Saturday, 1 May 2010

Leaving Church

I read a blog post a while back which was about the difficult decision to leave one church and join another. I have seen this situation from both sides of the fence and know that the process can be painful and hurtful for clergy and laity.

There are two basic ways that people usually leave church. The first and most common is that people don’t voice dissatisfaction but melt quietly away, they may give up their positions, attendance drops off and then they disappear altogether. This can cause a degree of heartache for the vicar of that church; “It would at least have been nice to have been told whether it was just that the sermons were crap”, as my dad once put it.

The other type is Mr or Ms Malcontent, they DO voice their dissatisfaction in no uncertain terms and then they stick the knife in by explaining that everyone else in the church feels the same way as they do, but just doesn’t want to tell you to your face... Needless to say, this approach really isn’t good for the morale of the incumbent concerned, nor is it very Christian.

Leaving a church is usually painful for the leaver. It can be a wrench to give up friendships, familiar patterns of worship, roles within that church and the memories and history that belong to it. Those who use the melt away approach often find that nobody gets in touch to check if everything is alright. The person leaving, who may already have their own hurts, often interprets this as a lack of care; it is much more often the case that people don’t want to infringe on privacy or to interfere or pressurise.

If someone seems to have disappeared from your church, I personally think that getting in touch is a good idea, although I do understand that people worry that they may make the situation worse.

If you leave a church, it is probably courteous to tell the vicar, be graceful and be as constructive as you can. If you really can’t say anything positive, you may have to melt away. Finally, whichever option you choose, don’t be surprised when no one phones.


  1. Actually, it was because the whole idea of paying someone else to talk to a non-existent being while wearing stupid clothes just got too weird after awhile. That, and most sermons were either bland or party political broadcasts.

  2. Sounds like you weren't a happy camper, Brad :)

  3. If you leave a church, it is probably courteous to tell the vicar, be graceful and be as constructive as you can.

    I guess that would depend on the vicar and where you are leaving to.
    There was an interesting case when I was in high school when one of the students wanted to convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, the Chaplain was all fire and brimstone, called the parents of the boy, and rejected the student's plea. of course the Catholics were sympathetic to the boy's plea, but they were relatively mute on the subject. I guess they didn't want to open the door to something that might occur to them too in a Catholic school. Anyway the whole saga didn't endear the boy to Anglicanism, last I heard, once he was free of the chaplain's and his parent's shackles, he now is Catholic.
    The best schools in Uganda are missionary founded though were absorbed by the government in the 70's none the less there's still remains a strong influence of the religious hierarchy for example on appointment of Principals/Head masters where competence is secondary to faith.
    PS: I committed the ultimate treason and moved to WordPress.

  4. we left our previous church after many lonnnnnngggg years and we did the drift away approach. It wasn't actually a purposeful move, we were drifting anyway but when we made the definite decision to never go again I did think about writing to the Vicar. However I soon found this to to be a near impossible task. Even with the best will in the world one cannot be negative about a church without being negative about the Vicar by proxy. And if one actually does want to be negative about the Vicar then it just seems too personal. A lose-lose situation all round. Not sure what the best answer is... Perhaps all churches should have a simple 'comments box' where you could anonymously post in your opinions - might actually address some of the issues before anyone feels the need to leave!

  5. You heretic, Icearc:)
    Have had a peek at the new look blog - will change you in the Worth reading side bar.

    Sounds like it was tricky, Red. I think you'd need a vicar with strong self esteem to cope with a comments box, but I bet nobody would post anything, just in case others guessed it was them!

  6. Hi Sue! (I'm back again, after a ridiculously long absence. Worst blogger ever!)

    Thought provoking post! It appeals to me in a slightly different way. I'm not so much considering leaving one physical or local church for another; but am thinking of leaving Roman Catholicism for Anglicanism. I'm slowly reflecting on this long standing journey with my University (Catholic) priest, as well as various Anglican clergy. I did certainly feel compelled to speak to Fr. Joe as he has (and still will) served me so well as a spiritual mentor. I think trying to entire a dialogue and resolve the issues would be the best approach at the local level too. Alas, as you said, it may not be possible though. I do think it's Christian to do one's best though.

  7. I know it's been a while since this post but mentally stored a response which I have only just got around to posting over at my place: Bastions of Boredom.