Saturday, October 30, 2010

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!

This post is modified from one I wrote in September 2009 on the same subject. It has become the most read post on my entire blog. I thought I would update it and repost it since it was so popular.