People are thinking about leaving your church.
In fact, according to one study, 15 percent of church members have thought about leaving their church in the past six months.
These losses might not sound huge on the surface.
But take a moment to consider what would happen if you lost 15 percent of your members.
Would you need to stop a ministry?
Would you need to reduce your church’s budget?
Would you need to cut staff or decrease salaries?
Losing 15 percent of your members is a big deal.
The reasons people will leave your church range from good, bad, and ugly.
There are times you’ll lose people due to life or church transitions.
There are others times when people will leave over a difference of opinion.
But there are times when you’ll lose people because your church didn’t do well at keeping people connected—and these losses hurt because you know you could have done something different.
To help make your church “sticky,” I’d love to share with you the best practices in keeping people connected to your church.
In this post, I’m going to cover:
- 5 unsurprising reasons why you’ll lose people
- The 2 most common reasons why people will leave your church
- 4 pillars of building Christian community
- 4 key next steps you must provide visitors
Get out your pen and paper, and let’s get to work!
5 unsurprising reasons why you’ll lose people
You will experience change in your church.
Over the years, you can expect your church to go through seasons of growth, times of decline or stagnation, and transitions.
Before digging into why people choose to leave a church, it’s essential to know that some people will leave your church over the years for unsurprising reasons.
Said another way, when life in your church or the life of your church members goes through a change, expect to lose people.
Here are five unsurprising reasons why you’ll lose people:
- Life changes
- Church Relocation
- Pastoral transitions
- End of church programs
- Change in beliefs
#1 – Life changes
At some point, the members of your church will experience significant change.
When your church members undergo transition, oftentimes, these life changes will lead them to find a new church home.
Here are a few examples of significant changes to anticipate:
- Marriage or remarriage
- When a member of your church moves to a different community, they’ll leave your church.
Celebrate members who make these life-altering decisions, and help them to find a church home in their new community.
When a married couple divorces, expect at least one partner to find a new church home.
Regardless of what transpires during this difficult season, strive to provide ongoing support and counsel to help them gracefully walk through this transition.
What’s more, when someone gets married or remarried, there’s a chance he or she will leave your church to join the church of his or her partner.
#2 – Church relocation
If your church moves into a new building, you will likely lose some people.
According to research, when you move your church into a new building, you will lose people just because you’re in a new location.
Did you move to the other side of town?
If so, the distance may be too great for some people to travel. When this happens, they’ll be forced to find a new home church closer to where they live.
#3 – Pastoral transitions
At some point during the life of your church, you’ll go through a pastoral transition.
Pastoral transitions are common, and according to one survey, the average tenure for a full-time pastor is six years.
When your church experiences a pastoral transition, you will lose people in the process.
Whether it’s because of the difference in preaching or the loss of a friend in the change, some people in your church will leave when a member of your senior leadership moves on.
#4 – End of church programs
If you stop a ministry, there’s a small chance you’ll lose people.
This isn’t the case for every program in your church.
However, it’s likely people in your church have grown fond of programs and ministries you’ve run for years,. So, when there’s a decision to end a long-lasting program, you’ll likely run into tension with members or see some of them leave.
#5 – Change in beliefs
Many churches don’t make big changes to their beliefs.
But if your church goes through a significant shift in your doctrine, then expect to lose people.
According to one survey conducted by LifeWay Research, 85 percent of respondents said they would leave a church if there were a fundamental shift in their beliefs.
Feel free to tweak your style of worship, and perhaps redecorate your worship space. But know that if your church messes with the tenants of your faith, you should expect to lose most of your church in the process.
These are some unsurprising reasons why people in your church will leave.
Now let’s turn our attention to common reasons why you’ll lose people.
The 2 most common reasons why people leave your church
Not every time someone leaves your church is natural.
There are other times when you could have influenced whether or not someone stuck around.
To help the people you’re reaching in your community to stay connected, you have to know the two common reasons why they’ll leave:
#1 – Relationships
People will visit your church and become a member for many reasons.
But they’ll stay long-term because of the relationships.
According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, having friends or family in the congregation is a huge deciding factor for many people choosing a church. For people 65 and older, it’s 45%, whereas for people 18–29 it jumps to 62%.
Your outreach efforts will connect with people in your community.
Your preaching, worship, and children’s program will be a draw for other people.
But first-time guests will be inclined to get connected if they build friendships with people in your church. Without these connections, your church will be a slippery slope—not sticky.
#2 – Service
Another big reason why you may lose people depends on whether or not they feel needed.
Your church is a living organism, and there’s a lot of work that goes into making it work.
If someone doesn’t feel like they’re a part of your church or needed to support what’s going on, then they’ll be more inclined to walk away.
Resolving these problems takes more than doing something differently.
You have take a step back and really take a look at what’s going on.
To help you keep people connected, let’s take a look underneath the hood of your church.
4 pillars of building Christian community
There’s more to keeping people connected to your church than tactics.
You must establish four foundational pieces:
- Supportive church culture
- Clearly defined church membership
- Define next steps
- Get a tracking system
These steps may not sound tantalizing, but they’re necessary.
Let’s take a look.
#1 – Supportive church culture
The most significant component of keeping people connected to your church is a supportive church culture.
In other words, you need to build a church culture that values reaching people with the gospel and building relationships with first-time guests. If your church embraces these tenants, then the tactics you employ will be adopted, and your church will make an effort to help people get connected.
You might be thinking:
What do I do if my church doesn’t possess these values?
First of all, don’t rush to make a change.
It takes time to change the culture of a church.
Take coal, for example.
On the one hand, a piece of coal is transformed into a beautiful diamond through the application of pressure over a long period of time. On the other hand, you will shatter this same piece of coal if you were to apply an intense amount of pressure through a single blow, like hitting it with a hammer.
