Sadly, leaving a church is often a decision based on trivial disagreements, small offenses, or self-centered logic. With that said, there are still really good reasons why you might need to leave a church.
What’s important to remember is that as a Christian, you are a part of “the Church” and thus can never leave it. Likewise your membership in the universal church should always be expressed in a local context.
“Church membership” is one of those terms you won’t find in the Bible (like “Trinity”), but it is a concept that you will see all throughout the New Testament. In Hebrews 13, for example, the author uses possessive language showing Christians and pastors belong to certain groups of Christians (a church) in a different way than they do to other groups of Christians (other local churches).
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. . . .Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:7, 17)
Notice the word “your” in these verses. This means your pastor has an obligation to you in a different way than the parish down the street. Likewise, you have an obligation to your elders in a way that you don’t towards the church on the other side of town. There was a church in Ephesus and Rome, and while they were both “the church,” they were also different churches with different members and different pastors.
With that said, what are good reasons to leave “a” church and join a different local church.
1. Consistent Unbiblical Teachings and Practices
If the church is preaching and teaching unbiblical things on a consistent base, this is one of the best reasons to leave as soon as possible. Notice I said “consistently.”
The only person who should be judged black and white is Jesus Christ. If your pastor has one or two sermons a year that you disagree with biblically, this should probably be expected and does not mean everything ever preached at that church is also wrong.
But if the pastor blatantly preaches something contradicting the gospel (ever) or hammers home on a “second tier” doctrine you don’t believe (every Sunday), it’s best to find a new church home.
In most cases the right course of action will be to fight temptation and learn to resist it biblically. No matter where you go there will probably be someone who incites sinful passions in your flesh. The solution is not to find a church full of people you have no physical attraction towards.
However, if there is someone you have a previous relationship with at your church, especially if it was sexual, it might be best to find a different church where you don’t have to see this person. 1 Corinthians 6:18 states, “Flee from sexual immorality.” You don’t have to be enemies with someone you use to date. But in many cases it is unhealthy to try and keep a friendship going when you previously had something more than a friendship.
3.Travel Distance Hindering Relational Growth
There’s a reason it’s called the “local church.” Your church should be in your community in some form or fashion. If you have to move to Atlanta when you used to live in Chicago, it’s not healthy to remain a member in the Chicago church, even if you are watching the preaching and worship through live streaming on your computer.
You’ll have to gauge what is “too far” for you. But a good gauge will be, “Is the distance of this church causing me to only connect on Sunday morning?”
4. Consistent Division and Infighting
2 Timothy 2:22-23 explains, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”
Healthy debate is good sometimes. It causes you to grow. And if we can’t make peace in the church, how are we going to be peacemakers in the world?
However, there comes a point where you have to accept there’s nothing more you can do to help the corrosive, consistently divisive environment of a church. Life will be full of “fleeing” and “pursuing,” and sometimes to pursue a healthy church home you will need to leave an unhealthy one.
5. A Consistently Joyless Pastor
We all go through difficult seasons in life, pastors included. No one should be expected to carry the weight of eternal “chipperness” or be expected to be bubbly all the time. This is not the job a pastor.
What is the job of a pastor is to teach the people how to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4), even when life is difficult. If the pastor does not have joy in the Lord on a consistent base, this is not the type of person you want helping you live your life and lead your family for the glory of God.
6. Feeling Called to Serve and Be Fed Elsewhere
The common “I’m not getting fed” reason for leaving a church has a lot of holes in it. It may be true that you may not be growing at your place of worship, but that’s not always the church’s fault. We must choose to receive what God is speaking to us individually, even if the pastor is not motivating us personally. Good listening is far more important than an exciting preaching style in the equation of growth.
Additionally, the majority of the growth we will experience at church will come not through people serving us, though this is important, but through our service to others. “How can I contribute?” is a far more important question for your growth than “How can this church serve me?”
Nevertheless, if you’ve done your very best to grow in that environment, sometimes God really is leading you somewhere else.
If You Do Feel Led to Leave Your Church for Good Reasons, Leave Well
The longer you’ve been at a church the more obligation you have to include the church in your decision. But overall, it’s always your decision to leave or stay at a church.
There’s no cookie-cutter answer on when to stay and when to go. It should never be a light decision when you leave a church. A healthy church will help you walk through this process. An unhealthy church will be defensive and try to get you to stay at all cost. Be mindful of this in your final decision making process.
Overall, you should do all you can to make it work where you are at. But if after giving it your best effort, God really might be moving you on to a different local church.