Messy Faith,  Personal and Spiritual Ramblings,  Recovering Perfectionist

What to do when your church isn’t meeting your needs

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This post is part 18 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can view all of the posts in the series here on the series landing page. This post addresses when you need to leave a church, and when you need to stay.


In my last post, I shared briefly about one of the churches that we attended while we were living in Kentucky:

So when we arrived in Kentucky, we quickly found a good independent, fundamental, Baptist church to attend.

We attended that church for the next two years, but struggled to fit in the entire time we were attending there. There was a lot of good things about the church and the people there, and most of our “problems” with the church had very little to do with legalism, so I’m not going to go into them here. We just weren’t completely happy, and we knew it – but tried to make the best of it because we thought it was where we were supposed to be.

I didn’t want to go into more detail, but earlier today, I felt convicted that I needed to share some things.

This blog series is about a wilderness – and just as the Israelites made a lot of mistakes before they made it to the “promised land” so did I. It’s not fair for me to call out all of the wrongs that have been done against me and ignore the things that I have done that have caused my own pain.

This chapter is one I’d like to gloss over and say simply “we left a church for reasons that didn’t have anything to do with legalism.” But it’s not that simple.

I hope by this point in my series it is obvious that at this point in my life, I was not in a good spiritual place. I was in pain. I was hurting. I was angry at the problems with legalism, but I didn’t understand grace. at. all. I kept God at arm’s length while still pretending to be a pretty decent Christian.

But you can’t hide ugly. Eventually, it comes out.

This church that we attended in Kentucky had some social dynamics that we found made it difficult for us to fit in socially. While we originally thought that making friends there would be easy, for some reason, we just struggled.

As the months wore on our frustration grew. Then we were dealing with a difficult pregnancy, a difficult childbirth and recovery, and then we were right into predeployment phase – it was a good six months of being far too tired to try to make friends. We had pretty much given up.

But then my husband left. There I was with a husband gone and infant in tow and I desperately needed community. I found it in MOPS, which I joined at the beginning of that year. I found it in OFS and the Bible study that accompanied it. In the fall of that year I joined PWOC. I had an amazing network of community through all of those parachurch organizations, but the way that all of those groups embraced me made me that much more frustrated with my church and its seeming lack of support.

I looked for problems. I looked for inconsistencies. And, as it was an imperfect church made up of imperfect people – there were plenty of problems and inconsistencies to be found. Like the multiple times I was left out of playdates and game nights, the mornings when nobody said hello, the holidays like Easter and Mother’s Day where I had no one ask me over for dinner, and the times I overheard wonderful stories of other military wives in the church getting taken care of but I had been forgotten.

And so, I withdrew. I held onto those hurts, the resentment, the bitterness and ran off into my own little corner where I could feel loved and taken care of by other people.

“If these people won’t bother caring or supporting me, then I’ll go somewhere else to people who will.”

The day there was a Sunday School picnic and I sat alone at a table with my infant son while other people filled up all the tables around me and mine stayed empty – instead of moving to sit by someone else, I left the picnic early and cried all of the way home.

I didn’t ask for help when I needed it. I didn’t ask for prayers, love, and support when I wanted it. Instead I focused on all of the ways in which I wasn’t getting help and support.

The cycle went on this way for months, until finally, after I left yet another church function in tears, my husband told me from the other side of the world that I wasn’t going back.

This part of my story is necessary to tell because ultimately, leaving that church and moving onto others were huge steps for both my husband and I on our pathway to grace and getting us to where we are today.

Looking back on that year, it still hurts. I still feel the disappointment of feeling left out and forgotten. But, in hindsight, I also remember the times that I was invited over. The times one of the men in the church came and mowed my lawn free of charge. The military wife get-togethers that the church hosted. The times people did ask about me and my husband. The marital counseling that we got over RnR. The Christmas presents that they dropped by even after we had left the church.

All that stuff that I downplayed – because it was easier to be bitter, angry, and resentful than it was to be thankful; because it was easier to run away and sulk than it was to be direct and honest with people who might have been able to make a difference.

I justified myself saying that a woman whose husband is deployed simply shouldn’t have to ask for help from the local church.

But what if I had humbled myself and done so anyway?

Lonely at Church: What to do when your church isn't meeting your spiritual needs or emotional needs | Is it time to leave my church?
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I’m not going to deny that there are a lot of churches out there that honestly lack good community. People get left out. There are groups that are hard to break into. People get hurt. And the church (as a whole) needs to do a better job about taking care of its members, especially those who are hurting, forgotten, struggling, and starving for community.

I’m not going to deny that sometimes, starving people need to simply leave and go somewhere else where they can be fed.

