3 Healthy Responses To People Leaving

“The people who help you start will not be the people that stay with you.”

As a new church planter, that was not what I wanted to hear. In fact, those words stink.

Six years ago I planted a church. I met with everyone and anyone who would give me advice on how to not mess this up. Person after person had the same message to me. People will leave. The people that help you start will not be the ones that stay with you.

In my optimism I believed I was different. Nope.

Over the last few years I’ve met with multiple pastors and church planters who have received and experienced the difficult reality of those words.

People leave.

Often the people we secretly wish would leave, stay – and complain. What hurts is when the people we love, leave.

For pastors this is incredibly tough. We love people. We want everyone to be a part of the journey. I thought I could love people so well they wouldn’t ever leave our church community.

Having people leave is common because people love the church that changed their life. Once life change happens the brain creates a museum for memories. Once the church grows it becomes difficult to transition to being a part of somethings that no longer looks like the church where new life was first experienced.

This isn’t just for church planters. Any growth will cause people to leave. If you build a new building, see a significant amount of new people plug into the church, or start reaching a new demographic, someone or even groups of people, will leave.

This is where the tension comes in.

There is a balance for pastors between the love we have for our community and being faithful to the vision God has given us. When someone leaves it can hurt. How should we respond when someone leaves?

Here are three things to consider in your response.


  • Bless and release. The people at our churches do not belong to us – they are God’s. We are not responsible for their decisions. We are responsible for shepherding them well. If another church is truly going to help a person fall more in love with Jesus, we must bless and release.



  • Your response will either open or close the door for a return. Just because someone leaves now does not mean they will never come back. When we respond with grace and gratitude for their time with us, we keep the door open for a return. They may not return, but you never know what will happen in the future.



  • Cut yourself some slack. Jesus was perfect and yet one of His disciples betrayed Him, one denied Him, and almost all of them fled from Him at one point. If Jesus had people leave so will you.


Please don’t write off people when they leave. Don’t unfriend them from Facebook. When they leave for selfish reasons be the bigger person.

That’s leadership.

Jesus’ words to “Treat others like you want to be treated” doesn’t go away when someone leaves your church for another one. We are called to still love. Show them a better way. And then go yell in your pillow. That is let off some steam. Then shake it off and move on.

I know it’s not easy. The truth is using guilt, anger, or frustration will not get someone back. In the end they will know we are pastors by our love. The challenge is to love people well as they leave.

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