Should I Stay or Should I Go? How to Choose Churches

Should I Stay or Should I Go? How to Choose Churches

Back in 2010, we had a short-lived series called “Ask Anything Friday.” We encouraged blog readers to submit whatever question they wanted, and Pastor J.D. would respond to one each week (ish). No subject was off-limits.

This question is one that has come up in some recent conversations quite a bit, so we thought it would be fruitful to revisit. When should a church member consider leaving a church for good?

So, selfishly I hope this one is not from a Summit member who is looking for a reason to leave. But, whoever you are, I hope this gives you some parameters. Here are two truths I’d encourage you to balance:

1. We live in a highly-consumerized, no-commitment, what’s-in-it-for-me culture.

That principle often works wondrously in the free market, but is absolutely destructive when brought into the church. If you approach your family that way, you will destroy it. If you approach your church that way, you will destroy it, too.

Paul tells the Ephesian believers to “grow up” (Eph 4:1-16), which he defines as learning to use your spiritual gift in the church, not being fed and having your needs met each week. It is infants and toddlers, not adults, whose primary concern is being fed and having their bottoms wiped by others. Ironically, some of the “seasoned” Christians who complain the most about “not getting anything out of their church” act more like toddlers than mature believers! The church is not about you.

Being fulfilled as a Christian is not about hearing spine-tingling preaching each week, but about using your spiritual gifts in the church. Take my own experience of church, for example. I rarely get to “hear” great preaching on Sunday, but I still feel fulfilled each week because I am using my spiritual gift in the church.

This is important for any church, because your church, no matter what it starts like, cannot remain perpetually “the hottest show in town.” Someone younger, cooler and flashier is right now preparing the next best thing. So, we’ll have ups and downs, cold seasons and hot ones. Thus, we need people who will commit to us because they believe in our mission and who will become a part of this family, people who will not just make contributions here, but be committed. It’s like the difference in how the chicken and the pig contribute to your eggs and sausage breakfast. The chicken makes a contribution; the pig is committed.

The Summit needs more pigs.

2. I only have one life to live, and I want to invest it where I get the most return. 

You get the greatest return on relationships when you invest yourself in one place for many years. Pastors who flit around from church to church always looking for a better deal never really have any impact, and church members who do the same don’t either. I want to plant myself in a place where my family and I are growing in the Word, in relationships and in the use of our ministry gifts over the long haul.

This matters even more to me now as a father. I want my kids to grow up in a place where they will see and experience firsthand the best community of believers I can offer to them. Gospel-centered ministry is an absolute priority; the spiritual health of my family is too important to have them in a place without it.

I also really want us to be in a place where other people are working as passionately for the mission as we are. You see, God set up the church so that our gifts would be maximized when we were using them in concert with a bunch of other people using their gifts. In other words, it is better to go to a place where others live and believe like you so that you can be part of a team than it is to try and be a “Lone Ranger Christian,” the one faithful voice in a dead church. You’ll be much more effective working side-by-side with like-minded believers than you will trying to effect change on your own. And that is especially true if you are a “lay-person.” If you are not part of the lead pastoral team, you very likely will not be able to turn the ship around.

Stay or Leave?

All that to say, I’m not sure how to give you a “litmus test” for when to stay and when to leave. I have known people who felt called by God to stay in a dying place and believe God for its resurrection and actually saw that happen. I’ve known others who tried that and, because they were not in a place where they could really effect the change they desire, “wasted” some great years in a dying organization. I’ve known others who left a dying church and went on to serve God somewhere else, and were greatly blessed in the process. And I’ve known still others who abandoned ship when they should have stayed.

If you think there’s a possibility of change, I’d say stay and make it happen. When you see that there is not, invest your life elsewhere.

Don’t be a consumer. Choose where you invest your life wisely. Sorry, that’s all I got.

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J. D. Greear
J.D. Greear, Ph.D., pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.