What to Do When Your Church Leaves You

Don Johnson

I recently had a conversation with a friend who expressed his appreciation for Proclaim & Defend and other ministries of the FBFI. Of course, one always likes to hear accolades, but behind my friend’s compliment lay dissatisfaction with the trending development of his local church. His church was still “the only alternative” in his town, but things were changing. The music was just one thing, more troubling were little statements made from the pulpit, subtle changes in the philosophy of Sunday school ministries, missions, evangelism, and so on. “Still,” my friend said, “there’s nowhere else to go in our town.”

The complaint — or perhaps “statement of growing discomfort” — is not a new one. Others have expressed similar sentiments at countless churches across the nation. “People in the pew” are aware that change is afoot and they aren’t sure if they should be comfortable about it or not.

Of course, change is always difficult. Whole chapters in counseling / psychology have been written to help people deal with change. Change can be for the better. Change is constant. Those who are older should be used to it by now. There should be an openness to change that brings churches and Christians forward in their walk with God. That is a given. We shouldn’t just resist change because “we’ve always done it this way.”

Having said that, no one can deny that the changes often happening in church after church across the land is a change away from a strictly fundamentalist Baptist approach to ministry into something quite different. Often it is hard to put a label on it, because these changing ministries may still want to retain old labels, at least for a time, while at the same time becoming more or less carbon copies of unabashed evangelical counterparts (or sometimes counterparts not even as conservative as that). This kind of change is very disconcerting.

People who experience this kind of change in their home church are left in a quandary. In towns where there are no longer any fundamentalist alternatives, as my friend suggests, what are they do to do? Often those first seeing the change find that some of their conservative-minded friends see no problems. What then? What can the most concerned folks do? Often you will hear of communities where there are several churches with fundamentalist testimonies. In those communities, as change occurs, it is relatively common for concerned individuals to leave their church and join themselves to another. (This does not always create an entirely healthy relationship between churches in a community, by the way.)

Well, it is one thing to leave a church because it is changing. Our question in this article, however, turns the idea around. What are you to do when your church leaves you? Especially for those folks who have no good alternatives in their town, what are they to do? What would the Lord have them do?

Personal Growth and Influence

The first matter that each Christian should address is his own understanding of the issues. We should all be in a lifelong pursuit of spiritual growth, but this isn’t just a matter of devotional life. We should develop good doctrinal discernment. That will require commitment to personal study. When change occurs in your church, you need to be evaluate the changes biblically. You will be in a difficult position to criticize change if your basic objection boils down to, “Well, I don’t know what’s wrong with it, it just feels wrong to me.” Such disquiet may be enough for you to do something about it, but it is unlikely to be persuasive to anyone else.

One of the blessings of the Information Revolution is that many tools are available to develop discernment. We hope that the materials produced here at Proclaim & Defend help in that regard. We think FrontLine is another great resource. But there is more. Bible study software, online courses, electronic books, and even real printed on paper books (amazing, they still exist!) are readily available. Make some time in your life for these things. In particular, it might be helpful to read books written by David Beale, Fred Moritz, Ernest Pickering and other fundamentalists on the history and theology of fundamentalism and separation. Learn about specific issues that arise, about the arguments for and against such things. Compare the arguments to Scripture.

We don’t advocate learning for learnings sake, but would have you become an example of the believer able to teach and serve others. You ought to be Biblically informed and ministerially active — taking part in the teaching ministry of your local church. If you are informed, others will notice as you participate in the life of your church. Your influence can be the difference maker in the life of a local church. If you read the history of individual churches over the years, usually strong churches can be attributed to the leadership of individuals in the church generation after generation. Usually, this includes the pastor, but it isn’t always so. Dedicated laymen have helped maintain strong testimonies through the years, and strong pastors can’t do it all on their own, they need strong, biblically informed laymen to “hold up the hands” in the battle.

That is one thing you can do, but your situation might be too late for that. Change to your home church may well already be entrenched, the direction set, and your influence for the right may be misconstrued as divisive or simply disregarded. What then?

Is it time to withdraw and start over?

Let’s assume that your concerns are well founded – the new directions of your church are weakening its testimony and obedience to the Lord. There is ample evidence for such deterioration of Christian testimony through history and to the eye, it looks like this old problem is afflicting many churches again in these days. What to do then?

Certainly you should not become a source of division in the church that has changed. You gain nothing by attempting to be the agent of change, trying to overthrow the “old regime” for a new one. Such activity will only lead to schism and will not help the body of Christ in the long run. However, there is something else you can do. The Lord could use you as a catalyst in church planting. You and a few likeminded individuals could be such a start. It is best if several families could have the burden of such a work together – it is very difficult to get a group going without a group! When a group of believers desiring to hold to a faithful Christian testimony bind together in a community for the purpose of worship, discipleship and evangelism, you have a church.

If your church has left you, I would urge you to pray for the Lord to lead you to others with the same desires, willing to take a stand together in a Bible-believing independent Baptist church. The ministry need not be complex, but it will need the work of committed members to flourish. The Lord will provide the things that are needed when they are needed – space to meet, someone to lead in the preaching and teaching (i.e. a pastor!), helping hands to arrange the details of meeting together. You will need to be committed to evangelism – don’t look to grow by attracting the conservative from other churches. Some of these may come, likely will come, but a church will grow best if it is committed to evangelistic disciple-making.

You must be willing to be involved in small ministries for this work to amount to anything. Most of the churches in America are small churches. And pretty well all churches started as small churches, regardless of present size. Large churches can provide many resources (thank the Lord for the large churches that remain faithful), but the strength of the church at large is in the number of faithful small churches that are committed to Biblical disciple making in community after community across the country. Are you prepared to spend the rest of your Christian life serving in a small church? In a church of less than fifty? That could be the lot the Lord has for you as you take this step.

We may never see sweeping revival again in our lifetimes if the Lord should yet tarry. Nevertheless, he has called us all to faithful ministry and it may be that the only thing left for us to do is to step out of our comfort zones and be a part of building the Lord’s church through the means of a few souls gathering together in small churches to once again build local churches faithful to his name and for his glory.

A final word of caution

Let me reiterate something I said at the beginning of the article:

Of course, change is always difficult. Whole chapters in counseling / psychology have been written to help people deal with change. Change can be for the better. Change is constant. Those who are older should be used to it by now. There should be an openness to change that brings churches and Christians forward in their walk with God. That is a given. We shouldn’t just resist change because “we’ve always done it this way.”

No doubt all churches will change over time. New technology, changing culture, new needs in our communities all demand that we be flexible and adaptive. Sometimes we just resist change because we don’t like to get out of our comfort zone.

When your church makes changes, and you are uncomfortable, be sure that your discomfort is the consequence of unbiblical change before you take the drastic step of breaking fellowship. We want faithful local churches peopled with faithful local Christians. It would be tragic to simply fall into the pattern of a disgruntled rump that constantly “takes its ball and goes home” over every change that comes about.

Do all you can to encourage the faithfulness of the church you are in.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada, a small church just now averaging above fifty in attendance.