Wednesday, September 9, 2009

When Is It Time to Change Churches?

In my role as a church planting missionary for the state of Vermont, I get to help launch exciting new churches. These new churches often grow faster and have more energy and excitement about them than older more established churches. Part of this energy and growth comes from the freshness of something new. Part of it comes from not having all the “baggage” older churches tend to add to their load year after year. Part of it comes from the fact that most church plants are started by young, energetic innovators whose enthusiasm is contagious.

Though each new church is different, as a general rule, new churches have a higher percentage of younger families in them than more established churches. This reality inevitably leads some young families who are already attending an established church that has very few young people to leave the established church and go to the new church. The new church may actually have fewer programs and activities than an older established church, but the programs and activities that new churches do have are frequently aimed right at the needs of younger families.

Because of my position, I am often asked by young families how they know when it is time to change churches. This is always an awkward moment for me. I know that my response will impact not only that family, but two churches as well. I know that if I tell them to go to the new church, then the established church may be losing one of the only young families it has left. I know that if I tell them to stay in the established church, I may well be hindering their spiritual growth because the new church may indeed be exactly what they need to pull them out of a spiritual rut and take them to the next level.

I still don’t have a “smooth” answer worked out to that question. But I have been working through some processes that families can explore when they come to that place in their life where they are considering changing churches. Though my context is specifically about “new” churches and “established” churches, I would imagine that the process also would be similar for a family who is considering changing from one established church to a different established church.

Here are some wrong reasons to change churches:

1. We want a church that is more “fun.”
While church should be fun that is not its primary purpose. The primary purpose of the church is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to a community that does not know Him. Will changing churches help either church more effectively accomplish their task of proclaiming the Gospel?

2. We want a worship service that has more “zip.”
While younger people tend to like more “zip” in their worship than older generations, what is more important is that worship honors Christ and helps the worshippers be more in tune with what the Spirit is speaking into their lives. Regardless of worship style or music preference, one must ask which church will help the individual person focus on God and be more connected to Him. Which service has more "zip" may not be the correct answer.

3. We are tired of having to teach all the classes and lead all the programs for young people. It will be much easier to go to a church where there are other people with children the same age as ours who can help share the burden.
News flash! Every church, regardless of its age or size has trouble recruiting youth and children’s workers. If we change churches just because we think it will be “easier” we will most likely be disappointed in a year when we find ourselves taking more than our share of turns in the nursery.

4. The pastor (or deacon, or Sunday School teacher, or youth group leader, etc.) made us mad.
We should never leave a church in anger. When we do, we simply take the anger with us to the next church. It may lay dormant for a few months, but eventually our anger will come out at the new church. This is not fair to the new church. If someone at our current church said something to us or our child that makes us upset, we should speak to the person directly and get the issue resolved. Running from an issue does not count as “resolving” it. Gossipping about the issue to others does not count as "resolving" it. Only by going directly to the individual involved can we resolve such issues.

Here are some valid reasons to change churches:

1. Our child does not want to go to church at all because nothing at the church relates to his or her life.
While every child goes through the occasional “I don’t feel like going to church” phase, when the “phase” becomes a clear pattern, our child’s spiritual well being is in trouble. It is time to find a church that will relate to our child for his or her own spiritual health.

2. Our child is faithful to attend church but there really is nothing for them to do at church but sit and listen.
If our church offers nothing at all for young people, even though they are faithfully there, then something is wrong with the church as a whole. While some churches offer more or less in the way of programming, every church ought to offer something. If there is a faithful group of young people coming to church and the church simply ignores then, it is definitely time to find a new church!

3. Our child would like to serve the Lord in some way, but the church has no avenue for them to do so.
While very young children may be limited in what they can do for the Lord, as children approach adulthood, they will want to do something to serve. Perhaps it might be to help collect the offering, or offer a prayer, or sing a song, or help in a class for younger children or pass out bulletins, etc. A church should be using their young people and training them to take over when the adults are gone. If a church is not willing to use the young people that God has already given them, those churches should not be surprised when the young people find a new place where they can serve the Lord. Youth are not the “church of tomorrow,” they are the church of today.

If we find that our family is considering changing churches, we should proceed slowly. We must pray through the situation thoroughly. We should think through the comments above objectively. We should discuss the subject with the entire family openly. If our family does decide to change churches, we owe it to our current pastor to sit down and have an open, honest, and loving discussion of why we are going elsewhere. If we have made commitments to help lead a program, we should remain in that position until our current term ends so that we don’t leave our current church hanging. When we leave, it should always be on good terms, who knows, we may find ourselves back one day!

21 comments:

  1. Good stuff, we are struggling with this as a family right now. This gives us good direction.

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  2. Good response to difficult and awkward moments. In our church we have been the beneficiary of people moving from one church to the next, and we have faced the difficulty of having a family leave for another church. I have determined to make our focus more on reaching people disconnected from churches rather than getting people from other churches, and helping the congregation see that as a priority as well.

