I can remember that over the course of 24 months I had more than ten families tell me that they were re-locating due to job transfers. When I received the first intimations of these moves, I thought, “Well, that’s ok. God willing we can find some other families to fill the space.” But as the announcements began to pile up, I was finally looking at a reduction of the size of the church by nearly fifty percent! There are all kinds of things that go through your mind—questions, frustrations, and feelings. It’s one thing to replace a couple of families, but how do you find enough new people to restore half of your church?
The truth of the matter is that we live in a highly mobile culture. Gone are the days when a person would grow up, go to school, get married, and raise a family all in the same town. Corporations are large national and international conglomerates that move their employees like so many pawns on a chessboard. The reality is, you need to be prepared to have members of your church leave because their job has taken them to a new city.
When this happens, whether its one, ten, or twenty families over the course of a few years, remember that in the end that God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, to quote the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith (III.i). This means that, in the end, when God in his providence moves families away from your church that he is doing some divine pruning. He is taking one fruitful branch and grafting on to another tree so that it bears more fruit. God willing, in the place of the pruned branch he will raise up more fruit-bearing branches. Sometimes, God the master gardener has to prune branches in order to make the tree more fruitful. I can remember that in the wake of the divine pruning at my church that I prayed more fervently for God’s grace for the congregation.
I know from personal experience that divine pruning of your congregation can be discouraging—loss of members, friends at a distance, and looking out on a smaller number of people as you peer over the pulpit. Use the opportunity, however, to reflect on your need for God’s grace in your ministry, to pray that God would motivate you to get the word out to see new people, even new converts!, fill the pews. And pray that, in the end, you would never measure your success by the number of people sitting in the pews but by whether you are being faithful in the things to which God has called you.