I’ve been a church dropout twice: once while I was an associate pastor.
Isn’t that funny?
As I reflected on those dropout experiences through the lens of church growth strategies and evangelism, I want to set aside the data that is out there and share my own experience.
Why do we make all the efforts
- to share the gospel with people,
- get them connected to a local church,
- and then let them drop out?
Why was it easy for me to drop out?
1. No place to serve.
This sounds funny because I was the associate pastor.
I could tell stories, but this venue isn’t the place to air them.
Let it simply be said that after a few years of service, I had nothing to do. All my duties had been given to someone else.
There is no point in figuring out all the whys and hows of that development, but the end result: no purpose, no job, no joy.
In the second church, we stayed for two years yet never found a way to serve in a way that fit the church’s schedule with our life.
We tried one ministry but it was so disorganized that it hurt to serve.
2. Not enough connections or deep friendships.
It was very easy to leave the church because there was hardly any social network to withdraw from.
In other words, it didn’t hurt to leave.
We didn’t have to say goodbye to anyone.
Though we had a few friends in the church, we saw them in other ways, spent time at their house, and our children played together. We had meals together and talked on the phone and connected on social media.
But the pain of saying goodbye to close friends didn’t exist.
After we left that church, it seemed that anyone noticed our absence either. With one or two exceptions, no one called to see why we were missing.
About a year later, someone ran into us at the local mall, and then noticed we had been missing. . . .
3. Not enough common experiences
We left that church for another reason – we could not get involved in their activities beyond Sunday.
We missed them for various reasons, most of which are good and understandable.
We eventually saw that we were missing out on various relationship-building events.
The end result — we lacked the communal experience that bonds a group of people together.
- We didn’t get to build a house together with Habitat for Humanity.
- We didn’t get to serve together in neighborhood outreach.
- We didn’t get to connect or contribute in small groups.
- We didn’t get to grow with people through common experience. . . .
- We didn’t get the announcements of events that were happening. . .
- I even wasn’t invited to go on a pastors retreat with the rest of the staff I was on.
The end result: Marginalization.
We did not drop out of the church over theology.
We did not drop out of the church because of how the pastor treated us.
We did not drop out of the back door because of some offense between someone and ourselves.
We dropped out the back door because we were in the margins
We couldn’t stay in.
We couldn’t get in.
Some will wonder what root behaviors caused this to happen.
Others will try to find fault in my family of origin.
Others will try to find some kind of problem within our family that caused this to happen twice. Still others will blame the church as an organization and its leadership
We don’t. It’s life, it happened, we go on.
If it was easy for me to drop out the back door, what can you do to help close that door?
How to Close the Back Door.
1. Build systems that allow friendships to happen.
Think of your visitor assimilation process.
What can you do to help new church visitors build relationships and keep those relationships to help them stay connected to your congregation?
Small groups, short topical studies during midweek, cell groups, and community service events are all excellent ways to provide a context for friendships to happen.
I came across a statistic on North American church involvement that said that if a visitor doesn’t form a primary relationship with someone other than the pastor in the first six months, they will leave.
Close the back door by helping people develop new and meaningful relationships around faith.
2. Help people serve and contribute.
There are many practical ways people can serve in a church.
Ask your already overworked volunteers what they’d like to delegate, and you’ll find some new spots for new people.
Or, use spiritual gift inventories to help new people discover where they can serve out of their gifting and passion.
At the church I attend, they constantly make space for new volunteers and help them find fulfilling places to serve.
Close the back door by empowering others to serve out of their gifting and passion.
3. Plan common experiences
Some of my closest friends walked with me for 5 years as we did youth ministry together.
There were lots of common experiences around campfires, retreats, events, prayer times, and playtimes.
Some spent time at a pancake house after Sunday services, others spent time at my house on Tuesdays.
We simply had opportunities for life together.
Take the principle and apply it to a church level — what are some common experiences that you can plan that will help your church bond with each other?
For many, it’s various community service outreach events.
For others, it might be an adopted mission project — this is what “we” do.
For still others, that community might be the hospitality team, the parking team, the medical team, or the service planning team.
This weekend, for example, the men of our church are going fishing (we are a small house church, so this is easy in our context).
Close the back door by building community through shared experience.
4. Foster the DNA of care and seeking
Encourage people to always be looking for who is missing.
This is very easy when the church or small group is small. It gets challenging when churches get bigger.
How you foster the culture of care and seek after the missing is contextually dependent on your congregation and size.
But developing the DNA to notice the missing and care for the hurting will help keep your people from walking out the back door.
Close the back door by caring for those who hurt.
Close the back door by noticing who is dropping out.
Net Image Credit: Chirag D. Shah