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When is it right to leave a church?

I’ve seen people come and go from churches for all kinds of reason. Most of the time when people leave a church it has more to do with personal preference than it does with a clear biblical directive or “God’s will.” Yet it’s funny how people can sprinkle a little “Jesus dust” on their circumstances or preferences, pull single verse out of context, or poorly apply the Scriptures and turn things that are nonessential into “God’s will.” As if God really has a favorite style of music, teaching style, cares about the times of the services, the color of the carpet, or what the preacher is wearing (as long as it’s not a Speedo). If it’s not a personal preference that’s driving the exodus then it’s usually driven by relationship. Some close friends move away, leave the church, or perhaps their favorite Staff Member moves on and is no longer at the church.

While people leave churches for all kinds of reasons, I believe there are two great reasons to leave a church, but neither should be arrived at lightly.

#1 God has clearly called you to another place.

Sometimes God clearly says go here or go there. I’ve got something to do in you or through you over there. Your unique design is needed and I’ve made you to do “X” and that’s the place, those are the people, now is the time. The Bible is littered with such instances.

#2 You can no longer in integrity submit to the authority that God has allowed to be in place at the church you’re currently at.

Sometimes leaders make dumb decisions, but worse at other times lose moral standing. If you find yourself in a place where you can’t submit to the leadership of the church with a good attitude and without creating discord (speaking poorly of your leader to others) then you need to leave. By the way, before you play this card, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to remember and read up on the way David submitted to Saul. Oh yea…and remember, even if you don’t like it, for some reason God has allowed the leadership at your church to be in authority at this time.

So when do you think it’s right to leave a church? Leave your comments!


Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation

26 Responses to “When is it right to leave a church?”

  1. Teena January 3, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    Thank you.

    I agree.

    Needed to read this.

  2. CG January 3, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    When leadership: 1.Decides to take Jesus out of the church’s mission, 2.Decides it’s more important to water down the purpose of church rather than risk offending anyone, 3.Abandons the needs of ALL members in favor of a select sub-group, 4.Believes growing Christians is not as important as checking the box that they have “won” someone for Christ, and most importantly, 5.Starts thinking they are only under the authority of themselves and accountable to no one instead of leading the people in GOD’S direction

    • R&M VanDerPol April 25, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      AMEN TO THIS!!! THIS IS 100% CORRECT!!

    • Bill Weisler May 24, 2017 at 7:35 pm #

      Good job.

  3. New Church Search January 3, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    Well said. I think your categories are pretty broad and we could spell out some key items such as basic theology, unaddressed sin, and incompetence (born out of appointing leaders who aren’t qualified).

  4. paul alexander January 3, 2011 at 5:23 am #

    I would agree that there are certainly good reasons not to submit to spiritual leadership, and as a result, move on. However more often than not, that is the exception rather than the rule.

  5. RD January 3, 2011 at 6:11 am #

    So you discount anyone who might leave a church for personal preferences of music, teaching style, etc. as someone only using ‘Jesus dust’ and not in the will of God?

    That’s a mighty bold statement to make. Especially for the leader of a church currently going through a transition.

    Not to try and refute the things that you said (and not trying to discredit the obvious need for seeking out God’s will and direction), but what is so wrong with having a preference? There are as many different styles of churches as there are churches. Where I feel comfortable and find it easy to worship God may not be where you do.

    One person may find they worship best with a robed choir, hymns, and organ and another with a full guitar-led band and worship leader. Neither are wrong as long as they are praising Jesus, so why should having a preference be wrong?

    And I’m not strictly talking about music, but also teaching style, church focus, setup etc. While I agree they are not the most important thing to focus on, they do impact your experience and involvement in a church. I don’t understand what is wrong with attending a church that fills your needs and fits your lifestyle, and if you find that your current church doesn’t, then seeking out another.

    • Rory June 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

      I think the idea of “leaving a church” has to be based in the fact that you were planted in that church in the first place. I wouldn’t plant myself at a church where the “style” so to speak did not necessarily fit my style. If I were more into contemporary worship styles I would not find a church that sang from hymnals. If I like sound biblical teaching, I wouldn’t get planted in a place that preached at me all the time.

      In order to “leave” church, you must first be invested in and involved in a church. If you are merely looking for a church, leave as many churches as it takes for you to find the right fit. But if you are planted, outside of the two things mentioned in this article, I would say if you have a desire to leave the church you are at, 9 times out of 10, you should probably check yourself first, before uprooting your family because of stylistic differences with new leadership.

      Just my 2 cents.

  6. David January 4, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Paul, I’m reading a book called Radical by David Platt. I think he nails this one ! …” because if God Loves me is the message of Christianity, then who is the objective of Christianity ? God Loves Me. Me. Christianity’s objective is me. Therefore when I look for a church, I look for music that best fits me and programs that best cater to me. When I make plans for my life and career, it is about what works best for me. When I consider the house I will live in, the car I will drive, the cloths I will wear, the way I will live it’s what is best for me.

