Monday, September 28, 2015

When It is Time to Change Churches?

There is a massive shift taking place in the American church. Not only have we seen the rise of the Nones (people with no religious affiliation at all), we have also seen the rise of the Dones (people who were once quite active in church but no longer attend at all). There is yet a third trend that few people have written about, which are the "Bummed." They are people who are still going to church but are bummed out about it. It just is not meeting their spiritual needs. They do not want to become a Done, but they are not sure how long they can continue participating in their current church. Perhaps it is an old family church we have attended for decades. Perhaps our family has been in the church for generations. Even though we have close relationships with others there and the thought of leaving is frightening, we know if we do not do something soon, our spiritual life will suffer. Perhaps we have heard about a cool new church across town and their slick advertising appeals to us. Should we make the switch or stay where we are? These are not easy questions to answer.

In my position as a denominational leader, I have helped many families work through this heart wrenching processes. Some end up recommitting themselves to their current church and making it a stronger congregation. Others end up in the cool new church across town. My goal is never to promote one over the other, but to help each family seek God's perfect plan for their own lives, a plan that helps them grow in Christ.

If your family is considering changing churches, think through the following issues carefully.

Here are some wrong reasons to change churches:

1. We want a worship service that is more upbeat.
While younger people tend to like more energy in their worship than their parents or grandparents, even mature adults do not want a service that drags on without a clear purpose. But just speeding up the tempo and adding drums does not necessarily make a worship service better. We must ask if the entire worship experience, not just the music, honors Christ. Does it help the worshipers be in tune with what the Spirit is speaking into their lives? Do the prayer times and and teaching aspects of the service point people toward Christ? One church may have better music or a faster paced service, but another church may have deeper truth being taught in the sermon or more powerful corporate prayer. All of this must be considered before a wise choice can be made.

2. We want a church that is more fun.
While the Sunday worship service is important, church is more than just the weekly service. The church is a family and families should enjoy being together. While church should be an enjoyable experience, fun 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 while also making disciples of those who have been called by God to believe. One church may have a whole menu of fun experiences, but do they also help people grow in Christ? Both are important but they must be balanced in order for a church to be healthy. A fun church may feel like it meets our needs in the short term, but if it has no depth, then that sense of enjoyment will quickly fade away. That does not mean that we have to settle for a boring church, but it might mean that a church that is less fun might actually be better for our spiritual journey. Perhaps our current needs us to volunteer to be the activities coordinator instead of just switching churches. We must consider this before changing churches.

3. We are tired of having to teach all the classes and lead all the programs for young people.
Sometimes churches get used to a small number of people doing most of the work. While we should all be willing to do our part, when we are the ones having to do so much of the work, sometimes we can begin to feel burned out. We may begin to think that our lives would be easier if we changed to a different church, other people would carry the burden for us. News flash! Every church, regardless of its age, size, organizational structure, or programming, struggles recruiting youth and children’s workers. Some people are workers. Some people are slackers. If we are workers, then it will not be long before we are working in the same ministries of the church we just left. If we change churches just because we thought it would be easier, we will be disappointed in a couple of years when we find ourselves taking more than our share of turns in the nursery at our new church.

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 a member of our family that upset us, we should speak to the person directly and get the issue resolved. Running from an issue does is not the same thing as resolving it. Gossiping about the issue to others does not count as resolving it either. To resolve issues we must go directly to the individual involved and talk about it. It is possible that we will still have to change churches, but at least we will know we did everything we could to resolve an issue before we left.

