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5 questions to ask when church members leave

| by Thom Rainer

I still have painful memories about the first time I experienced losing church members as a pastor. 

I took it personally. Too much so. In fact, I didn’t handle the situation with much maturity.

But it’s still a common concern I hear every week. Allow me, then, to address the five most common questions I get about losing church members.

The questions

1. Why do they leave? There are three broad categories of church members who depart. The “movers” are relocating to another community. They are common in our transient culture. The “dropouts” stop attending church altogether. Third, the “transfers” move to another church in the community. 

The dropouts typically leave because they were not connected to the church. The transfers move for a myriad of reasons. Some are legitimate, but some are self-serving. Those in the self-serving category typically see the church as more of a country club where they pay their dues and get their perks. If they don’t get the perks they expect (if they don’t get their way), they will move to another country club church.

2. Should I contact the disgruntled members who leave? That’s a tough one to give a uniform answer. On the one hand, it helps to find out why people leave so we can make legitimate changes and improvements. On the other hand, listening to a series of self-serving complaints can be a draining distraction.

3. Should I do anything about a member who is moving to another community? Absolutely! You should view that departing member as a missionary sent by your church to another area. Some churches actually have commissioning services and commissioning certificates. It is a really healthy process to send a member. Indeed, you begin to view them as “sent” rather than those who “left.”

4. Other than members who move out of the community, what can I do to reduce the loss or inactivity of members? Remember, the more a member is involved and connected to others, the more likely he or she is to remain active in your church. You should be moving all your members into groups. You should seek to get members involved in ministry. And you should exhort your members to give as an act of stewardship and discipleship.

5. Losing a member makes me feel sick. Am I alone in my feelings? Not at all. You are among the majority of pastors who have the same feelings. Accept your pain as real and common, and then channel those feelings to lead your church to become more effective at assimilation and discipleship.

Thank you, pastors and church leaders, for your ministries and lives. You are truly my heroes!

Photo source: istock 


Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 25 books, including his latest release from B&H Publishing Group: Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church. His 2013 book, I Am a Church Member, has sold more than one million copies.



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