Personally, I have been in fellowship at the same assembly for 22 years and counting. I came there as a new believer at age 20 where I was greeted with firm handshakes and warm smiles. I didn’t know anything about church doctrine at the time. It was only love that kept me coming.
Over the years, I have learned the doctrine, and over the years I have never found reasons to leave. In an attempt to simplify things, I will suggest there are really only three reasons to leave a church and join another.
The first and foremost reason to leave a church would be doctrinal error. Since our loyalty to the truth of the Scripture comes first, any deviation from the vital tenets of our faith should result in removing ourselves from the fellowship.
Although some tenets of the faith may be hard to define as vital or non-vital, I think we all would agree that some truths are foundational to salvation – the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, justification by faith alone apart from works, the divinity of Jesus Christ, etc. Other doctrines such as the timing of the Second Coming, God’s sovereignty, and the definition of repentance may not be doctrines to leave over.
In reality, however, the reasons we leave churches seem to be arguments over music choices, worship styles and Bible translations. These non-vital issues, especially with regard to our justification for salvation before God, are ones that call for patience, cooperation and grace.
Leaving a fellowship over these issues, and similar ones, tend to uproot these virtues before they even have a chance to grow, taking away the very soil – our differences – in which they grow.
Gross moral failure
The second reason for leaving a fellowship would be moral failure in the leaders of an assembly. Although it is arguable what exactly constitutes moral failure, if you feel strongly that the leaders of your assembly are morally incompetent, then you should leave.
After all, they are your leaders, whose faith [you are to] follow, considering the outcome of their faith (Heb. 13:7). If you do not agree with the outcome of their faith, you should seek leaders whose faith and lives you can follow, as the Scriptures teach.
Stagnation of the body
Similar to moral failure in the leadership of your church would be the moral failure of the whole assembly. If you feel your assembly lacks love, evangelistic fervor or respect for the Scriptures, then maybe it is time for you to find another church.
He who walks with the wise grows wise (Prov.13:20) and it is important to find an assembly whose holiness, family values, evangelism and mission interest infects, in a good way, your entire family.
The fact of the matter is that some churches are thriving, some are dying, and some are already dead (Rev. 2&3). It may actually be a matter of life and death for you and your children to be involved in a thriving assembly during the very formative years of their faith.
The model of the Church: a family
After I have given you three reasons for leaving a church, now I will plead with you to stay. My first reason for you to stay is that the church, your church, is your family. The people you have met with for 3, 7 or 10 plus years are your God given brothers and sisters.
I find it ironic that we call the church a family, but leave it so quickly as if it were a mere acquaintance. The relationships within a family are strong, able to put up with many difficulties, strains, and offences. An acquaintance, on the other hand, is left in a day without thought, without pain, without loss.
By staying, instead of running away the moment we feel offended, we will learn the virtues of forgiveness, grace, patience and forbearance. None of which can be learned if we remove ourselves from fellowship at the first sign of trouble.
A final plea
So stay at your church. Stay as long as possible and fight for, not with, the people of God with whom God has called us to be a family. Love suffers long, love hopes all things and endures all things (1 Cor.13:7) and it is vital for our growth that we stay as long as our conscience allows us.
Lastly, if we must leave, let us leave with tears and by all means find somewhere else to be in fellowship. There should never be such a one as a churchless Christian. And if after long forbearance, you discover that you absolutely must leave a church, then resolve this: to find another church to give yourself to right away, for you follow the One who loved the Church and gave Himself up for her (Eph.5:25).