“Lots of People Have Left Our Church” Part 2
In Part 1 of “Lots of People Have Left Our Church”, I suggested that we shouldn’t be surprised that so many people leave local churches permanently, or leave to attend other local churches. It doesn’t mean we have to like it, and we probably should dis-like it, but it in the United States of Many Choices, it shouldn’t shock us. But what can we do about it? What can we do to address this problem? Here are three questions that can be asked to help us begin to formulate a discipleship and shepherding plan that will hopefully stem the tide of leaving members.
First, what is happening at the front door of the church? When people become a member of a local church, there needs to be a plan to fully disciple them, and this means teaching a doctrine of the universal and local church. We should anticipate that people won’t stay committed to a local church if they don’t know what it is, why they should love it, how it is organized and works and for what purpose it exists. When people come through the front door of the local church by way of church membership, are they being taught about the church and the expectations of the church? Is there a class that informs and orients people toward the biblical importance the local church should play in their lives as disciples of Christ? One way to keep people from sipping out the back door of the church is by having a plan for the front door.
Second, what is happening inside the church? Once a person submits themselves to the biblical, borrowed authority of a local church through the process of membership, how are they being shepherded and discipled? Specifically, what systems are in place to follow-up with people? For instance, in the process of becoming a member, we highly recommend that people be in a Core Group (small group) so the Elders can work with the Core Group Leaders to shepherd members. If a person is not in a Core Group, it makes it difficult to care for them as a member, but when they are in a group, an elder has oversight of each Core Group by partnering with the Core Group Leader so we can have some idea of how people are doing spiritually and physically. We also go through our membership roles annually to try to make sure no one has slipped away. There must be a plan for pastoral care once a person becomes a member.
Third, what is happening at the back door? At the front door, we ask new members to tell us if they come to the point that they plan to leave, and because of this, some people will honor our request. If they do, we meet with them to find out why they are leaving. I am always grateful when people have the courage to do that. It is healthy and right. I have met very few people who have permanently left their biological family without making it known. When I moved out of my parents house after college, I didn’t just slip out one day without saying a word. Why does this happen so often in our faith families (local churches)? If someone does leave without making it known, we do our best to follow-up with a phone call or visit from a Core Group Leader, an Elder and Deacon, or both. If someone does leave without saying why, that may mean they don’t want to be contacted, but we usually try anyway to see if there is something that has gone wrong, and to see if there is anything we can do about it.
This is a simplified summary of what we try to do, and honestly, a good amount of people still leave for reasons other than moving to a new city. Do people slip through the cracks and out the back door? Unfortunately, yes. But we have a plan and process that we are constantly evaluating and refining. Not having a plan ensures that more people will leave and leave more frequently.