Clearly there are many bad reasons to leave a church. However, there are some valid reasons to change churches. Here are some:

1. Our child does not want to go to church at all because nothing at the church relates to his or her life.
Every child goes through the occasional “I don’t feel like going to church” phase, so we should not freak out when that happens. However, when the phase becomes a clear pattern, and we have done everything we could to help resolve the situation, then as parents we have to consider our child’s spiritual well being. If we have done everything we could and the church is simply not willing to minister to our children, 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 is nothing he or she can do at church but sit and listen.
Many churches talk about reaching the next generation, but they do not let anyone in the next generation do anything. It is as if young people are supposed to sit quietly and be seen but not heard until they turn 25 or 30 years old. That is poor stewardship of those whom God has put under our care. Young people can help take up the offering. They can say the opening or closing prayer. They can read scripture. They can pass out bulletins. They can run the sound system or video ministry of the church. They can assist in teaching Sunday School and children's worship. Some of them might even be able to preach on youth day if someone coached them properly. If churches are unwilling to allow young people to serve, even though they attend faithfully, then something is wrong with the church as a whole. If there is a faithful group of young people coming to church and the church simply ignores then, it might be time to find a new church. We should first try to get the church to use the young people who come, because it is possible that it just did not occur to the leaders that young people are willing to serve, especially if the leaders are older. But if we have tried that and the leadership is just not interested in letting young people serve, then it is going to become increasingly difficult for our children to grow in Christ in an environment that does not value them. When that happens, it is probably time to find a different church.

3. Our church has abandoned biblical theology.
This is always a touchy subject because we must make sure we have separated biblical values from our personal preferences or religious traditions that make us feel more comfortable. However, we are living in an era when many churches have abandoned biblical theology and began to accept things that are incompatible with orthodox Christianity. When this happens, it is time to find a new church. Though it is important to try to turn our current church back toward the truth, if the leadership is determined to promote unbiblical teaching, there is no need to stay any longer than absolutely necessary to fulfill our current commitments to the church.

4. Our church leadership is in open sin and the church refuses to deal with it.
This is also a touchy subject because we do not want to become narrow minded and judgmental. We all sin, even leaders. Just because a pastor, deacon or elder makes a mistake does not mean that we need to leave the church. The bigger issue is how does the church deal with the issue? Does the person correct their mistake? Do they do whatever it takes to make it right? Does the church put in place better systems of accountability so it does not happen again? Depending on the severity of the issue, the leader may need to take a sabbatical from their position for a while, or perhaps resign permanently. If a key leader in the church is in open sin and the church ignores it, something is wrong. It is important to make sure the others leaders know about it. That does not mean gossiping about it in our small group, it means having a private meeting with whomever is in charge and sharing our concerns and then giving them time to address it. If the issue gets resolved, then this is a church worth staying in because they deal with things correctly. If the issue is swept under the rug, it should be cause for concern. We may not need to leave right away, if it is a minor issue, but if this becomes a pattern over and over again, then it is time to find a new church.

Regardless of our reasons, 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 thoughts above objectively. We should discuss the subject with the leadership of our current church. If our children are old enough to understand the issues, they should be included in the conversation too. 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 do our very best to remain in that position until our current term ends so that we do not leave our current church hanging. If we have made some type of pledge to the general fund for the year or financial commitment to a certain project, we should do our very best to fulfill it. When we leave, we should do our best to leave on good terms. This is not the time to post negative comments on social media or send out mass emails detailing the reasons we are leaving. We should speak to the pastor and/or other appropriate leaders, fulfill whatever commitments we have made and then quietly slip away without causing undue damage to the church we once loved so much.

Finally, we must keep in mind that sometimes both our families, and our churches, go through phases. It is possible that the church that we leave today, may change next year. Perhaps our own spiritual needs change and one day we may find ourselves back at the church we left five years ago. Which is another good reason to always leave on good terms. Changing churches is hard, and should be avoided if at all possible, but if we must do it, then we should do it for the right reasons and in the right way. Our goal should not be to prove a point and create a crisis or even to "be right" in a disagreement. Our goal should be to honor Christ in all things and to grow closer to Him through our relationship with our church. When these things are remembered, it impacts our behavior and attitude greatly. We can remain actively engaged in the life of a local church and avoid becoming a Done.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

1 comment:

  1. Tactful handling of a sticky issue. Oh that we as believers might throughout our days gaze into His Presence, meditate on His Word and fill up til we overflow with the Realization of how Great is Our God, how Merciful and the Beauty of His Work on the Cross....and then gather from our Bodily Sacrifices of workmanship to declare His Praises. (Romans 12:1-2)