.) 

During our transition (especially at the beginning) we began losing long time church members who realized that we were no longer the same church that they had previously joined.  And we COMPLETELY understood that.  We were going a completely new direction and most people had joined a church with a completely different focus.  Totally understandable. 

BUT – the thing that always baffled me was the way in which so many of these people left.  In fact, I can probably count on one hand how many people left "well."  And many of these people were members who had been serving under my dad’s leadership at the church for many, many years.  He had water baptized many of them, dedicated their children, officiated their weddings, buried their spouses and invested countless of hours into their lives.  And most of them left without even a goodbye.  No "thank you", no "we’re going to be going to a new church" – nothing!  Just gone!  POOF! 

Now, don’t get me wrong (and I have to be careful here…) this is not a "bitter" rant, because the truth is there is just no way we could have gone the direction we needed to go without losing many of these people.  As hard as it was, we knew that God had called us a new direction and that there was NO WAY we could really get there without losing some of them who weren’t going to go with us.

So here we are now – almost three and a half years later…  Our church has recovered.  We are a COMPLETELY different church than we were then.  COMPLETELY different culture and environment (…and I mean COMPLETELY!) Our growth is VERY, VERY strong and we are reaching mostly "unchurched" people.  To give you an idea of what God has done, our community is almost three times the size it was before our transition.  Momentum is high.  People are excited about being a part of the Orchard! 

These are great days!  BUT – we also realize that some of our growth will always come from people who have left other churches (in fact, some of our strongest leaders have come from other churches – keyword "some".)  And while we are not interested in growing via "church transfers" or "church hoppers" – we do realize that people do sometimes feel called to be a part of something different. 

And so we welcome those people – with one exception…  And that is that they leave well.  For example, this past weekend I made this statement during my talk:

"We are not trying to grow by pulling people away from other churches. 
In fact, if you


13 Responses to “Leaving A Church (Warning: Long One…)”

  1. Scott Harris says:

    Holy crap. The timing of your post is…well, scary!
    I just had lunch with a key person in our church that is wrestling with leaving. For all the right reasons and He had the guts to be open and honest with me.
    I’ve had many people leave our church the wrong way. This guy is doing it right. I just pray that I respond to him well.
    Thanks Scott! I appreciate your post.

  2. Great thoughts, Scott. When we were in the gathering stage, a mentor told me “don’t get too attached – the people you are gathering right now will leave in two years and that’s OK. Their role in the kingdom is scaffolding and they will help you build, but then they’ll be gone.”
    I called him a pessimist. And he was, mildly. The first couple who signed on lasted 2 years and 2 weeks. They left well, admitting that the vision had remained the same but they were never really able to latch on to it. They left with me being grateful for all they’d done, and I believe they were grateful for what they’d received.

  3. Rachel says:

    This was a great post. 2 churches ago when we made the hardest decision of our lives to leave the current church (you know the one Scott) my biggest regret is not going to the Pastors and talking to them. However, given the situation at the time I don’t envision it being received to well. We did not leave in haste, infact God had been telling us for a year and we had been scared to obey (how pathetic is that?) Starting over is hard even when God says GO! Anyway, technically we left well, we weren’t angry or hurt, (all that came later when all the skeletons of the church came out of the closet) we just knew it was time to move on and God told us both very clearly our service time with that church was up. So, I said all this to say…here we are now in another new church in another state, we even joined the launch team of a brand new church. We are, once again very involved and serving in areas of leadership and I don’t know how long God will keep us here. Truth is…I would like to think til I die but I know that is just un-realistic. However, when He does move us I will have the decency this time to tell our pastor. Thank you Scott for this post, I really appreciate you.

  4. Mark says:

    great post man, well said.

  5. Bob Franquiz says:

    Scott,
    First off – great post!
    Secondly, I think people are expecting church to be the one place that doesn’t change. I had 2 families leave our church within the same week. One couple let us know they felt God was calling them somewhere else. I said, “Great!” (But because I didn’t like them – thought I’ve said great on those occasions too!) I was able to pray with them and express my love for them and let them know that we are still there for them even though they have decided to go somewhere else.
    The other couple, who started their relationship with Jesus as a result of our church’s involvement in their lives, they left and we didn’t hear about it for a month! That was annoying! It’s not that people leaving doesn’t hurt – it does. It’s not that you’re trying to talk them into staying – I never do.
    I think it’s people sometimes don’t have a real reason for leaving that isn’t consumer driven.
    This is becoming a book also. So that’s my take on it!