    But that is not Biblical Christianity. The message of Christianity is not God Loves me (although He does) it’s God loves me so that I might make-His ways, His Salvation, His Glory, and His Greatness- known among the nations. Now God is the center of our faith… it’s not about us…! Ask Rick Warren

  7. Mathguy January 3, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    Leaving a “church” is a radical idea to chew on. In light of what Paul (the Apostle) states in 1 Cor. 1: 10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Why would one leave a “church” or consider the notion of “speaking poorly of your leader to others”?
    Should there be divisions among the Body? If you are”speaking poorly of your leader to others” that is gossip: that is sin. In Romans 1 Paul says uses “gossips” along with “slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful:” in describing people. If you have an issue with a leader, man up and speak to him. If his doctrine is wrong (and there is Biblical evidence not just personal preference) then consult the Lord in prayer and He will ” clearly call you to another place” If not, it is time to look hard at your motivations and heart. Personal preference should built on doctrine alone. Although the environment (music, speaker, childcare, youth programs) of a “church” is important in attracting “outsiders” (maybe), once your “In Christ” those preferences should go out the door and your obedience is to Christ alone. If the pastors doctrine is out of line that should be communicated to him personally and discussed. Maybe you can sharpen each other. If you leave on preference alone then maybe just maybe you are leaving a “church” when you missed the design of the Church. And if you are one of the “Gossips” open a Bible and read or stay out of the “church” because you are UNchristian.

    • Banana June 27, 2013 at 4:49 am #

      Leaving the one church doesn’t mean you will not go to church anymore…can we use other words like “Transferring”…how about that? I do believe the Body of Christ that Paul is talking about is not only inside one particular church…it’s Universal…There is only One God…you will serve the same God…wherever you go He will be with you (Joshua 1:9) as long us your heart is right with God and at peace when leaving or transferring..

  8. paul alexander January 4, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    Mathguy & David, great comments! I think your insights are incredibly helpful to the conversation and spot on!

  9. CG January 4, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Continuing my previous comments, Mathew 28:19 states “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” but vs 20 goes on to state “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. If a church (and its leadership) only preach vs 19 without 20 then it is not a “personal preference” it is a Biblical reason to leave a church. Teaching Christians, and not just “making Christians”, is the key role of a church–preparing individual Christians so they can complete vs 19. When churches put more emphasis on looking/sounding like a concert rather than teaching right and wrong, it’s time to leave.

  10. Mathguy January 4, 2011 at 1:33 am #

    The Church’s job is to do both. But the Church is the body not just a building that has people on a Sunday. My concern comes when people rely on a 90 min a week sermon as their spiritual growth. God has given man the capacity to understand Him through the Spirit. A church’s Sunday philosophy may be geared to “outsiders” to “make Christians” but it should not stop there. If there are other programs and experiences to help grow Christians further and a person chooses not to take advantage of those and leave because a Sunday service does not suit them anymore than that IS personal preference. I am not sure we are talking about a specific church or not, but if the concern is the “concert” style of music at Paul’s current church then a person should not have ever gone there because the only difference is they play more Hillsong music and less Michael W. Smith.

  11. Mathguy January 4, 2011 at 5:52 am #

    This will be my last post. I urge all for unity within the Church. Young and Old come together. Divisions in the body grieve the Spirit.

  12. Ward Townsend January 4, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    Hmmm, i tend to take a simpler approach:
    #1 Since God placed me in my current church under its current leadership, is God now sending me somewhere else (or releasing me to leave)?
    #2 When in doubt refer to rule #1.
    While God uses MANY different things and circumstances to speak to us, there is no substitute for knowing you hear the Masters voice and what He is telling you to do. “What did God tell me? Now do THAT!” : )
    I also think Mathguy makes an excellent point: the more we mature spiritually, the more our life is to be about others and THEIR needs. “No greater love has anyone than he lay down HIS life for another”. I think someday we will find that God is not nearly as impressed with our doctrine as we think He might be, and will likely find Him more concerned on WHY we did things…
    Just some thoughts from a fellow traveler…

  13. Paul Alexander January 3, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    Having a personal preference is absolutely fine, and should be taken into consideration when searching for a church. I think we all have preferences. However this can be dangerous when we equate our personal preferences to God’s will. The other side to be considered in western culture is that preference can quickly turn into consumerism. Church is more about the people of God (community) than the person of God (individual), often times I think we get that backwards…I certainly have been guilty of that before.

  14. Joel Turner June 12, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    What if your church leadership is in error? We left a previous church because they dismissed a staff member who was a friend without notice or reason, and we thought we wouldn’t frequent a business that treated their staff so poorly, much less a church. We followed the direction in Matthew 18, to go and point out the fault to several leaders individually, who didn’t really respond in any adequate fashion, and we took it to a church business meeting afterwards to take the issue before the whole church. The leadership stayed unresponsive so we felt we had no other choice but to leave. And by that time, I think they were probably fairly content to see us go.

