OK lets face it. It hurts when people leave the church we pastor. We take it personally and in most cases should not. We forget that individual circumstances and needs vary and we cannot meet them all no matter how hard we try. In fact, if we were in the pew, rather than in the pulpit, we might leave too - depending on our circumstances.
I am not advocating a culture of moving from church to church. And frankly it is not the movers that cause us angst but those who have been with us for a long season. It is their leaving that hurts. But think about this:
If they leave because they are unhappy with us as the pastor, why did we assume that we could please all those who come? If we have had an influence in their lives that is good and will pay off for the rest of their lives. If their needs change or their stage of life changes, how can we be unhappy that they need a change? Often the issue is more about us than it is about them.
If they leave because because of unresolved issues with us then we need to do all we can to resolve those issues. It may be painful but it can be redemptive and instructional for us. If our actions, attitudes or words have caused pain it is good for us to hear that and to learn from it. It is not about trying to convince them to come back but rather making peace and learning from it.
I think the most painful situations are when many people leave and it is then that we need to sit up and take notice. Why are they leaving and what have we missed, if anything that has caused their leaving? Sometimes it is because we and the leaders have made intentional changes that we are committed to and we will be sad but realistic with the leaving. Other times, it is because we have been unwise in our actions and it is a reaction to our decisions.
Understanding the reasons is the important thing. If we need to learn from them we should. If we and our leaders are committed to a course of action that is right in the long run we need to take the hit in the short run. This is all about understanding the reasons and being willing to incur the cost when renovation or change is necessary.
Sometimes it is necessary for disaffected people to leave a church so that the church can move forward with greater health and missionality. Sometimes we push people out for unhealthy reasons.
When people leave, understand the reasons!