{Related: Stained Glass Masquerade: 6 Reasons We Left Our Church}

But if everyone who is in bad community leaves, the problems will never be fixed. <—Tweet This!

Back in April of this year, I was overcome with conviction as I watched the webcast for the 2013 (in)RL conference from The Challenge to Stay in Community. Women told their stories. Some of those women left communities, groups, churches, and relationships because they had been hurt. Other told the stories about how they chose to stay: how they chose to risk conflict for intimacy – how there had to be hard talks, honesty, and directness in order for hurts to be rectified and a community or relationship to improve.

We chose to leave our church, and ultimately, God weaved that hard situation into my story in a way that still brought him glory and made my life more beautiful.

But I still regret the times I made passive, whiny comments to a friend – instead of speaking up about how I truly felt. The times that I left crying, alone – instead of choosing to stay and find a shoulder to cry on that could have become a friend. The times I fumed and said nothing – instead of humbly asking for help. The times I accused in righteous anger or vented on Facebook about how my needs weren’t being met – instead of going to the people who could have made a difference and honestly, directly, and graciously telling them how I felt and how the situation could be improved.

I can’t tell you exactly what God wants you to do if your church isn’t meeting your needs.

But I’m asking you to focus less on the problem and consider the possibility you could in fact be part of the solution.

Maybe, leaving your church is inevitable. Maybe you’ve already tried to be that positive change and nothing has come of it.

But maybe you are like me. Hurting. Fuming. Frustrated. And you would rather sulk, withdraw, or leave than risk the effort needed to try to make a difference.

No church is perfect. And maybe the people in that church just need a second chance. Maybe they need someone to come to them humbly and respectfully and say, “You’ve hurt me. You’ve left me out of things. I’m feeling ignored and unloved. I don’t feel like my needs are being met by this community. Can we work on improving this, together?”


Readers, I think this is something that needs to be talked about! Can you tell me about a time when you, like me, chose to walk away from a community where your needs weren’t being met? Do you regret that decision at all? Or maybe you chose to stay. Why? And what happened when you made that choice?


To view all the posts in this blog series, visit the landing page.

Next post, part 19: on being “in your place” in church


  • Alexandra

    Gosh, the Lord’s timing is perfect…needed this today. Been struggling with dealing with issues with past churches, and dealing with that hurt and sometimes even anger that you talked about. Anyway, another issue came up today that brought it all back. And this was just what I needed. Thanks so much for your transparency and willingness to share your story…it’s such a blessing and encouragement!!!

  • Janet

    In the past year I left the church that I had been a member of for 25+ years. Things were great when I was single, and even after the adoption of my two daughters. When I adopted my son, things quickly went down hill (in my perspective). When had semi-major surgery I had 10 minutes of a pastor’s time (because the bishop was coming the next day!), and two lay visitors came not even 15 minutes after we made it to his room. Heard from no one on Saturday, Sunday or Monday. Then he was diagnosed with autism, which is a very un-glamorous thing. While he could be in the nursery things were “ok”. But as he got older the challenges got bigger. I was always told (usually on my answering machine!) “call if you need us”. What folks who don’t have sped kids don’t realize is that it takes a whole lot of energy and time to make those calls. I did go to one of the ministers and ask if they wanted us to continuing going and what I needed. Running into members in the community I would hear “you can go with him to Sunday School” (duh and when do I get the worship I need!?) or “can you get one of your friends who have a kid like him to do it? (and they would have the time/energy?) and the real winner was “have you looked into different churches?”

    Could I have been part of the solution? Most certainly! But that would have required time and energy that I didn’t have. (Single mom, 3 kids, autism, full-time work) It was much easier to do the laundry on Sunday morning so I could go to bed at a reasonable time on Sunday night so I could be ready for work/school/therapy the following week.

    What I did was quit going (they never noticed). The past fall I found a congregation (same denomination) that has an autism ministry. My son has someone with him who loves, adores and understands him and I and my girls get the worship we so badly need (though at 12 and 14 they don’t really think so 😉

  • Crisi @ Reserved and Waiting

    Wow in a good way. You just wrote a page out of my mom’s life 30 years ago. When I was a teenager my family moved to Tenn. we found a southern baptist church to go to. My dad ended up working out of state alot leaving just my mom and i there. Like you she was looking to connect and found the situation, joining classes and group only to leave empty and hurt. One christmas party we attended, shortly after arriving she got me to leave only to sit in the parking lot with her crying so hard she could not drive. The next sunday we attended our ss classes, when mine was over I sat in the sanctuary waiting for her. When her class was over she got me and stormed out of our church. She slammed the door so hard I thought the glass in the windows were going to fall out and break. Later I learned that she had confronted her group and that week they visited with her and worked things out. They became a group of ladies that grew and reached out to all new comers. When we moved there was lots of tears between them. God was glorified as in your situation. As a teenage it impacted me and I made the choice to reach out and encourage new members so that no one ever feels like she did. Thank you for writing this article. Awareness needs to be made when 30 years later the scenrio is still playing out.
    In His Love, Crisi

  • Courtney

    “I didn’t ask for help when I needed it. I didn’t ask for prayers, love, and support when I wanted it. Instead I focused on all of the ways in which I wasn’t getting help and support.” <– This is what I did throughout my husband's deployment. So beautifully written!

