Many church leaders strategize about ways to grow their membership in number and maturity, but how much thought is given to how they are helping their members leave in a healthy way? Arrival usually gets emphasized, but departure is also important because they work together.
At Eagle Heights we put a lot of emphasis on helping people be a part of our local church in a public and committed way. We call it membership. To be a member they have to meet with an Elder for an interview and a conversation about our expectations. As people come through our front door in this way, we think it helps prevent them from flooding out the back door.
But people do leave local churches for good and bad reasons, and so when they leave we want them to leave the way they came into the church – through the front door. We want them to leave publicly by meeting with a pastor/elder.
To facilitate this front door leaving we do a couple of things. First, when we meet with a prospective member, one of the last things we tell them is that we expect them to inform us that they plan to leave our faith family. This is one of our 12 expectations for every member. Second, we have started an exit meeting called, “Lunch for Leaving Members.” Because we live in a university city, many people leave our town and our church at the end of the Spring Semester, so we invite all leaving members to meet for lunch or dinner so we can pray for them, give them resources to find a new local church and encourage them to commit to a new local church.
This not only helps them to leave in a healthy way but also reminds those who are not leaving that membership is an important commitment to Christ and His people. Additionally, it reminds our faith family that if they are going to leave they should tell a pastor/elder, and not just slip out the back door. Finally, it demonstrates to the church that the Elders are actively shepherding people.
It does take patient teaching and careful planning for people to see the importance of commitment to the local church, but I have found this to be worthwhile in building up a healthy local church (Ephesians 4:11-16) for the praise of God’s glory.