Is Your Congregation Shrinking? 6 Questions to Understand and Stop Unnecessary Attrition

POINT OF THE POST...

Is your church experiencing a decline in attendance? Discover effective strategies to understand the real reasons behind attrition and how to create a church experience that keeps people coming back.

Some People Probably NEED to Leave Your Church

I don’t say that out of skepticism or frustration. The reality is some people aren’t a great fit for your church.

Like everything, your church has a culture, ministry style, and model strategy. For some in your community, your approach is perfect. But not for everyone.

This is one reason having different denominations and styles is great for Christianity.

The people in your community are vastly diverse. No one church can (or should) serve them all.

When people leave your church because there is another church that better suits them, we should kindly encourage their exit, especially if they plan to immediately engage in the life and mission of their next church.

But many people leave churches for all the wrong reasons.

Leaving For All The Wrong Reasons

Again, some attrition is expected and healthy. But far too many people leave churches for the wrong reasons.

As a pastor, you have an opportunity to reduce unnecessary attrition. And you should. It’s fair to assume that some people who leave a church don’t find or engage in a new church, joining the ever-growing ranks of the de-churched.

Before we consider how to reduce this unnecessary attrition, let’s consider why people leave churches, how we WANT to respond, and what we should consider instead.

1.“I’m not being fed.”

Every pastor LOVES this one. Am I right? Yet this may be the most common reason given for leaving a church.

It’s difficult to believe this is a valid reason for many who claim it as they walk out the door, but we should take it seriously.

What we want to say (but can’t/won’t/shouldn’t): “Here’s a fork! Learn to feed yourself!”

2. “This church isn’t ‘deep enough’.”

This claim feels even more personal. Like reason one, it’s easy to hear “we aren’t deep enough” and react in frustration.

What you say internally: “You know good and well that you could preach ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ every week and people wouldn’t do it. How much deeper do we need to get?!?!”

Hold that thought.

3. “You don’t offer…”

Men’s ministry. Women’s ministry. MOPs. Awana. Babysitter recommendations. Youth ski trips. Weekly communion. Softball teams. Wednesday night meals. Sunday night services. Saturday night services. Etc., etc., etc.

Has anyone ever thought, “We’re not a Six Flags over Jesus? Maybe if you gave to your local church, we could do some of these things?”

4. “I/We don’t feel connected.”

Creating a connection in and to a local church is more important than ever. When a person doesn’t feel they are connecting in their church, they won’t remain for long. Why would they?

Have you ever said, “Well why not join a small group or serving team or any number of other connection opportunities that we offer!”

5. “I don’t like how you…”

Spend money. Save money. Hire staff. Fire staff. Change ministry offerings. Elect elders. And on and on.

People rarely choose curiosity over criticism. You’re doing your best to lead the church, so it’s naturally frustrating when people offer their under-informed opinions.

I have said, “What would you do if you were me?” plenty of times. Mostly with a smile. But we want to say, “I don’t like how you…”

A Long-Term Solution To Avoid Unnecessary Attrition

We’ll never stop all the attrition. As we said, that shouldn’t be our aim.

Yet too many people leave churches only to find themselves dissatisfied at their next church. And their next church.

There is a commonality with each of the above attrition excuses/reasons. Did you see it when you read through them?

Self-focus.

The worst reason to leave a church is that it does not meet your consumeristic needs. But by the time people offer these reasons and walk out the door, it’s too late to address the problem behind the problem.

People are by nature self-focused and live as consumers. We cannot change there intrinsic DNA. We can, however, build a church from the ground up focused on something greater than ourselves: Jesus and others.

The best way to avoid unnecessary attrition is to design and implement a discipleship pathway that focuses people on the Kingdom over their kingdom and others over themselves.

This is the essence of spiritual formation.

The more people grow in Christ, the less they focus on themselves.

Churches that can’t create a hunger for spiritual growth AND don’t offer a discipleship pathway for growth unnecessarily lose people.

Not to oversimplify it, but people rarely leave a church that’s inspiring and supporting their spiritual growth. The one solution to all selfish attrition is discipleship.

What Is Your Discipleship Plan?

This question becomes the most critical question to answer. Discipleship involves reaching the lost and growing the found. A great church intentionally does both well.

If you feel your church isn’t effective at both, ask these questions at your next leadership team or Elder’s meeting:

  1. How would we describe our approach to discipleship?
  2. Is our path to reaching our community and growing believers intentional?
  3. Do we focus more on reaching the non-believer or growing the believer?
  4. Considering our discipleship approach: What is working? What’s not working? What’s confusing? What’s missing?
  5. How are we intentionally creating a hunger for spiritual growth?
  6. How do we inspire people to take steps in their faith journey?

Wrapping Up…

It’s not our job to keep people in our church. Our job is to create a holistic discipleship experience that makes them never want to leave.

When you can, engage people in a leaving conversation and attempt to get past their initial reason. I suspect you’ll find, in most cases, a bit of self-focused delusion and a lack of discipleship. In a way, both problems are our problems to solve.

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