When you go from being the associate pastor to the lead pastor in a congregation, there's one huge dynamic that changes. You pay close attention to the numbers on the membership roles.
Everybody wants to know is the church growing or isn't it? Everybody wants to know why so and so hasn't been to church in a while? And as the senior pastor you need to respond.
Here's the secret I want to let you in on today: when you leave a local church, it hurts the pastor's feelings.
Even if the reason cited by the leaving congregant has nothing to do with me, I feel responsible every time it happens.
These are some of the reasons I've heard:
1. I am too spiritual for the church. (Yes, people really admit this!)
2. I don’t need a community to live out my faith.
3. I’d rather pray at home and do yoga.
4. I travel so much for work and fun. Considering all the time I’m gone it just doesn’t seem worth it to come during the couple of times a year that I am around.
5. I don’t like ____ person. I can’t come to the same worship space as them. I’ve been hurt. I will not come back. Reconciliation . . . that is out of the question.
6. My life is just too hard right now. I can’t be a part of a community. I need space. Lots of space.
7. This ____ project at church didn’t turn out like I hoped it would. Since I didn’t get my way, I can’t come back. It’s too embarrassing.
And the list could go on.
At this juncture, the direction of this blog post could go several ways.
I could pout. I could put down those who leave. I could strive to make comments about the state of American religion and the dying mainline church.
I could tell you to read a lot of Diana Butler Bass who says things like: “Although churches seem the most natural space to perform spiritual awakening, the disconcerting reality is that many people in Western society see churches more as museums of religion than sacred stages that dramatize the movement of God's spirit" in her book Christianity After Religion.
Or, I could propose some grand idea about how to reform the church so that such “I quit the church” declarations decrease.
But, I won’t do any of these things because I’m just not sure of these ideas are helpful.
The most helpful thing I know to tell the truth.
People are leaving church for no church.
But I don’t think this makes the church any less important in society.
For example, I do weddings and funerals all the time for those who are without a church who want to celebrate major life events in a holy space with a minister. When people find out I'm a minister, I'm asked to enter into spiritually focused conversations all the time. Folks show up at the door my church almost every week asking for assistance with food or desiring prayer and most all of them aren't members of my congregation.
I don't think that folks are searching spiritually any less than in 2015.
They are just finding what they want outside our walls.
So what does that say about what we are doing inside?