The Main Reason People Leave a Church by Thom Rainer

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The Main Reason People Leave a Church
Thom Rainer

Num­bers of gift­ed per­sons and orga­ni­za­tions have stud­ied the phe­nom­e­non of the church “back door,” the metaphor­i­cal way we describe peo­ple leav­ing the church. And there will always be the antic­i­pat­ed themes of relo­ca­tion or per­son­al crises. We should rec­og­nize those issues, though we can respond to the lat­ter more than the for­mer.

But all the research stud­ies of which I am aware, includ­ing my own, return to one major theme to explain the exo­dus of church mem­bers: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these mem­bers have ideas of what a local con­gre­ga­tion should pro­vide for them, and they leave because those pro­vi­sions have not been met.

Cer­tain­ly we rec­og­nize there are many legit­i­mate claims by church mem­bers of unful­filled expec­ta­tions. It can undoubt­ed­ly be the fault of the local con­gre­ga­tion and its lead­ers.

But many times, prob­a­bly more than we would like to believe, a church mem­ber leaves a local body because he or she has a sense of enti­tle­ment. I would there­fore sug­gest that the main rea­son peo­ple leave a church is because they have an enti­tle­ment men­tal­i­ty rather than a ser­vant men­tal­i­ty.

Look at some of the direct quotes from exit inter­views of peo­ple who left local con­gre­ga­tions:

“The wor­ship leader refused to lis­ten to me about the songs and music I wanted.”

“The pas­tor did not feed me.”

“No one from my church vis­it­ed me.”

“I was not about to sup­port the build­ing pro­gram they wanted.”

“I was out two weeks and no one called me.”

“They moved the times of the wor­ship ser­vices and it messed up my schedule.”

“I told my pas­tor to go visit my cousin and he never did.”

Please hear me clear­ly. Church mem­bers should expect some level of min­istry and con­cern. But, for a myr­i­ad of rea­sons beyond the scope of this one blog­post, we have turned church mem­ber­ship into coun­try club mem­ber­ship. You pay your dues and you are enti­tled to cer­tain ben­e­fits.

The bib­li­cal basis of church mem­ber­ship is clear in Scrip­ture. The Apos­tle Paul even uses the “mem­ber” metaphor to describe what every believ­er should be like in a local con­gre­ga­tion. In 1 Corinthi­ans 12:12-31, Paul describes church mem­bers not by what they should receive in a local church, but by the min­istry they should give.

The solu­tion to clos­ing the back door, at least a major part of the solu­tion, is there­fore to move mem­bers from an enti­tle­ment men­tal­i­ty to a ser­vant men­tal­i­ty. Of course, it is easy for me to write about it, but it is a greater chal­lenge to affect it.

May I then offer a few steps of a more prac­ti­cal nature to help close the back door by chang­ing the mem­ber­ship men­tal­i­ty? Here are five:

Inform church mem­bers. Though I do not have pre­cise num­bers, I would con­jec­ture that more than one-half of church mem­bers do not have a bib­li­cal under­stand­ing about church mem­ber­ship. Pro­vid­ing that infor­ma­tion in a new mem­bers’ class can move an entire con­gre­ga­tion toward a ser­vant men­tal­i­ty.

Raise the bar of expec­ta­tions. We have dumb­ed down church mem­ber­ship in many con­gre­ga­tions to where it has lit­tle mean­ing. Clar­i­fy expec­ta­tions of mem­bers. Again, doing so in the con­text of a new mem­bers’ class is a great way to begin.

Men­tor mem­bers. Take two or three mem­bers and begin to men­tor them to become bib­li­cal church mem­bers. After a sea­son, ask them to men­tor two or three as well. Let the process grow expo­nen­tial­ly.

Train mem­bers. Almost 100 per­cent of pas­tors agree that their role is to train and equip mem­bers. But almost three-fourths of these pas­tors have no plans on how they will train them (see Eph­esians 4:11-13). I will address this issue more fully on my blog next Wednes­day.

Encour­age peo­ple to be in small groups. Those in Sun­day school class­es and small groups are more like­ly to be informed and func­tion­ing church mem­bers. In oth­ers words, there is a much greater like­li­hood of a mem­ber with a ser­vant men­tal­i­ty to be in a small group than not.

What are you doing in your church to close the back door? What are you doing to move mem­bers from an enti­tle­ment men­tal­i­ty to a ser­vant men­tal­i­ty?

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