When You Know it's Time to Leave Your Church

If you’re a church-going believer, there inevitably will come a time when you will transition from one church to another.

Depending on your church background, this could be both a strenuous spiritual assignment and a difficult practical task. While I don’t advocate “church-shopping” or frequently leaving churches in general, I do understand that there’s a season and time for everything.

Frankly, it’s incredibly rare for anyone to attend one church for their entire life.

The local churches you see in a community today are widely diverse. It’s fascinating to see the differences in churches that are mere miles away from one another. With such diversity, it’s not uncommon to leave one church one day and drive down the street to try out another church the next week in order to find a church home.

The lifeline of a local church can be exhausting.

There are seasons within the local church that are exciting followed by seasons of stagnation. No church is immune from this. There are new trends and approaches that come and go. On average there are pastoral changes every six years (per LifeWay). There are moments of supernatural God encounters and times you feel like God is non-responsive.

These reasons often lead to a mass exodus of people. When people start leaving, everyone who hasn’t left notices. In these moments, naturally everyone begins contemplating whether or not it’s their time to transition to another church.

So, let’s look at some reasons you should consider leaving your church.

1. The Great Commission is being ignored.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
— Matthew 28:19-20

The local church has to exist to connect people to Jesus. Period! If your church isn’t doing this, then it’s missing the single most important element of Christianity.

If your church isn’t doing this — it’s merely people in a building singing a few songs and hearing a message. Before you think this is predicated on church size — it’s not. In fact, there are plenty of larger churches who aren’t connecting people to Jesus.

When we were serving at a smaller (<100) church I remember being discouraged when we tracked the amount of salvations we had. It was extremely low. But, while the church had its fair share of problems (they all do), the church burned with passion to see unbelievers engage with Jesus.

We didn’t see many people connect to Jesus at the church because of differences in styles and approaches, but the passion to live out the Great Commission remained.

Does it feel like your church is insider-focused? Is every church decision and strategy built for those inside the building? Do people in the church scoff at the idea of doing something for the community? 

If the answer is yes, then the church is likely ignoring the Great Commission.

2. Genuine love for those outside the building is absent.

It’s time to measure the love meter of the church. Is there a tangible love and subsequent action for those outside the building in your church?

I love the analogy given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. This thriving church in Corinth was over consumed with spiritual gifts. They were operating out-of-order. They would prophecy and speak in tongues one day, but they failed to love each other and those outside the building.

Let’s look at Paul’s response:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.
— 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

Unfortunately, some churches think their love for others is genuine because “love” is written in a faded mission statement. However, when those outside the building, look, think and act differently, that love quickly dissipates.

I don’t think any church would ever say they don’t love people, but actions speak louder than words.

3. There is viable disunity amongst believers.

Jesus always intended for The Church to be unified. He desires unity to be championed from leadership to the believers in the House.

Being unified within a church doesn’t mean agreeing with every decision. Instead, unity represents a common purpose that’s found in the very DNA of every believer.

At our church, we’re committed to the idea that our church exists for people who aren’t here yet. This statement (or purpose) frames every decision. I’ll take a leap here and suggest the vast majority of people who call our church home are 100 percent bought into the purpose.

Will they agree, or love every decision made? No way. Even within our leadership team of decision makers we disagree frequently, but unity is still present. Why? Because despite disagreements, this scripture lives:

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.
— 1 Corinthians 1:10

I’ve heard too many horror stories of disunity. Whether it’s secret meetings to push agendas in the church; or getting state or national denomination officials involved to remove a pastor; or hours of arguments over the carpet color, it has existed.

If a church is not unified, they most likely don’t love people outside the building and the Great Commission is being ignored.

4. God tells you to leave.

Now let’s get really practical here.

God could simply tell you to leave — even if your current church does not line up with any of the mentioned reasons.

If we’re being honest, it’s easier to leave a church that’s operating like the one’s we’ve talked about. The moment God says leave — you’re gone! However, it can be extremely difficult when He transitions you from a healthy church you love.

In both cases — obedience (doing what He says) is paramount.

This list of four could easily be expanded. However, for every indicator that it’s time to transition — there’s also indicators that it’s not time to leave, even if you presently feel strongly about it.

1. Don’t leave when there’s a pastoral change.

Despite conventional wisdom, you should not leave your church when your pastor leaves.

While it’s understood the foundation of every church is Jesus — we can be extremely attached to our pastors. It’s important to have a healthy perspective of your pastor. It’s important to buy into the vision he or she received from God for the church.

It’s conceivable to assume that in one person’s lifetime one church could have 5-10 different pastors leading the church. It’s also conceivable to assume that you attend your local church (partially) because of the pastor.

Now, in a good pastoral transition the element that’s keeping you connected to the church (the vision, purpose, etc.) should be duplicated and pursued in the next pastor.

So, while the style and approaches may differ from one pastor to the next, give them the benefit of the doubt if they are focused on the Great Commission, loving people outside the building, and cultivating unity.

2. Don’t leave when you’re offended.

If you stick around church long enough you will be offended. It’s inevitably going to happen. If it doesn’t happen — I’d honestly be concerned.

With a vast amount of church options (especially in the Bible Belt) we can get upset about something or someone and attend another church the next week. Our new church will feel and look different, but even still, we will inevitably become offended.

Instead of continually running from offense, let’s choose to embrace it. I love this approach in Matthew 18. As a leadership team at our church, we’ve utilized this in moments of offense or hard conversations.

More times than not, it’s averted any offense or long-term anger in relationships.

If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church.
— Mathew 18:15-17

3. Don’t leave when the church changes something.

Being a 28-year-old Christian, many people assume I like modern styles and approaches to church. The reality is — even as a millennial Christian and leader — I struggle when things I enjoy change.

At our church we have added and removed services many times throughout the last four years. In almost every case, I initially did not like the changes — and I’m a pastor on staff helping facilitate this change in our church.

We remodeled our Student Center — the auditorium was painted black. I wasn’t a fan. There are moments because of different elements of service we have to cut a worship song — I strongly dislike this.

We changed the time and day of our Growth Track — I fought it for six months. I wasn’t thrilled about the change.

Guess what? I still love my church. I’ve never even considered for a second leaving because of these changes.

We’re often are too quick to leave when something we enjoy or view as tradition transitions out of our church. Is the church fulfilling the Great Commission? Do they love people? Is there unity within the church?

Then … why would you leave?

4. Don’t leave because you’re “not getting fed” spiritually.

The main responsibility for your spiritual health and depth is yourself.

The main responsibility of your pastor is to shepherd (guide) us but not be our main source of spiritual connection. The pastor leads us to a place we can’t lead ourselves as The Church. In that process — he or she — teaches, corrects and equips.

This terminology (“not getting fed”) is a mask to the reality that you as an individual are not growing spiritually from your own pursuit of Christ. I promise you if you’re growing deep in your intimacy with the Lord and knowledge (reading His Word), you’ll be encouraged, strengthened, and comforted whenever the Word is being communicated.

There’s no benefit in putting a false expectation on a pastor. They will never be able to continually feed you spiritually. It’s not their job. It’s ours — so that should never be a reason for you to leave a church.

What are some of your thoughts? What other indicators are there to transition and/or stay? What have you experienced in your history of attending church — we’d love to hear your perspective.