In this blog series, I’ve identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number six:
TIP 6. Effective Discipleship.
What’s your discipleship strategy?
Hopefully you’re not stumped by the question. If so, you’ll definitely want to read on!
This question is one of a few that must be answered by every church. It’s one of the primary reasons we EXIST as a church. It goes back to that whole “go and make disciples” bit from Jesus!
Within the context of this blog series, we would say evangelism brings people into the church, but discipleship is what grows their faith. Beyond spiritual growth, however, discipleship plays a big part in keeping people at your church (i.e., shutting the back door).
Lack of effective discipleship is one of the primary reasons people church hop. We hear excuses like, “I’m not being fed,” which is often a cop-out, but behind that excuse is often a discipleship system issue.
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Have you ever left a church?
It’s funny to me. As a pastor, when people leave the church I lead, they feel compelled to let me know. Many times they even let me know why – in detail.
In my early days at Watermarke, it seemed every person or family that left the church wanted an “exit interview.” I usually listened, and in most cases, wished them luck at their next church with a smile. Usually my happy demeanor and willingness to let them leave was perplexing to them. I found trying to KEEP frustrated people at the church only cause me frustration, so I smiled and pointed out other great churches in our community.
During these slightly awkward meetings, I always wondered what they expected in return. An apology? A promise to change our church for their preferences? A cookie? Not as much sarcasm?
But seriously…as a lead pastor, when people tell me they are leaving the church, I often find myself excited for them. Or at least excited for me. Sure, there are many bad reasons to leave a church, but there are some great reasons, too. And when I hear one of the good reasons, I smile in return.
If you are considering leaving a church, here are five good reasons to go. Just don’t ask for an exit interview on your way out…
I couldn’t believe the comments that people posted!
My friends at churchleaders.com recently reposted an article from my blog. They’ve done this a few times. I’m happy to allow them access to anything they believe is helpful. What I wasn’t ready for was the comments that ensued. Wow! I’m glad I have thick skin!
If I remember correctly, I was called a heretic. I believe one person questioned my salvation and even suggested I prayed to Satan. It was suggested that I was ruining God’s church. That was flattering, because I didn’t realize I had that much influence! I engaged with some of the responders, but I quickly realized the futility of open conversation with angry Christians.
Often, when people in the community talk about Watermarke Church, a similar comment can be heard: “It’s a church for unchurched people, right?.” When I hear that comment, I’m find myself both excited and frustrated.
EXCITED: Excited because we ARE a church where unchurched people can and frequently do attend. In fact, our surveys show roughly 40% of our attendees were “unchurched” prior to attending (unchurched = not regularly attending any church for five years prior to attending Watermarke). Excited because people in our community see our church as a place an unchurched person can come to church. Many people who attend OTHER churches invite their unchurched friends to OUR church. That’s exciting (and weird). I’m not sure why anyone would attend a church where they couldn’t invite their unchurched friends!
FRUSTRATED: But that’s statement is a little frustrating, too, because we are NOT a church for unchurched people. Better said, we are not JUST a church for unchurched people. We are a church unchurched people love to attend. We are also a church church-people love to attend – especially church people who have a desire to reach the unchurched. There’s a significant difference between a “church for the the unchurched” and a “church unchurched people love to attend.”
Here’s a few key differences:
What would happen if the unchurched in your community suddenly attended this Sunday? Would you be ready?
Hopefully that sounds like a dream come true. Let’s pretend your attendance doubled – or tripled. And it’s the good kind of attendance increase, not the kind where you add disgruntled churchgoers who will soon find reasons to be disgruntled with your church!
At Watermarke Church, that is basically our story. When I first arrived to lead our church, we were stagnant at best. Watermarke was losing families weekly. This presented an obvious problem and distinct opportunity. We had to change and reframe our culture and collectively recommit to our vision – creating a church unchurched people would love to attend.
In our case, the hard work paid off. God led us to make many changes and our church began to grow quickly. As exciting as the new growth was, though, creating a church that attracted unchurched people has a disadvantage I never considered: unchurched people don’t know how to be church people. More specifically, they do not serve or give or participate, they only consume. Of course we were grateful to have their consumption, but I quickly realized encouraging and equipping our unchurched friends to participate IN the mission rather than consume FROM the mission was critical to our mission. More importantly, it was critical to their growing relationship with Jesus.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
As a Christian, I know what you mean. But I’m telling you – no non-Christian believes you. Their experience has taught them well.
Christians have spent so many years rallying against “sin” that most people who have been told they are “sinners” cannot fathom finding love or acceptance from the Christian community today. Who can blame them? It seems everywhere we turn Christian are fighting against this and complaining about that. Even though “those fanatical Christians” may only represent a small portion of Christendom, they’re voices are loud and the media eats it up. Unfortunately, they represent more than just themselves.
But while we cannot make EVERY Christian behave, you and I should stop using terms and phrases that accidentally communicate something we never intend.
Have you ever shared your faith?
It can be terrifying. I grew up in a church where every Monday night we had “Visitation.” That term is used for an alien invasion. And it happens in funeral homes. And that’s exactly what Monday night looked like to the people who unfortunately were at home when we knocked.
Visitation was an interesting event. In case you have not had the luxury to “visit” or be “visited,” let me give you an overview of the night. The church would gather together, names and addresses of recent church visitors would be distributed, and groups of people would leave to “visit” with these people – uninvited, of course. Basically, church people would knock on stranger’s doors, interrupt their evening, and invite them back to church or share something about Jesus. You can guess how successful it was.
I only participated a few times. Honestly, once was enough. I’m not sure who had the worst experience – me or the person I “visited.”
My biggest hesitation with visitation was how to respond to faith questions. I wasn’t a biblical scholar. I had not been to seminary. I hadn’t even read the entire Bible! So the thought of anyone asking me questions about faith, God, Jesus, creation, sanctification (I would not have even known that was a real word!) or the like just freaked me out. I was afraid to share what I did know, because I firmly believed what I didn’t know would come up and my lack of knowledge would make me look like a fake. Worse, my stammering could lead people further away from God.
But you should not be afraid to share our faith, because I believe we actually have an answer to every question that could be asked. Do you know the ONE answer for EVERY faith question?
Here’s it is: