I’ve been a church drop out twice: once while I was an associate pastor.
Isn’t that funny?
As I reflected on those experiences through the lens of church growth strategies and evangelism, I want to set aside the data that is out there and just 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 having been 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, I had nothing to do. All my duties had been given to someone else.
There is no point in figuring out all the why’s 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 because there was hardly any social network to withdraw from.
In other words, it didn’t hurt to leave.
We didn’t really have anyone to say goodbye to.
Sure we had a few friends, but we saw them in other ways, spent time at their house, our children played together. We still had meals together and talked on the phone.
But the pain of saying good bye to close friends didn’t exist.
After we left, it didn’t feel to us 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 eventually saw that we were missing out on various community building events. We missed them for various reasons, most of which are good and understandable.
But 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.
We didn’t get to serve together in a 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 didn’t drop out the back door over theology.
We didn’t drop out the back door because of how the pastor treated us.
We didn’t drop out the back door 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.
The therapist will wonder what root behaviors caused this to happen.
They psychoanalyst 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.
We don’t. It’s life, it happened, we go on.
I am not sharing this to have people counsel me, but to look at my story from a church growth / evangelism perspective.
If it was easy for me to drop out the back door, what can you do to help close that door?
Closing the back door.
1. Build systems that allow friendships to happen.
Small groups, cells, service events are all excellent ways to provide a context for friendships to happen.
I came across a statistic that said that at least in North America, 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 the 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.
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 camp fires, retreats, events, prayer times and play times. 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.
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
In other words, encourage people to always be looking for who is missing. This is obviously very easy when the group is small. It gets challenging when churches get bigger.
How you do this is contextually dependent.
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.
Image Credit: Chirag D. Shah