Church leaders tend to use a lot of metaphors about family. They want to create a loving, homey environment where everyone feels cared for and welcome. Your church family may not always see eye to eye, but ideally you should be able to depend on each other for support and comfort.
It makes sense, therefore, that it is painful when people leave. Some go because they have gotten a job or want to be closer to loved ones in another city. Others may leave because they have become disillusioned or dissatisfied with church life. These latter departures tend to be the ones that hurt the most. How you respond to someone when they tell you they are planning to leave may determine the course of your relationship in the future.
Try Not To Take It Personally
It is easy to get offended when someone rejects something that you hold so dear. Other people leaving the church may feel like a personal judgment, but that's not always the case. Keep in mind that their departure may not be a direct reflection of your relationship. People leave or change their churches for many reasons:
- Loss of belief
- Perceived dissonance between their lives and church teachings
- Media depictions of Christianity
- Scandals and corruption within the church
In recent times, particularly since the 2016 election, more people have sought to distance themselves from a mainstream evangelicalism that seems to veer closer to nationalism. Some of these exvangelicals have left the church altogether, while others have found more progressive communities where they are free to speak out against this trend. Regardless of where they fall along that spectrum, they are likely wary of those who want them to stay. The best thing their friends from their former church can offer is a listening ear that is free from defensiveness.
Examine Feedback Carefully
Criticism is not fun to hear, even when it's constructive. People who leave your church may have many valid points to make, though, so it's important, not just for your personal relationships with them but also for the health of the church, to remain open to their feedback. You don't have to agree with everything they say, but take an honest look at how your church functions and work toward adjustments that help you serve your congregation and the community better. The church's willingness to consider criticism is directly proportional to its ability to grow.
Keep Communication Open
A common experience of people who leave the church is a swift cutoff from contact with its members. They go from being one of the family to a casual acquaintance in no time. This experience typically reinforces the reasons they left and almost guarantees that they will never be interested in anything church related again. Make a clear effort to affirm your love for those who leave, letting them know that you are still available to them and want them in your life. They may not ever return to your specific congregation, but the continuity of your love and support can be an integral part of the healing process as they move on.
It can be hard enough to adjust to a change when it's something you want to happen. When the change involves beloved people leaving your church, however, the overwhelming feeling of loss may seem impossible to navigate at first. Try to avoid a negative gut reaction. Instead, respond with grace and understanding. They may still not be interested in staying in touch; you don't have any control over that. What you can control is the choice to refuse to do anything harmful that may further validate their feelings of estrangement. By remaining open and loving to them, you may be able to save the relationships even if they are no longer in fellowship with you in an official capacity.