During conversations about church growth, a pastor friend of mine likes to use the phrase “fishing in another man’s goldfish bowl.” By that, he means that the growth in membership in one church often runs parallel with the shrinking attendance in another church across town. People are simply church-hopping.
Reasons for leaving one church in order to attend another church vary, but there are a few that frequently pop up as reasons given to pastors for why “I believe that my family should find a new church.” And almost all of the reasons, whether on this list or not, are a product of the sinful consumer mindset that many people bring with them into church. Below are four of what I believe are some of the most insidious and self-centered reasons for changing churches.
(For the record, there are legitimate reasons for someone to find a new church family—heretical teaching and unrepentant, obvious, and gross sin being allowed to continue within the church membership, to name two.)
4. I don’t like the music
At the onset, let me answer one possible rejoinder—if the music in your church is not saturated in the Gospel, that may be a reason to find a new church, if only because it’s probably a symptom of deeper theological issues in the church. But, let’s be honest, when most people leave a church over music, it’s not because the theology in the music is lacking; it’s usually because they don’t like the style of music. And that’s not a legitimate reason to abandon your church family.
Wanting more drums (or less) in music is not an appropriate reason to break the covenant that you’ve made before God with your church family. When their kids or spouse listen to music that they don’t like, people don’t threaten to find a new family. Why should they treat the church family that the Holy Spirit has given them any differently? The answer, of course, is that they shouldn’t.
We are called to show our love for each other by surrendering our rights to each other. If the leadership of your church has prayerfully concluded that a certain style of music best serves the majority of the church family, then praise God that the church leaders are attempting to serve God by serving the body and not the individuals. And then thank God for the opportunity to give Him glory by humbly surrendering your rights for the sake of your church family (but let God give Himself glory, resist the urge to brag about your humility).
3. I don’t feel connected to anyone in my current church
This complaint brings to mind the old playground poem that begins, “Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. I’m going to the garden to eat worms.” At church, like at school, those who want friends must show themselves friendly. Most often, it’s really that simple.
Whenever people bring this complaint to me, one of my first questions is, “How many people have you invited over to your house?” The answer is almost invariably a sheepish, “Well, none.”
Chances are, if you don’t feel connected to anyone in your current church, it’s because you’re sitting back and waiting for others to serve you. And, chances are, at the new and “improved” church that you’ve hopped to, you’ll still feel disconnected because you’ve failed to deal with the sinful expectation that you deserve to be allowed to sit back and be served. Become involved in the church family that the Holy Spirit has given you instead of coveting a church family that the Holy Spirit hasn’t given you.
2. The church doesn’t have enough programs for my family
Does your church preach and put into practice the Gospel of Jesus Christ? If your answer is “yes,” then the number of programs is irrelevant. If your answer is, “no,” then all the exciting programs in the world won’t change the fact that you may need to find a new church. In other words, if your church regularly practices the right, expositional preaching of the Bible and the accompany other marks of a healthy church, your family doesn’t need programs—you just want programs. Like music, not having enough or not having the “right kind” of programs are not valid reasons to break the covenant you made before God with your church family.
1. I’m not growing in my current church
Out of all of the bad reasons to leave a church that are on this list, this final reason masks itself in probably the glossiest religious language. I mean, really, who could fault someone for wanting to grow in their faith more? Well, I can. Specifically, I can if the desire is a red herring in order to justify breaking the covenant with your church family.
If your pastor is faithfully preaching the Bible, the church is encouraging the members to avail themselves of the ordinary means of grace (including reading the Bible and prayer), and it is not allowing any unrepentant and gross sins to remain within the church family, your lack of growth reveals something about your heart. It may reveal that you are harboring idols in your heart. Idols like pride. Or it may reveal that you’re clinging to the idol of being entertained. Instead of praising God that your pastor faithfully preaches the Bible, you’d prefer a preacher that’s a more engaging speaker or tells more jokes or has shorter sermons. Regardless of the reason, you want a pastor that preaches in a way that serves you. Most importantly, if you’re not growing in your church, that may even reveal that you have yet to respond in faith to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Regardless of the reason, swapping churches isn’t going to solve the problem. Humbling yourself before God and repenting of your sin, however, may very well be the first step towards solving the problem of your lack of growth.