Churches lose members and attendees for a variety of reasons. Some good. Many not. But the good news is that most are addressable issues.
Why do people leave their churches? In an episode of Rainer on Leadership, Thom S. Rainer reviews top responses to this question.
Rainer says that the good news is that these are addressable issues. They shouldn’t cultivate a ‘woe is me’ attitude. Along with some analysis, Rainer provides thoughts on how they can be addressed.
1. They got out of the habit.
“There was no big crisis,” Rainer says.
These people simply begin to miss one or two services here and there and then eventually stop going altogether.
“Discipline is a close synonym with habit,” Rainer says. And attending church is another discipline.
The local church, at its biblical origins, is a place where people gathered together on a regular basis.
“The simple thing to do here is to remind people consistently that the gathering together of the people of God is supposed to be one of their spiritual disciplines and a habit.”
2. They left after they graduated from high school.
This is a reality that has to be faced as a common reason for dropping out of church.
But a helpful factor in keeping college students in church, Rainer suggests, is a thriving student ministry that stresses the importance of staying in church after going away to college.
“It has to be consistent in preparing them for life past high school,” Rainer says.
3. They decided they didn’t like the institutional church.
There are people who presume that because the church is an institution, it has negative connotations.
But if the church is an institution and a family, is it a right answer to then abandon loyalty to family because of dislike of institutions?
Rainer says that the church is an institution that has remained prevalent throughout history because of the nature of its purpose and its founder [God].
“The church is one of those ordained institutions,” Rainer says. “Ordained by God, but also accepted by humanity throughout the ages.”
4. They were hurt at the church.
Although the reality of hurt from the church exists, Rainer says to remember the reason we come to church in the first place.
“We don’t come to church for the people, we come to the church for Christ,” Rainer says. “We get benefits from the fellowship, but our motivation is for Christ, ultimately.”
And if our motivation to come is about Jesus and not the people, then our motivations to leave should not be based on the people either.
However, we do have to understand the difficulty of rising above the pain when dealing with members who have experienced personal hurt from individual people within the church.
5. They say they couldn’t find a church to meet their needs.
This attitude approaches church with a consumer mentality.
“We want church because of what the church can do for us,” Rainer says. “We go shopping.”
This is the practice of preferential Christianity—church hopping without ever being satisfied.
6. They had a need and felt the church didn’t meet it.
Related to the previous answer Rainer says, “it can be a general consumer mentality or it can be something specific that happened.”
Situations of grief over the loss of a loved one, for example, cannot be placed in the same boat as a simplistic consumer mentality.
“There are many times that the church cannot meet the needs to the level emotionally, even in times of need, that some of these church members would desire,” says Rainer.
7. They never felt connected in the church.
“Someone who is not giving may not feel connected,” Rainer says.
These are people who are only expecting ministry, not participating in it, and who aren’t in community groups or actively involved in the worship at the church.
“The leadership needs to do everything it can, but connecting, largely, is going to be dependent on the church member and whether he or she is really proactive on getting involved in ministry,” Rainer says.
Members will almost always feel unconnected when they wait on the church to do something for them.
8. They did not give to the church.
This pattern is detectable. Church leaders can have the person with the giving records give them warning signs when people begin to drift.
With these known warnings signs, leaders can do things such as taking members to lunch or to hang out with that person, seeking to get at the root of issues with individuals that can hopefully prevent them from leaving the church.
9. They left when their pastor left.
“Most of the time it is just when someone’s allegiance is tied too closely to a person rather than to Christ,” Rainer says.
We must be careful, Rainer adds, not to build churches on the platform of the pastor as a person instead of the mission of the church and the doctrine and the gospel.
10. They moved and never went back to church.
This is the situation of a life disruption and people just never returned to church.
It’s difficult to find a new church in a new area and get plugged in with the new community.
“How many of the formerly churched relocated and never connected with a church?” Rainer asks. “Why did they take this path?”
How will your church approach these issues?