Are you wondering if your church is completely dysfunctional or just a tad quirky? Struggling with your place in the congregation or denomination? Do you think it might be time to go somewhere else but you’re not sure? Here are five signs that it might be time for you to move on.

1. You can no longer grow.

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Christians are the true fruit of the church. The whole system of the church exists not simply to save souls, but to bring individual believers into healthy maturity.

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Like physical growth, growing in the grace and the knowledge of the Christian faith can be difficult and painful at times.

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Sometimes, we even grow out of the places where we were first planted.

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This kind of growth is natural and common. But leaving a church behind often creates feelings of guilt and shame—especially when we have lived a lifetime within its supportive structures.

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Recently a friend of mine left his home church. It was painful and difficult, but he isn’t willing to let the experience jade him against his friends and family still thriving at the church he was called to leave.

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We texted about it very briefly. He described the church of his youth beautifully—as a womb that had formed him and given him life, from which it was painful but necessary to depart.

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His actions reminded me that if we must leave, at least we can leave in a spirit of grace.

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2. A culture of hierarchical domination.

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One very clear signal that a church is abusive is when it fosters and thrives on a culture of congregational domination and control.

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Structures of domination are easy to spot when

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Trends like these can indicate that the leaders or ministers of a church treat their congregants as resources to manage and exploit, and have lost sight of important biblical fundamentals. It might be time to move on.

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3. Ultimatums.

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Pastors know that part of the gig is telling people when it’s time to fish or cut bait.

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If you’ve been on the fence about your church for awhile and your pastor or minister confronts you in some way and pushes you to make a decision, remember this: she or he may actually believe that the best thing for you is to leave.

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But in practice it’s often unprofitable, difficult, or even irresponsible to say “You might belong somewhere else” directly.

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Ultimatums are a clear sign that the pastor is willing to risk your departure. It could mean that leaving has become a viable and even healthy option.

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4. Terribly bad, no-good theology.

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At some point it might hit you—maybe during a sermon or homily, maybe while reading your Bible, maybe while you’re in the shower: something they said doesn’t make sense.

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Trust that instinct. But don’t let it become your guiding light.

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It’s true that sometimes things don’t make sense to us because they’re wrong and nonsensical.

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But sometimes they don’t make sense because we lack understanding.

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So keep turning it over in your mind and start exploring the issue at length. Discuss your concerns with a minister or pastor you trust. Give yourself time to prayerfully consider the issue. 

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You might discover your concern is unfounded, and find the peace you need.

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But if you’ve ruminated over the course of time and realize you’ve lost faith in the flagship theology of your tradition—say you’re a Calvinist who can’t abide predestination, or a Methodist that hates potlucks—it might be time to start exploring your best next steps.

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5. You just can’t be honest with anyone.

Many churches have healthy channels for disclosing your authentic and even sinful self to the people of God, including rituals of confession, practices of accountability, and programs of therapy and recovery.

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But some churches and church cultures fail to provide space and resources for dealing with genuine human realities that don’t match the institutional ideal.

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This kind of environment seems to impede rather than foster the growth, recovery, or healing you may need as a Christian.

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Are you dealing with personal trauma, or trying to recover from self-destructive patterns, or still wrestling with that private sin, but you don’t trust anyone at church to assist or even know about your problems?

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That’s a sign it could be time to move on and find a place equipped to help you. 

Written by Justin Staller

Justin studies Christian Spirituality at the GTU, where he received his M.A. in Biblical Languages after earning his B.A. in Religious Studies at Cal. Justin is also member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality.

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