How to Visit a New Church Pt. 1 – Why are you looking for a new church?

So you’re looking for a new church. Before you look for a new church, you ought to be able to explain why you are leaving your old church. If you’re moving, that’s easy enough. But if you’re still living in the same town, maybe driving further to your new church, what motivates you to leave?
If you’re unhappy about something, have you talked to the pastor? Is the issue a matter of preference or? Is it something that has just stuck in your side? Or is it something that is relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things?
More importantly for your soul: How did you act about this? Were you hateful or divisive? Have you grown bitter?
Could you reconcile with your old church? Reconciliation is almost always preferable to separation. Many times issues can be resolved if you simply address them. If you never address them, you’ll never know.
As one of my teachers has said, in all his years of ministry, not one person ever left his church and owned the responsibility. Church membership is a covenant. Covenant should not be broken lightly. Think about your reasons for departing.
You should not leave because you’re a disgruntled shopper looking for a better deal. (If that’s your case, you should repent).
You should not leave because you are unhappy with one decision made by the church or the leaders. (If that’s the case, maybe you need to look at the bigger picture.)
If You Have to Go, Let Him Know
Whatever the case, if you decide to go, you should pay the pastor the courtesy of letting him know you are leaving and why. This is especially true if you are broadcasting your reasons for leaving and your unhappiness to others.
Sending an email after your last service there is the coward’s way out. Worse yet is not returning the pastor’s phone calls and simply waiting for the church letter to notify him for you.
Whatever you do, don’t just trumpet the old saw about “not being fed.” In my experience, most people who use this excuse would have been fed had they bothered to (a) show up regularly and (b) listen to the Word and let it examine you.
This is, of course, not true of those who leave a church because of legitimate theological differences or changes in ministry model. I still think you should let the pastor know. If this is the case, he probably won’t put up much of a fuss, anyway.
It Reflects on You, Too
Either way, the pastor at the new church is going to wonder why you left. He will wonder not because he’s nosy, but probably because he is concerned about inheriting another church’s problem child. If you are leaving because you’re disgruntled over something that he sees as relatively minor (though I’m sure it doesn’t seem minor to you), he might be stand-offish (at least inside) wondering how long before you’re going to leave this church and if you’re going to cause trouble on your way out the door.
You should examine your motives for leaving and you should be able to articulate them graciously. It’s uncomfortable for everyone and doesn’t reflect well on you when you’re hateful and nasty about the previous church or pastor. In fact, your behavior and speech will say more about you than it will about them.
Next post: Your new Church is not, and will never be, your old church

About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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