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Leaving Church – When Is It “OK”?

But now for the attenders:

You may be a part of a good church, but feel led to leave. This does not necessarily reflect poorly on the church, much less you.

For example:

You’ve been commuting to your church. Your child reaches the middle- and high-school years, and all their friends attend a youth group at a solid church near your home. They want to go there. So you start attending that church—you miss the old church, but want to do all you can to nurture the spiritual well-being of your child;

… that’s a fair departure.

Your pastor leads the church down a new doctrinal track—not necessarily a heretical one, just a new one—say, away from “mere Christianity” toward a more narrow “Calvinism.” You aren’t there, and even disagree with the emphasis;

… that’s a fair departure.

You feel called to invest in a ministry to sex-trafficked children, but your church doesn’t feel that is a pressing need. You’ve tried to stir their hearts but to no avail. There is a nearby church, equally solid, that is eager to facilitate that ministry. You feel God calling you to that investment, so you move toward that opportunity in a new setting;

… that’s a fair departure.

Change of any kind creates attrition—whether it’s in you or your church. Yet churches—and people—change. This is why most churches can count on a “natural” (change-oriented) attrition of about 10 percent each year due to people leaving, dying or relocating.

That’s a lot of people.

So while leaving church may never be “OK,” it doesn’t always have to be personal.

And sometimes leaving church can even be celebrated. 

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.