    However, leaving that church is one of the best things that happened to our family spiritually. It was amazing to see how much more effective, responsive and excellent other churches had become while we were there. I don’t like playing the “God card,” since it seems to limit reasoned discussion, but I truly believe God brought us out of that place to another far better, and I am very thankful for that.

    And I realize I am about a year and a half late to this discussion. So it goes…

  15. Paul Alexander June 12, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    Joel, Yea sometimes Church Staff make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. And sometimes, like people are prone to do, they don’t own up to them. If you’ve walked a biblical route with them (Matt. 18) and still haven’t gotten anywhere then leaving may be the right decision. Sometimes it’s right and healthy to leave a church. Glad to hear you guys are a part of a great church!

  16. Mike June 26, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    What about offense?

    • Paul Alexander June 27, 2013 at 9:01 am #

      Great question Mike, fortunately the Scriptures give us clear direction in Matthew 18 how we should handle an offense. I’d start there.

  17. Alan Billman June 27, 2013 at 6:15 am #

    Love the insights!

  18. Emmanuel July 4, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    when you have a contradistinction in opinon, worship and leadership. instead of causing disharmony and being cancerouse to the body, they should be left alone to go. you will love it years after they ve gone. church membership is not by compulsion.

  19. Mike Santner January 23, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    Paul, great stuff! I’ll tell you, I hear more often than not lately, that the ones leaving churches the most are the ones behind the scenes being abused by leadership, particularly in the volunteer areas. I think the other reason to leave is when you no longer feel you are appreciated or taken advantage of, as a volunteer or paid position, for that matter. That is not to say that our serving is “about us,” but it is to say that the leadership is also not treating their volunteers and staff in a Godly manner. It is just as much their responsibility to treat their volunteers and staff respectfully as it is for us to submit to their authority. I also agree that you said God has put them in that position for His purpose at that time. However, what if we’re the first one to realize that they no longer should be? We move away from that spot, and then God takes care of the rest, right? Thanks for the article!

  20. Cheryl Jonck February 28, 2014 at 1:44 am #

    It is definitely a case of listening to that still quiet voice that is God. Many years ago, I felt that I would not be able to submit to the incoming pastor due to my experiencing some dishonesty on his behalf. I confronted him and then felt that the Lord was not going to release me from the church. No matter how I felt, I knew that staying there, working in service to the Lord AND supporting this pastor was the right place to be. Despite my negativity, God had His reasons and I stuck it out until such time as He called me to go and pastor my own church!!

  21. Kerri August 24, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Hi This topic is heavy on my heart right now. My husband and I have been at the same church for 18 years. We met at a singles group of a church neither of us attended, got married and attended the home church I had for 18 yr. After a year or so of marriage our closest friends envited us to this church , a church plant from where we had met.. We decided to give it a month, and never left. Our close friends have moved away, to other towns or states. There are some people we still know. We have volunteered over the years, but have not been able to do so on a weekly basis for for the past few years and was looking forward to doing it again. We were part of a small group that quit meeting and have tried in vain to join another one. Six years ago we had twins and 11 months later both parents came down with cancer. It was a difficult time. We went to church, but were not really involved otherwise, then about 3 yrs ago we knew we needed to get more involved and fine a small group. We inquired and asked to join a group. We were told,” great, we meet at XXX. ” We missed that meeting. When we asked about the next meeting we were told that we were no longer welcome. It was discussed and we would make the group to big to meet in some peoples houses, and we would upset the personality mix of the group and some other excuesses. I was beyond shocked. I told only staff what had happened. I was always told it was someone else was in charged. It was handled poorly. We met with the leaders who had rejected us and the staff( 10 months latter). We left the church for 3 months. during that time. We prayed and searched our hearts and went back. We need not let these people who rejected us keep us from church. We will have to work at making relationships anywhere, so lets start with trying where we already know some people and our children are happy…We have tried to make new friends. It has been difficult. But a few weeks ago we went camping with a group from church. 3 of the families we have know since we came to the church 18 yrs ago. The others were invited by them and we have know for 10+ years, one family came for the first time with another family. There were about 55 people children and adults. My children had a grand time. We have been camping with this group for 15+ years. But things happened this trip that just left us wondering why we were even invited, or why if this is God’s family we are treated this way. I had more conversations with the stranger next to me at the camp ground . My spouse and I just are at a loss and in so much pain and confussion. I can forgive, but they are all so oblivious to anything being wrong. I just can not accept being treated this way anymore. We just want fellowship with other believers and I guess we just did not get the message that this was not possible here. I need a church who I can invite a non believer to and know they will be accepted. I know there are some people in this church I could introduce them to…but if I do not feel accepted or included, how could they. I am really struggling. There is a church close to us( block– we could walk) that my kids have friends with and we have a couple of long time friends with and my husband is there this morning and he thinks we should go there and not look back. This pain is overwhelming my life right now. I did speak to my closest friend of those we went camping with and she was blind to what had happened. I shared my sorrow and that we just feel we need to look for a church were we can find fellowship, not rejection.
    There are some people I truly love there and dread telling them we do not want to go back.
    I just need some one to tell this to…

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