When small churches lose members, it shrieks. I suppose in very large churches, having a few members move away or leave for other reasons isn't very noticeable. In my congregation, we know when you are in worship and when you aren't.
I'm expecting a letter from a family who joined during my tenure at Little Church. I'm very fond of them and have enjoyed their involvement with the congregation.
The letter will tell me that they don't want to be Presbyterian anymore. Raised as Baptists, they are returning to the S.B.C.
I called as soon as I heard to tell them of my distress about their departure, to thank them for their lively participation in our church family and then the Big Whammy. I asked if I had offended them in any way to prompt this decision to leave.
We had a warm chat recalling happy memories of their time with us. They assured me that I had not offended them and that, "if I had, they forgave me." I put that comment in quotes because it struck me when I heard it.
I'm not sure we pastors ever get a direct answer as to why people leave. All sorts of excuses may be offered or the departing members may point to one incident which may or may not have prompted their leave-taking.
Because of the publicity we Presbyies receive, I am sensitive. Perhaps I'm too sensitive.
Whatever their reason, I will miss them. They weren't perfect church members. We aren't a perfect church.
We won't ever be perfect this side of heaven.
I expect their departure will make it around town faster than a bullet. Maybe I'm the last to know about their plans. I'll keep my head up and listen with my best ears and maybe, I'll find out the real reason.
But, does it matter? When people decide to leave a congregation, wish them well. Assure them that if they ever need you to please call. If you can, thank them for their participation. Continue to pray for them and let them go.
Having said this, let me make clear that I've had enough losses, of all kinds in the past 16 months, to feel rather stung tonight. Stung by one more loss.