Thursday, July 30, 2009

When People Leave Church & the 80% Loss

Each year the typical church loses about 20-30% of its people. This is due to four main factors; relocation because of work, changing churches (for a variety of reasons), death (of the elderly) or spiritual lukewarmness and backsliding. This is an ever-present reality. It is what it is. What this means is that churches have to be adding that many people through the front door each year (and getting them to stick) just to maintain current attendance levels. Furthermore, if a church is actually growing above those losses it means they have an effective outreach and discipleship emphasis.

Even more startling (and most people don’t realize this) is that the average church will actually lose 80% of its people over the course of time. Eighty percent! It’s easy to see that with 20-30% going out the door each year, it’s only a matter of time before there is a complete turnover of the people in the congregation. But this trend can be significantly reduced by focusing on winning the lost and properly discipling them. Why? Because newly saved people are easily bonded to a church family, and when discipled will buy into the vision. These people become some of the best servants in the house and will stick for a lifetime. This also reduces the possibility that people will leave for petty, selfish reasons.

When people leave a church it can cause mild trauma for a pastor. As an under-shepherd, we have invested time, love, and friendship in the care of our church members, so it is naturally depressing when people leave. Most unsettling of all is when church members leave for selfish reasons such as personality conflicts, not getting their way about something, all their friends are leaving, or jealously. The list of petty issues is endless.

I have learned some things over the years, and when faced with this dilemma myself here’s what I do:

Number one - I never attempt to talk the person out of their decision. Never.

Number two - I stand against the wiles of the enemy who tries to give me a sense of rejection.

Number three – I stay focused on the mission of the church, (i.e., the Great Commission). I can cry over the people who are leaving, or I can cry over the new people who are coming to Christ. But I don’t have enough tears for both.

I always remember that none of the sheep are mine to begin with; they belong to God. I am only accountable for being the best under-shepherd I am called to be. To that end, I have learned to not take it personally (most of the time) when people leave because I am simply a steward over God’s heritage; He is the landlord.

Furthermore, when people realize that they belong to God (not a man) they automatically begin to grow in spiritual maturity and begin to serve others instead of focusing their attention on their petty, selfish whims. It is also less likely they will be led astray because their strongest allegiance is to God, not a man. People who believe they belong to a man will often follow the wrong man.

The only string that ties me to the people of PCC is the cord of love. To that end we teach people the importance of commitment, agreeing to covenants, and conflict resolution. People must be told that leaving will not solve their problems, because most of their problems are within themselves (not in the church); and they will carry those problems with them wherever they go and will remain unresolved. Once there, it will only be a matter of time before the same issues surface again. The right thing to do is to fix the problem – usually by looking in the mirror.

This is why PCC breaks with the statistical trend of losing 80% our people.

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