By Brett McCracken
In our consumer society, where prevailing wisdom says we should be loyal to products or brands only insofar as our needs and tastes are satisfied, it can be easy for churchgoers to have a very low threshold for leaving a church. The slightest mismatch of preferences or the smallest amount of discomfort can lead a churchgoer to become a church shopper, scouring the “market” for the elusive perfect church. But there are no perfect churches. Every church will at times cause us to feel uncomfortable. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
We often leave churches too quickly, for the wrong reasons. When the discomfort level rises and the going gets a bit too tough, we give up. Sure, there are valid and important reasons why we should leave a church (heretical teaching, corrupt leaders, etc.), but there are also bad reasons. What are some common, but ultimately bad, reasons why we might be tempted to leave our current church? Here are seven:
1. Other Churchgoers Annoy You.
One of the most counter cultural and challenging aspects of the Christian church is that it draws people together from very diverse backgrounds. This is what the gospel does! This means it’s very likely you’ll be worshipping alongside people who you’d normally never choose to interact with. And this can be awkward and annoying. But don’t let this lead you to leave and search for a church full of people just like you. To do so is to undermine the very power of the gospel to equalize and unify across natural dividing lines (see Galatians 3).
2. Your “Cause” is Not Sufficiently Championed.
Many people leave churches when they pitch an idea or embark on a crusade to launch a program, but it goes nowhere. Perhaps the church leadership says no outright, or maybe there is just little interest in the congregation to get behind your cause. That’s OK. Don’t leave and search for another church that might run with your idea. Instead, why not stay and see what existing program already has momentum in the church, and get behind that?
3. The Worship Isn’t Your Preferred Style.
Whether it’s the too-loud or too-soft music, the too-topical or too-ex-positional preaching, or an array of other mismatches to one’s laundry list of tastes and preferences, frustration with worship is a big reason people leave churches. But it doesn’t need to be. The truth is, worshipping outside of one’s comfort zone and style preference can be healthy, cultivating humility and making worship more about God than our own consumer desires.
4. A Trendy Church Opened Nearby.
I see this time and time again in Southern California. People go to a church and are “all in” there for a brief time, maybe a year or two. But then the excitement wears off. They get bored. A new, well-branded church with a cool podcast and famous worship leader launches nearby, and the bored person quietly leaves to try the new flavor in town. Why is this a bad idea? Because the cycle will continue ad infinitum. Today’s trendy church will always become tomorrow’s boring church.
5. Your Favourite Pastor Left.
This is a common motivator for church exits. The cult of personality is strong in the American church. Celebrity pastors with “platforms” and book deals naturally draw huge crowds to their churches. And when they leave, the crowds often follow. But pinning your church experience on one pastor’s presence, however dynamic they may be, is unhealthy. A church is more than its pastor(s).
6. Your Heart Just Isn’t in it Anymore.
I often hear from people who have drifted from a church that their heart “just isn’t in it anymore.” They’re just “going through the motions.” It feels obligatory, legalistic and inauthentic to go to church. So they stop going. But as “authentic” as these emotions are, this is a bad reason to leave a church. Why? Because every relationship and commitment in life has seasons where one’s heart isn’t “in it” like it was in the beginning. But that’s normal. And it’s no reason to give up.
7. You Don’t Get Much out of Sunday Services.
It has become normal to talk about a church service in terms of “what I got out of it.” For example, we ask each other after church, “What did you get out of the sermon?” But this posture is simply consumerism applied to church. It positions church in terms of what we can get from it, and thus when it stops providing clear “takeaways” or added value to our life, we justify leaving. But church should not be about what we get out of it, but what we give. How we serve. How we build up the body.