  6. Darla says:

    I’m a churchgoer and my husband and I had to leave a church about 4 years ago. It was a difficult time for my husband in particular. I was the one feeling that it was time to leave. My husband went and talked with this man and this pastor proceeded to point out my flaws to my husband stating that I had trouble dealing with “authority”. Anyway, it was terrible! We’ve since started going to another church and have loved the experience there. It’s a tough thing to do for both parties involved, you can only hope both parties handle it with grace and love.

  7. Daryl Triplett says:

    God’s timing is unbelieveable!!!
    I have recently discovered your blog. I helped plant a church here in NC a little over 3 years ago. The last two months have been difficult to say the least as we have experienced the loss of our worship team leader and a few other key folks. The reason being that they felt that the direction was different. God is using this time, however, in that others are “stepping up” and I sense that God is getting ready to blow the doors off! Some of those who left did as you said, “poofed away”. It is hard to understand. All of this has reminded me of God’s great promise in Romans 8:28.
    Thanks for being obedient and allowing God to use you.

  8. Ted says:

    Great post Scott!
    Bob, your last statement about people leaving for “consumer driven” reasons seems to be paramount.
    In fact, Scott and I were just talking about this the other day.
    Individuals bring a consumeristic mentality into the church-world. As one pastor said, “many people church hop and leave churches, because they are looking for a perfect fitting spiritual sweater…a sweater that isn’t uncomfortable, itchy, and in gist, meets all my needs.”

  9. Brad says:

    Thanks for opening a great conversation Scott.
    As pastors, I think the kind of climates that we create in our churches can make it easier for people to approach us with their transition questions. If we create a climate that comes across as tight-fisted or competitive, people are less likely to pull us into their decisions. They anticipate us responding defensively.
    If we instead celebrate and bless people who leave the right way, that word spreads and others will feel safe in approaching us when God stirs them toward transition.
    When that happens it’s a win-win. The person leaving can start a new season without carrying over baggage from the last one, and we can continue to shepherd them through what is a major decision in their spiritual formation.

  10. Rob Page says:

    Hey Scott,
    You and I do not know one another, but my family has been attending Orchard Valley weekly since September ’05. Prior to that we spent a year and a half going to various churches trying to find one that our entire family just felt welcomed at. Welcomed may not even be the right description, but a place that when we were there we knew God’s love was present. Hopefully that is not the “church hopping” you talked about. We originally checked out Orchard Valley a few times during May of ’04 and all of us loved it. Your dad was the first person to come up to us each time and talk to us. He was such a warm and friendly guy that you could not help but be at ease around him. We really should have just keep attending instead of checking out a few other churches to make sure we ended up where God wanted us to be. The entire time we coninued our search, we knew that Orchard Valley is where we would ultimately end up. We look forward to getting to know everyone and becomming a part of Orchard Valley.

  11. John Gapp says:

    Scott,
    I really like this post. My family attended a smallish (100-150) church during my jr. high/high school years. The pastor and his wife were good, long-time friends of my parents – since before they were all married. Me and my younger sister and brother were close friends with the pastor’s 3 children – and the 6 of us many times made up the largest portion of the youth group…so-on and so-forth, we were all close. During my senior year in high school, my parents started to feel like they weren’t getting out of church as much as they wanted. They needed to be “fed” in a different way than they were at the current church, as the message was often reaching out to those young in faith. That’s fine and all, but they didn’t even sit down with long-time friends and explain it! They just started not going to that church at all, and started at another – which, I agree, met their needs much better. I begged them to talk to the pastor, and just explain it. I always got the, “Oh, yeah, we’ll talk to them…” but it never really happened. The hard part was that I still felt very connected at my old church. I was a leader in the youth group, and helped the pastor out in different ways, so I kept going there longer than my parents. Needless to say, I was stuck with the questions of where the rest of the family was…there was obviously some awkwardness and hurt in those situations that ALL could have been avoided with A SIMPLE 5 MINUTE CONVERSATION!!! A short talk, and everybody understands, and everybody is where they need to be. ARRRGGG!!
    Fortunately, they remained friends, and are friends still, but it was an unnecessarily prickly situation, avoidable with a little honesty and forthrightness.
    j.Gapp

  12. Wow Scott! This is an AWESOME post!!! Way to tell it straight and to tell the truth in love!!! :-)
    Keep the good words coming forth! Thank you for being obedient to the call of God on your life.
    We hope to come to Chicago this summer for a weekend. Maybe take in a Cubs vs. Twins game. Then come to the Orchard!!!
    Tell your girls we say hello!

  13. Kathryn says:

    As I transitioned from an elementary school teacher, to children’s director, this was one of the most difficult and confusing parts of the ministry…people just dropping off the face of the earth. It really hurts. People who attend church and serve with us are friends…they’re FAMILY. It means a lot when people take the time to call or even send an email explaining their decision to leave!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Scott, I agree whole-heartedly!

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