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  3. Good answers!
    I feel the Lord leads us to attend a new church at times in our life to aide in our spiritual growth. Maybe it is to visit once or twice, maybe it is to make the change in churches. But, no matter our "stay" in the churches our leading needs to come from the Lord and not of ourselves!

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  4. This is such a difficult issue. I'm glad someone is finally talking about it.

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  5. Wow, you are brave to open THAT can of worms!

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  6. What happens if you try to leave on good terms but the pastor is so offended that he turns it into a bad situation?

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  7. Remember that pastors are people too. If he gets offended, try to see it from his perspective. He is losing one of his few young families and it might be hard for the church to overcome the loss. Instead of getting angry at the pastor, commit to pray for him and his church daily. When you see him in the community, make it a point to speak to him so that he knows that you harbor no ill will toward him. Make it a point to show up to a special event that his church holds as a way to still support him and his church. Anger never leads to good but love conquers all things.

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  8. Knowing when or if to leave to leave is a difficult issue and one that should be done in obedience in God's will for your life. Thanks you for pointing out how this issue especially effects youth. There is nothing worse than children who sit in pews and receive no benefit except to think that church is boring and establish a mindset regarding corporate worship not being relevant to their lives. Your whole family should worship together and be joyful in that worship.

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  9. I agree with all you have said. I would like to add another reason why Christians leave a church when a new pastor comes.

    1. The former pastor "spoiled" his flock.

    We spoil our children by giving them what they want instead of what is best for them.
    We spoil our children by giving them quantity instead of quality.
    We spoil our children by giving them praise and hugs and kisses when they have reached menial goals.
    We spoil our children when we don't let them experience "the hard place" while they're young.
    Hardness will come. Suffering will come. Discipline helps them experience hardness. Lack of pricileges helps them "
    " .
    We spoil our children when we let them be self-centered.

    Spoiled Christians run away from hardness. They have no vision. They keep pursuing easier, more gratifying experiences.

    They see no place for them to be used in the hard place.

    Not only should people who leave churches pray for the previous pastor they should pray for themselves.
    "Am I really saved?"
    If he answer is "Yes", then the next prayer should be --- "Now that I'm at this new church who can I lead to Christ?"

    They need to look for unsaved people in the new congregation or get into the neighborhood surrounding the church, pray, visit, build relationships with people in the neighborhood who don't go to church. They need to prayer-walk.
    They need to show their new pastor the growing list of names they are praying for. They need to tell him of a creative idea for reaching the people on their list. They need to pray WITH HIM about starting a ministry in the church that will attract the people on their list. The new pastor should expect this.

    OR.... are they .... again.... in a church where the pastor will spoil them?????

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  10. I am wondering if these same concepts also apply to pastors? If a pastor knows that his OWN children are suffering because the church he is serving does not have a vision for the next generation, should he move on to another church for the sake of his family?

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  11. Disconnected FundamentalistSeptember 12, 2009 at 5:10 PM

    Does this same idea also apply to changing your denominational affiliation? I grew up in a denomination that uses very formal music and homilies and to be honest, they are just boring and don't make me feel close to God at all. I'm thinking of going to another church that is of a more evangelical denomination. Their services are much more appealing to me and they have lots of people my age. But my parents say I am leaving my roots and my heritage if I change denominations. I am torn about what to do.

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  12. Good article Terry. I have forwarded it on to others.

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  13. What happens if you want to leave the church but your spouse wants to stay? Can you go to two different churches?

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  14. I left my church of my childhood and switched denominations because I was totally burned out by the lack of change, lack of new ideas, dictatorial leadership, lack of respect for laity, scandals, lack of financial accountability, and constant meddling in politics. One should not go to church on Sunday, and come home week after week, sething mad. After great hesitation and prayer I cut myself off and church shopped. I found a great group of people who share my beliefs and values. Sundays are uplifting and an event I look forward to. I wish I had done this 20 years ago. I have encouraged other family members and friends to be open to the Spirit and embrace personal growth.

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  15. This article has also been posted at:
    http://www.sandycreekba.com/templates/System/details.asp?id=20835&PID=349188

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  16. I find it interesting that of all my blog posts, this one has had the most views (as of October 30, 2010). That tells me that this issue is a very sensitive one that people need to talk more about.

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  17. Thanks for the wise tips.. thinking of moving churches..things aren't great there but trying to get our heads together and leave on good terms rather than giving them the bird and leaving. Praying that we'll be wise and kind to our pastors.. as you said.. you may end up back there one day and kids watch the way we approach things.. just hard to stay when pastors aren't authentic and honest and true.. Fixing our attitude before we leave...

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  18. Thanks for this VERY practical article. Our family is looking for a church right now and this helps give us direction.

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  19. Tami,
    Thanks for your comment. I am glad the article was helpful.

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  20. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

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