Question:

I was looking through your web site and found someone asked questions similar to questions I had at this page: When should I leave a church? But I'm not sure you fully answered some of the questions, so I still wanted to ask them again.

  1. If there are multiple sound congregations nearby, must I worship with the most local?
  2. Am I free (in God's eyes) to change which local congregations I worship with as I please?

I know we can't just jump around to different churches each week. We should identify with just one and become members there to be counted as their body. But my question is more this:  If we have been members of a certain congregation for years, but feel ineffective or discouraged or just plain want to worship somewhere else because of different friendships or more or different kids for our teens to fellowship with or things like that, are we free to do that? There are always issues, some sinful and some just preference, so can we leave for just preference? What if we are feeling discouraged by things like some irreverence or informality in worship, people who rarely attend, people who don't disfellowship with those we have withdrawn from, people who make poor decisions and you just feel like all your teaching over the years just isn't working and that you are ineffective to make positive changes in this particular group of people and want to try to work with another group? I know that is often why preachers leave, they feel ineffective, hope to be more effective in another area or with another group, so is it any different for other members? It seems some people really criticize others for making a change, saying it is not necessary or absolutely wrong, and I'm trying to determine the truth from the Bible regarding this.


Answer:

Congregations do shift over time. Ephesus was a church noted for its love (Ephesians 1:15-16); yet, about 40 years later they had lost it (Revelation 2:4). It wasn't the only church to have changed. Pergamum and Thyatira had allowed false teachers in (Revelation 2:14-15, 20). Sardis was nearly dead and Laodicea was trying to avoid all extremes. Each church was warned that if they did not change directions that they would no longer be one of Christ's churches.

But because changes can happen gradually, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when a church is no longer faithful. No matter what church you attend, there will always be problems. It is more a question of which set of problems you want to deal with.

I've spent nearly my entire life in small congregations. It is frustrating when families leave or decide to no longer work with a group because there are not enough young people for their children. Exactly how does a church increase the number of young people, unless people with children stay? Actually, while this is an irritation, I strongly suspect that people who use this reason to leave have bigger issues, but this one is offered to avoid confrontations.

Actually you've listed a number of problems in your current congregation. In the third point of my answer to When should I leave a church? I tried to address this. Attempts should be made to help improve a congregation and its people, but if the group is having a negative impact on you and your family, then there comes a time when you have to consider an alternative. It should not revolve around a "what's in it for me" attitude. Christianity is about serving the Lord and our brethren. There can be times when you wake up and realize that your aren't benefiting others by staying. I don't know if I can pinpoint exactly when that time arrives.

While I'm sure this is not the case with you, I do want to mention that if you find yourself changing congregations every few years, then odds are that the real problem is not in all the congregations you've attended. More likely it is within yourself. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:1-5). Self-examination is important when you are thinking about leaving a congregation. Is the problem really with others or is it with myself? "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? --unless indeed you are disqualified" (II Corinthians 13:5). No one wants to think that his is in the wrong, but it must be considered.

To sum up: If the church is in error and you can't persuade them to return to the truth, then you ought to leave. If it isn't outright error, and you look and can honestly say that you aren't the source of the problems, that you've given good effort but things are not improving, and that you see staying as having a negative impact on your family, then it is time to move.