When People Leave

As someone who is invested in the church community, as a pastor and also a participant, one of the challenges we all face semi-regularly is when people leave your community. The truth is, people leave for all sorts of reasons. Some of those reasons are good ones. There are situations when an individual or family have legitimately tried to connect with others in your church but simply cannot gain any traction. It’s sad when this happens but honestly some people will just “fit” better in another church context than what your community offers.

There are other reasons people leave that are superficial, “I didn’t like the music”, or the “teaching doesn’t feed me.” Or there is a bigger and better show down the street. It’s clear that from the beginning these people aren’t interested in relationship, but in production. I’m always torn between two emotions when those people leave. One, I’m frustrated with the consumer mentality that they have brought to the “church”. But I’m also relieved because those that come with a consumer mentality, or rather, “what can you do for me?” aren’t really the kind of people that build up or help those around them in community anyway.

The truth is, either way I don’t get angry or frustrated when people leave WHEN they have the courage to communicate 1. that they are in fact leaving rather than just disappearing or ignoring your emails, etc. and 2. they tell me why they are leaving. I don’t want to know why so that I can argue or discount their reason. I’m perfectly willing to hear people out and respect their decision. I’m not going to pretend that I know what is best for every person. I don’t. But I do want to know if there is something that we as a community did to hurt them, or if we have neglected to care for them in some way.

But I will be honest and admit that I DO get frustrated when people don’t have the courage to let us know when they are on their way out. When they just fade away or start to ignore you altogether. That is frustrating.

I can think of several people in the last three years who have left our community well. They have called, emailed, or spoken to us in person about what has led them to this decision and what they are planning on doing. And when this happens we are allowed to bless them on their way out. I have much respect for people going about it in a mature, responsible way.

But I can also think of many others who may have been a part of the community for 6 months, a year, 3 years, whatever, who just bail without letting anyone know or who intentionally avoid contact with us altogether. I find this to be a cowardly act and lose respect for people who do this. I don’t say this to be cruel or harsh, but the lack of respect for the community that it takes to bail on relationship without telling people good-bye or explaining the reason they can’t be a part of the community anymore is irresponsible and hurtful to many.

When this happens I’m basically left thinking three things: First, I realize that these people do not understand the nature of community, or their place in it. Second, I’m hurt and frustrated that there was no debriefing on the way out. That just seems like common courtesy. And finally, I eventually find myself coming to peace with it. If a person doesn’t understand the effect they have on the community when jumping ship, it’s probably not someone who cares much to invest in other people around them and maybe Evergreen isn’t the best place.

When people leave, it’s rarely easy (although I admit sometimes it’s a relief!). But I always hope people will have the respect and courtesy to let us know when they’re on their way out!

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