  • Amy Beth

    Thanks for sharing this! This is something I’ve struggled with often over the last several year (since my senior year of college). As a single woman on my own in new towns (first London, then El Paso, then Lexington, KY, then Denver) it was hard to find a church and get into a group. I was blessed to find a church in London where I was immediately welcomed, without even trying, and plugged into a group of fellow 20-something college students, invited to events and special services – I even went on a retreat with them. Even though I was only there for a 3 month study abroad program, I truly felt I’d found a church home. In Lexington I had a harder time, the churches I visited were welcoming, but at one the group was mostly older singles and young marrieds, I was by far the youngest and kind as they were I just felt out of place. At the other group I was older than the mostly college student crowd and felt equally out of place. I confess though, that I knew I wasn’t going to live there for more than a year either, so I didn’t make much effort to invest in those relationships like I might have if I’d been planning to make it truly my home. I found a similar situation in El Paso and when I moved back to Colorado I found a church in Denver where I loved the music and the preaching was sound – but I had to email the contact information they provided three times before I finally got plugged into a small group. And though I tried to come ready to discuss and fellowship with the other small group members – two other members made it clear from a few months in that my presence was unwanted . . . I’m still not sure what I did that seemed to so annoy them, but rather than talk to me about it they just got passive aggressive. I eventually left that small group and that church – I just wasn’t willing to try again (which is partly my own fault – no matter how justified I felt). For a while I didn’t go to any church at all – barely read my Bible, or anything that tied me to my faith. I did school, I worked part-time and I spent a lot of time alone. It was a dark time, those 3 years. Very lonely. I got a new job after grad school though and moved again. I found a church I liked pretty quickly, and tried to get plugged in as soon as I had picked it. I got involved in the worship team, tried to find a small group (but none of them worked for my work schedule) and started participating in the meal program. It’s been a year though and I still couldn’t say I’ve made any true friends there – but I do feel involved and supported by the staff of the church at the very least. Finally, the last Sunday I was there, I got in a longer conversation with the wife of our new sound guy. We’d both lived in the same area of Texas for a while and both share a passion for homesteading (even though neither of us currently owns land – we both dream of it). I wouldn’t say we’re friends based on one conversation, but I’m finally feeling hopeful that I will make some friends here and not have to go home to my dog and be alone every evening for more nights, more weeks, more months, more years. I’ve allowed the pain of past hurts to excuse me from trying again – but that’s not what God would have me do, or anyone for that matter. I’ve come to realize that I have to be the change I want to see. If a church seems unwelcoming – then I need to become welcoming to others. If they don’t seem to have a niche for me, I need to talk with the leadership and find it. I have to take a more active role in service and not expect that I will always be served.

    • Aprille

      “If a church seems unwelcoming – then I need to become welcoming to others. If they don’t seem to have a niche for me, I need to talk with the leadership and find it. I have to take a more active role in service and not expect that I will always be served.” <—well said!

  • Karen

    While our situation is a bit different than yours because we are an older couple who felt neglected and forgotten by our church during a time of disease and surgeries, your story brought it all back to me.

    We left our church over it after I posted something on Facebook about of a church isn’t taking care of its flock it’s not doing all it should do. My pastor texted me and we debated for lack of a better word until he shamed me into admiring he was right… that we never asked for help. I tried to point out that in the text he screen shot and sent back to me, I was asking for help in the only way my generation can, by saying beyond coming and taking care of us, I can’t think of anything that needs doing. He argued that because they texted several times and we never asked for help, it was basically our fault. I argued that in our generation, when someone is recovering from cancer (me) and shoulder surgery (my husband) that it’s common sense that help is neededand you don’t have to ask, you just go do.

    But, as I said he won the debate by making me ad it we never alled for help. He texted back an hour later and said, “Now, is there anything you need help with?” Mind you, this was nearly nine months after our surgeries and after we’d stopped gong to church. I texted back, trying not to include an LOL and told him that at this point, no, there was really nothing that we needed help with.

    I heard from him again several months later right after Christmas saying they missed us. I told him we’d been gone for Christmas, returned home and got word the next day that my husband’s brother died and had to go back. He never responded to my text to even send condolences or anything.

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