This analogy isn't entirely applicable, but there’s an element of similarity.
To make a significant change in the life of your church (structure, programs, values) before your church is ready to accept the change could cause a big problem, whereas taking time to prepare your church can create a more positive acceptance of anything new you do.
Take the time to lead your church to care for the lost and build community.
In time, they’ll embrace these values.
#2 – Clearly defined church membership
One key to encouraging people to stay connected in your church is putting in place a high-threshold for church membership.
In short, church membership is more than a census. It is an attitude, it's a state of being. It's belonging to a covenant community of faith where talents are stewarded alongside other members of the body of Christ.
Talk about the importance of church membership from the Bible.
Let people know what church membership looks like.
Provide your members with clear expectations and clarify expectations for your church and church leadership.
Participating in your church’s membership isn’t enough for most people.
They want to be a part of something much bigger than themselves.
#3 – Define next steps
After you know how to define church membership, you’re ready to define next steps.
A next step in your church is the next step a first-time guest or visitor can take to get further involved with your church and to grow in their relationship with Christ.
Gary Poole, the author of Seeker Small Groups, stressed the importance of next steps, saying, “It is essential for us to make clear ‘next step’ options available. Without them, the potential impact of each weekend element would be significantly weakened.”
This process needs to be simple, clear, and compelling. This way, everyone in your church and people visiting your church will know the next steps they can take.
To get a better idea of what I’m talking about, here are examples from different churches:
It’s ideal to make your next steps available online and in person. This makes it easy for anyone to learn more about the next steps at any time.
#4 – Get a tracking system
The last foundational piece you need to have is a tracking system.
I’m not saying you need to leave a “mark” on everyone who visits your church and track their whereabouts. But you will need a system to keep track of the members of your church and the people who visit.
Today, you don’t have to rely on spreadsheets and sticky notes.
The big idea is that you pick the one that best meets your needs and helps you keep track of people.
4 key next steps you must provide visitors
With your foundation in place, you’re ready to build a system to keep people connected with your church.
Here four key next steps you must provide:
- Spiritual growth
Let’s take a look at the practical details!
#1 – Worship
The first step you need to take is to lead people to your worship service.
There are a host of benefits people experience when they regularly participate in a worship service. But one of the biggest things you need to be aware of is that regular worship attendance will cultivate a higher commitment to your church.
According to one study, people who attend a worship service once per week are twice as likely to be completely committed to attending their church than people who visit twice per month.
To encourage worship attendance, preach on this topic, include it in your membership class, and make this a part of your church membership.
As for first-time guests and visitors, you’ll need to implement a follow-up process.
After someone works up the courage to visit your church, it’s essential to follow up with him or her to thank them for visiting, and to invite them to worship with you again.
#2 – Spiritual growth
Another step you want to encourage people to take is toward spiritual growth.
For some people, the first step they need to take is committing to Jesus or getting baptized. You will need to consistently promote these two steps to your church. Leading people to commit their life to Christ and to publicly display their commitment through baptism is essential.
But here’s the deal:
Spiritual growth does not end with placing your faith in Jesus—it only begins.
As a church, you can help to cultivate the spiritual growth of your members through a variety of means, including:
- Intentional Discipleship Relationships / Mentor Relationships (think Jesus with His 3)
- Bible studies
For Bible studies, your church can offer classes or short-term groups which meet throughout the year to study the Bible or theology.
Don’t think Bible studies are a good option?
According to LifeWay Research, 19% of the people they polled expressed interest in their church providing more Bible study groups. Like any group or ministry in your church, Bible studies won’t be attended by everyone at all times. But it’s a felt need by a significant portion of your church.
You can also encourage your church to read the Bible together as a whole. Many churches follow a Bible reading plan together, which can spur on conversation and accountability.
Everyone in your church needs prayer.
Be sure to provide an opportunity for people to seek out prayer from your staff, church leadership, or church members.
Another step you can help people to take in their spiritual journey is toward resources.
From selling books at a discounted rate to providing access to biblical resources from Rightnow Media, there are many ways your church can serve as a resource to your people.
#3 – Service
A third step you can lead people to take is to serve others.
In general, there are two ways to lead people to serve:
- By volunteering
- By getting involved in missions
As I pointed out above, people want to be a part of something.
They want to play a role—big or small—in furthering the work of the local church.
Make it easy for people to find ways they can volunteer.
Let them know via your website areas in which they can serve.
Set aside a place in your worship facility where they can get more information.
As you put before your church how they can participate in God’s work, you’ll be surprised at how many will step forward to get involved.
Another step you want to lead people to take is to get involved in missions.
Being involved in missions is good in two ways. First, you’re sharing the gospel and providing relief for a community. Second, participating in missions work can also be a catalyst for people in their spiritual growth. Leading people to step outside of their comfort zone is an ideal way to lead people to grow in their faith by overcoming new challenges.
#4 – Relationships
A last step you want to encourage people to take is toward getting involved in relationships.
When it comes to helping people make friends in church, you can provide opportunities for this to take place—but you can’t force friendships to happen.
One way many churches foster relationships is through small groups.
From providing ongoing small groups to short-term group options, there are a variety of ways you can lead people to participate in small groups in your church.
There’s one more step you can provide:
People in your church or visiting your church will at some time desire pastoral care. They’ll want to talk through their problems with a pastor, and making this option available can be a huge relief for some people.
Keeping people connected to your church
There’s more to keeping people connected to your church than tactics alone.
You must …
- Build a solid foundation
- Put in place key pillars
- Provide clear next steps for visitors
After working through this process, your church will be better able to help people stay connected.