5 Surprising Reasons People Leave Your Church

2. You’ve hired a new senior leader

Naturally, some people leave when you hire a new senior leader—a senior pastor, campus pastor or teaching pastor.

But what’s surprising is some people leave even when you hire a GREAT new senior leader.

People have their own reasons for liking the old better than the new, even when it comes to people.

Often the reasons are personal or preferential, not missional. They liked the old senior leader better, or felt a personal connection with him or her, or even had a friendship with him or her.

Even though a great new leader will lead a congregation into an exciting future, there’s always a small group that will not want to come for the ride.

3. You’ve added new staff

So it should be no surprise that when the leader changes, so does the team—the other staff and many of the key volunteers.

Why does this happen so often?

I learned something a while ago in leadership:

Leaders often behave missionally. Most people behave relationally.

What do I mean by that?

Well, often as a leader, you think and act in terms of the mission.

Most people don’t think or act according to the mission; instead they behave relationally.

So when a new staff member steps in and people sense, “Oh, this isn’t how it used to be,” they move on.

In the case of new staff (not senior staff…but associate staff), the good news is most people won’t leave the church—they’ll just leave their ministry area for a new ministry area.

I used to be surprised by this trend and often upset by it. Now I just realize that if we appoint a new leader, within a year many people on that leader’s team will change. Again, if the overall situation is healthy, they’ll relocate within other ministries. If it’s less healthy, people will leave outright.

4. You’ve stopped some old programs

Effective leaders don’t just start things, they also stop things.

They realize good is the enemy of great (as Jim Collins said), and they are willing to cut good things to make way for great things. They certainly don’t hesitate to cut what is ineffective.

Yet it often comes as a surprise that people leave when their program gets cut, even if it gets cut ‘well’ and with sensitivity.

The reason people leave in circumstances like this is because for many people, what they’re involved in becomes the mission. If they run a Tuesday morning coffee club (even an ineffective one), their relationships within that club run deep and perhaps even their identity is caught up in leading that club.

Change that, and they’re left floundering.

Again, healthier people will realize the mission is bigger than them and they will adjust and find a new place.

Others won’t. They’ll leave. Even if the church as a whole is getting better at accomplishing its mission.

5. You announce an exciting new initiative

So let’s say your church announces a new initiative to reach more people, be more effective in the community, or even add a location or ministry.

As a leader, you’re pumped. As pumped as you’ve ever been.

Guess what? Some people won’t want to go with you.

There will still be a tiny minority that likes your church just the way it is.

They don’t want it to get bigger. They don’t want it to get better.

They just want it to stay the same.

As exciting as the future is, some people prefer the present. Others live in the past.

That’s just life.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.