By Daniel Hyun
I pastor in an exciting context where people consistently join our church community because they are new to the area for work, school, or other reasons.
The flip side is that we also have a steady flow of people leave our church when school ends, job opportunities present themselves elsewhere, or they want to live somewhere else.
People moving on from our church used to leave me in a real funk. Whether it was questioning how close to allow people to get, experiencing frustration with overcommitment, or merely the sadness of saying farewell to friends, I recognize more clearly now I did not process these things well.
It sounds petty, but even when it was on good terms, I didn’t like it when people left our church.
Though it may not feel good when people leave, we should not be caught off guard if folks move on, even for necessary and good reasons.
While there is value in promoting a culture of ownership and longer-term commitment to our cities, towns, neighborhoods, and churches, transience may still be the growing case for many churches.
This is the case in communities with significant numbers of students or military, for example. Studies show 11 percent of Americans move in a given year and people average 11 moves in their life.
While I would love for more people put down roots, I recognize our transient context. Considering this, here is how I purposely lead our church. But even if your community is more stable, these ideas can be helpful to your church as well.
Build a Missional Ethos for Today
Most church leaders understand the purpose of the church is to glorify God by equipping the people to live on mission. Very few of us consciously desire for our church to exist primarily for the benefit of our members. We do our best to lead our people to have an outward focus.
Thus, this missional emphasis has a very present-day local focus. In other words, I describe missional by asking, “Where has God placed you today in our city and in your family, neighborhood, and workplace to be a presence and witness for Him?”
Acts 17:26-27 is our guiding principle in learning God purposely placed each of us to point others to the hope we have in Him. Our church, then, has a design and structure to train and equip our people to live on mission today.
Know God May Have Other Plans for the Future
I am still an ardent advocate of intentional living right where we are. However, God has convicted me that equipping the church on mission will also mean preparing the people of God for the future, even if that future is in another city or another church.
The mission is not just building God’s Kingdom through our local church. Mission is building God’s Kingdom, wherever that may lead.
Todd Adkins said, “Leadership recognizes the fruit of your ministry will often grow on other trees.”
This means knowing Acts 17:26-27 doesn’t just apply to today, but to wherever God may move your people, even if you may not be a personal part of their journey when they leave.
Practically, this means “your people” are not actually “your people.” Rather, God is strategically placing certain members into your church for this moment in time that you may train them to the best of your ability, sending them out to bear fruit in another mission field.
Don’t view people as temporary pew warmers taking up space. Have the mentality that your church may be a strategic boot camp to train them for their next deployment on God’s mission.
This means you may need to speed up or more regularly offer opportunities for discipleship, membership, and leadership training because you own that your job in this season may be to get them ready for their assignment.
Commission them off
As you train people, make a big deal about sending off those who will be moving on from your church. In a transient church community like ours, we try to make the commissioning of our members a weighty matter.
Since mission is the emphasis in our church, we approach the commissioning of our members with the same missional mentality.
As one pastor of mine used to say to those they were commissioning, “You’re not choosing to leave. We’re sending you!”
Just as you would commission and pray for a missionary sent to another nation, you can do the same for members sent from your congregation. Allow those leaving to share their stories and prayer requests.
It can be encouraging to those remaining in the church to hear how the community has impacted another follower of Christ and provide a fresh reminder of why you do what you do.
I like to tell our people to imagine the next church that will be receiving a blessing because of our church.
Give people the freedom to recognize the emotions they experience are normal. As motivated as we are to send people away on mission, there is still a bittersweet sadness when relationships change.
Remind the church of the tears shared among the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 as they bid farewell to their beloved Paul. It is appropriate to feel both joy and sadness as we send people we love on their next path of living for God.
When people leave our church, we try to do our best to keep connected. We’ve discovered people sent out from the church are often our best advocates for the church.
As personal beneficiaries of the ministry, they are often eager to bless and support us in prayer and generosity as we seek to be on mission in our city.
As we send ministry updates and prayer requests, we also ask how we can be praying for them. In this way, God also reminds us that we are a small part of a much larger Kingdom and that our impact can even extend far beyond the small borders of our local church.
Daniel Hyun (@villagedanhyun) is the husband to Judie, father of two precious girls, and lead pastor of The Village Church in Baltimore, Maryland.