Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Closing the Back Door

Church leaders have been talking about closing the back door years.  It’s a good conversation.  After all, it’s frustrating to see people come to church, hang around for a little while, and then simply leave.  However, many of these conversations sound like church leaders are just trying to “keep people”  – as if that is the main goal of church work.

It’s not.

Church members will sometimes step forward and ask, “Why are so many people are leaving the church?”  They almost never ask this question or express concern until it’s someone they happen to know who has left (which usually turns out to be only 2 or 3 people).  And there’s always a subtle insinuation that something is wrong (with the church or its leaders) if people are leaving.  Fact is, someone is always leaving a church – no church is exempt – because it's a normal part of the life-cyle of every church.  The reasons are endless.

In reaction to both of these scenarios, church leaders get alarmed and begin thinking of ideas, new programs, and new ministries that they hope will “keep people.”  A lot of time, effort, and energy gets devoted to these initiatives.  There is a big launch, it starts out well, then fizzles out.  So church leaders think up a new idea and launch it.  Before you know it, everyone is on a squirrel cage of activity running these programs that are designed to “keep people.”  But in the end, the back door is still open.

Always will be.

Here are my observations about a church’s back door:

1.  The goal of the church is not to “keep people.”  The goal is to “make disciples.”  We can’t “keep people.”  It’s futile to even try.  The goal is to “make disciples” – which is something we can do.  This is not a matter of mere semantics – it reveals how we think as leaders.

When the focus is to make disciples, you’re promoting spiritual formation and self-sacrifice in the believer instead of catering to consumers who possess fickle demands.  Consequently, the more successful we are at making disciples, the more of them will stay.  And when (or if) a mature believer moves on, it will be for the right reasons.

2.  Closing the back door is partially negated by keeping the front door wide open.  The spirit and atmosphere that makes a church inviting and appealing for newcomers is the same spirit and atmosphere that makes most people want to stay.  And most do at PCC.

3.  When the focus is to keep people, it puts us on the defense.  Instead of leading, we chase.  “Please come back!  What did we do wrong?  We’ll do better.  We’ll change the whole program ‘just for you.’”  Instead, we should be out front inviting newcomers to join, and leading the flock (who chooses to remain) to green pastures and still waters.  It’s unproductive to chase people who choose to leave.  We can't fix their wanderlust. 

4.  We should never close the back door completely.  Church health is directly related to who stays and who goes.  An open back door makes an easy exit for those who want out, and it also ensures that those who remain are most likely to be happy and supportive of their church.

5.  Relationship Connections are the key, not programs.  People who have family or close friends in a church are the most likely to stay for the long haul.  They will stay whether you offer programs or not because they prefer family & friends over church meetings or programs that pulls them apart during the week (no matter how many bells and whistles it has).  In fact, I have noticed that the people who have strong relationship connections at PCC are the least likely to attend any programs we offer beyond the Sunday services.  If they feel the need for 'something more' they will usually get together on their own during the week.

Relationships are the glue that holds a church together. 

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