Changing churches can be a difficult decision. As Christians, we are called to be committed to a local body of believers (Hebrews 10:25). However, there are some valid biblical reasons for leaving a church. Here are some key factors to prayerfully consider when thinking about finding a new church home.
Choosing a church should not be done lightly. The church is the body of Christ, and we are exhorted not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). However, there are certain circumstances where it may be necessary and wise to leave a church and join another one.
As Christians, our commitment should be first and foremost to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Our allegiance to a particular congregation is secondary. There are seasons where God may call us into a time of transition for the purpose of growth, change, or new opportunities to serve.
While leaving a church should not be done in haste or anger, there are valid reasons for changing churches. The key is being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, having patience and acting in love. The purpose of this article is to explore biblical, ethical grounds for changing church membership.
- Changing churches is a serious decision that should be bathed in prayer and considered carefully.
- There are valid, ethical reasons to leave a church, grounded in scripture.
- The key is discerning God’s leading through prayer, counsel, and confirmation.
- Any decision to leave should be done in a spirit of love and minimize damage to the body.
- Valid motivations include doctrinal deviation, spiritual mismatches, unethical leadership, unresolved conflicts and changed life circumstances.
One of the central purposes of the church is to teach sound biblical doctrine. Jesus commanded his disciples to teach others to obey all that He commanded (Matthew 28:20). Paul writes that church leaders should “hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9 NKJV).
When a church strays from orthodox Christian teaching, it becomes an valid matter of conscience before God to leave and join a church that adheres to sound doctrine.
The New Testament speaks strongly against false doctrine creeping into the church. Paul warns Timothy to avoid “different doctrine” which the apostle does not approve (1 Timothy 1:3). John calls false doctrine the “spirit of the Antichrist” (1 John 4:1-3). Paul says, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8 NKJV).
Some examples of doctrinal deviation include:
- Denying the deity of Christ
- Denying the Trinity
- Rejecting the authority of Scripture
- Teaching salvation by works instead of grace
- Proclaiming a false gospel
When core biblical truths are compromised, it is wise to seek a church that upholds orthodox theology. The Bible exhorts us to divide over truth, not petty preferences. We must be discerning not to divide over minor issues. However, on matters of primary doctrine, deviation is grounds for seeking a new church home.
- When a church strays from sound biblical doctrine, it is wise and ethical to leave and seek a biblically-faithful church.
Another reason people switch churches is lack of spiritual nurturing and growth. While no church is perfect, our congregation should be helping us mature in our faith and become more Christ-like. If we are not being fed spiritually, it is smart to evaluate whether we are in the right “pasture” so to speak.
The membership of a church is compared to a human body, with each member playing a vital role (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Just as the head, heart and hands work together in a body, a healthy church nurtures growth and community among its members.
Signs that you have spiritually outgrown your church or that it is no longer effectively nurturing your walk with Christ may include:
- The preaching is consistently shallow with no depth.
- There are minimal opportunities to serve and use your spiritual gifts.
- You find yourself disagreeing with or offended by the sermons.
- There are no small groups or classes to foster spiritual growth.
- The people are spiritually apathetic with no hunger for God.
Rather than criticize and complain, it may be a sign from God that He wants to transplant you in new soil. Seeking fellowship with passionate believers who challenge you to go deeper with Christ may rekindle spiritual growth.
- If your current church is not helping you grow spiritually, it may be valid grounds for finding one that does.
As Christians, we are called to integrity and modeling Christ-like behavior. Leaders in the church, whether pastors, elders or deacons, are held to high biblical standards (1 Timothy 3:1-13). When those standards are gravely violated by spirits of control or abuse, it may warrant withdrawing membership.
One of the responsibilities of church leaders is to care sacrificially for the members, not wield power and control. Peter exhorts leaders to serve “as shepherds, not under compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3 NKJV).
Warning signs of overly controlling leadership include:
- The pastor refusing to be accountable to an elder board or deacon body.
- Major decisions being made unilaterally without congregational vote.
- Censorship and forced control over members’ behavior and lifestyle choices.
- Excessive legalism beyond clear scriptural standards.
Additionally, when leaders fall into scandalous sin but refuse to repent and step down, it may necessitate finding a congregation with ethical integrity. Paul scolds the Corinthians for not removing a sexually immoral man from their fellowship (1 Corinthians 5-6). Impenitent sin in the camp had to be purged.
As Christians, our loyalty rests with Jesus above any human leader. Unethical leadership may sadly necessitate finding a more spiritually healthy church, especially if private appeals result in rejection.
- When church leaders stray into ongoing sin or abusive control, it may call for finding a congregation with integrity.
The Bible speaks strongly to being a peacemaker and avoiding disunity among believers. Paul urged the Corinthian church to agree in what they say, eliminating divisions (divisions) so they might be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10). He pleads with the Philippians to make his joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind (Philippians 2:2).
When conflicts and grievances arise in the body of Christ, we must do everything possible to resolve them biblically. Jesus gave instructions for addressing conflict in Matthew 18:15-17, going to your brother in private to restore relationship. When all efforts fail and factions develop within a church, however, it may be necessary to withdraw membership. Especially if one side rallies unjustly against you, refusing reconciliation.
Unresolved conflicts breed tension, bitterness and destroy a church’s unity and peace. As much as possible, seek to be at peace with all men (Romans 12:8). Yet you cannot control whether others reciprocate. At times, withdrawing quietly from a toxic environment that refuses to heal may be the wisest option.
- After exhausting all efforts, unresolved church conflicts may warrant finding a new congregation.
Changed Life Circumstances
Another common reason people switch churches is because their stage of life has changed. For example, new parents may desire a church with better children’s and youth programs. Empty nesters may prefer more contemporary music. College students usually join campus churches or fellowships. These life transitions alone do not have to necessitate switching churches. However, they can be valid reasons, especially if your current church lacks appropriate programs for your new phase of life.
Additional examples of changed circumstances include:
- You moved to a new area. It is wise to join a local congregation rather than drive long distances to your old church.
- You are newly married. Seeking a church where you and your spouse can grow together makes sense.
- The church changed, not you. For example, they switched to a style of worship music you strongly dislike.
In such scenarios, it may be wise to find a congregation that aligns with your current stage of life. The key is making the decision based on growth, not comfort alone. Also be aware of the 80/20 principle – no church may meet 100% of your preferences. Seek the Lord’s will without unrealistic expectations of any body.
- Major life transitions that take you in a different direction may warrant finding a new church aligned to your stage of life.
Changing churches should never be done lightly. We must be committed to unity and reconciliation as much as possible. However, there are valid reasons for leaving a church after careful prayer and counsel. These include doctrinal deviation, spiritual misalignment, unethical leadership, unresolved conflicts and changed life seasons.
The key is having the right motivations – a desire for biblical integrity, spiritual nurturing, peacemaking and growth. Any decision to leave must be bathhed in prayer. We also must guard against a critical spirit and make the transition discreetly, not sowing discord. If God calls you into a new season at a different church, obey His leading. He will direct your path to find a suitable spiritual home.