A few months ago, I wrote a post about leaving your church.
I got some pretty great feedback and the post did pretty well.
I learned something:
I think “leaving your church” is more complicated than just “fatigue.”
Leaving a church also has a lot to do with church culture. A healthy church culture can tip the scales into some really enjoyable ministry.
Here’s what I mean:
A few weeks ago, a local grocery store was going out of business.
It was honestly a little depressing.
Until I went there.
To empty their shelves, they marked everything down to 50% off, enticing customers with ridiculously crazy deals.
The parking lot was full.
The place was packed.
But when I got inside things got really strange: Great music overhead. Employees were engaged, people smiling. Everyone was having a ball.
It was clearly NOT “business as usual.”
I found myself thinking: “If this store had been like this all the time, they never would have shut down, right?” Nevertheless, here was this store – about to close, lay off a few dozen employees, close up shop and leave the community – and everybody was having an absolute ball.
It was weird.
The whole situation made me think of church:
Slipping into a ministry rut prevents us from simply having fun. Like this grocery store, I really believe that if churches (especially children’s ministry) latched on to a few key ideas, we’d change our culture from “business as usual” to “a great place to be.”
Here’s what I learned from that crazy, surprisingly enjoyable morning:
1. Investigating is fun.
Mint Honey Tea.
Nut bars with agave nectar.
Low-sodium, increased-crunch dill pickles.
I never bought those before this shopping trip.
I never wanted to.
I didn’t even know you could increase a pickle’s crunch.
But somehow they ended up in my cart.
Because I was free to experiment.
Marketing-types call this environment a “low barrier to entry.” Easy in. Easy out. It won’t cost you a lot to get in. And you won’t lose a whole lot if you want out.
Often, churches can be the exact opposite: Hard to get in. Hard to leave.
Visiting: People who visit your church are cynical. They’re increasingly wary that “church” might be a club with secret handshakes, code words, and initiation practices.
Leaving: Let’s me honest. There’s usually a fair amount of guilt that comes with leaving a church. It might be why some people never try it out in the first place.
Wouldn’t it be great if the children and youth in your church felt like your church was a place where they could experiment? A place where they can ask honest questions about faith, and experiment with how they fit into God’s kingdom. Learn how they’re supposed to live, how they’re wired to serve, and where God can send them.
Honesty fosters experimentation.
Experimentation kills cynicism.
2. Accessible Churches > Perfect Churches
I bought orange juice.
Don’t call me un-American or anything, but I hate pulp.
But I was bought it because it was on sale. I almost heard myself saying “Come on. You can live with pulp for 50% off…”
The store didn’t have what I wanted.
But it was okay.
Because it was accessible. I even bought two cartons.
There’s no such thing as “the perfect church,” “the perfect kids’ ministry,” or “the perfect youth ministry” anyway. Shoot for perfection and you’ll miss every time. Instead, create a ministry that people can easily become a part of.
You’ll never please everybody.
So stop trying.
Free yourself from that expectation.
Let people know who you are (the label clearly said medium pulp), and let them try you out.
3. Serving means letting go
Here’s the oddest thing about the whole morning:
This was honestly one of the most enjoyable shopping experiences I’ve ever had. The cashiers were friendly. The floor staff (there were plenty) were available to answer questions. The management even stood near the front smiling and helping people out to their car.
I couldn’t believe it.
“They’re closing!” I thought. “Why all the help?”
Then it struck me: These people showed up to work with absolutely zero pressure to sell. They weren’t concerned about customer loyalty. They weren’t concerned about repeat business.
Freed from any obligation or self-interest, they just served people.
And they seemed to have a ball doing it.
What if you knew like this week was your last Sunday at church? What if you served with no strings attached? The metaphor breaks down eventually (after all, your church needs to be concerned about commitment and repeat “business”), but the experience raised the question for me.
(Incidentally, I had the thought that you might have: Maybe if the staff served like this every day, they wouldn’t be closing their doors… Food for thought.)
4. Everybody leaves. Eventually.
People who visit your church might end up going somewhere else.
They might get a taste of Jesus in a Sunday morning service, but end up at the church down the road.
Their kids might hear the gospel for the first time in your kids ministry, only to leave because they prefer a different kind of music.
They might get their first appreciation for bible study by hanging out with your youth group, but head over to a larger youth group that offers more amenities.
They might love you and leave you.
But here’s all you need to ask:
Are you okay with that?
I can’t go back to that store again.
They’ve officially closed.
But my family now loves pumpkin butter.
And I’m even developing a taste for pulp in my OJ.