Why do you think people leave your church? Why do you think people leave churches in general? We've read reasons (and I've written about these too), such as:
- "I just didn't get anything out of the messages."
- "The church let me down in my time of need."
- "My kids didn't feel like the student ministry was working for them."
- "The worship music wasn't the style I like and it was too loud."
- "The pastor seemed too busy for me."
Candidly, comments like these come from churched people who at some point might consider looking beyond their own wants and desires and begin to invest in the lives of others.
Don't get me wrong. Churches do let Christians down, and you and I need to do our best for those who call our churches home.
But people who don't go to church much (or at all) typically don't make those kinds of comments. People who are far from God or disenfranchised from the church aren't picky. In fact, they want to know what we stand for, and they love bold leadership. They come hungry, or hurting, or hoping. Maybe a friend nagged them for months, and they finally came. They aren't worried about masterful communication of the message. They are wondering if the whole thing will be weird or the people are strange, or if they'll be embarrassed.
When it comes to people who are not highly churched, I think three big reasons they leave (or don't come back) are:
- Apologetic Expressions. At 12Stone®Church we get many emails weekly from people who are considering whether or not they will come, and from first-time guests who have attended. They want to know what we believe, if they will be accepted, and they test us about our resolve. Not everyone will come to our church or yours, but those who come don't want soft answers or apologies. They are looking for people who really believe what they are selling. They want bold leadership. They want to know if we're the real deal and if we'll drink our own Kool-Aid!
- Tentative Impressions. First impressions are everything. When people drive into your parking lot, meet a greeter or experience an usher, the whole thing may be over already. Not to mention what may or may not have happened in the nursery. First impressions should not be allowed to falter, be uncertain, or be timid because of lack of training or passion for the mission. Your first impressions need to be sharp, energetic and cause people to feel like they made a good decision to get out of bed and come to your church that morning.
- Insincere Connections. Good first impressions are vital, but they must move quickly from a warm smile and a cheerful welcome to genuine messages about how to connect with new friends. I'm not suggesting that you should be overly aggressive. People need time to find their way. Sometimes the next step is just offering a cup of coffee. But your leaders need to have their hearts ready to receive new people just as much as you need structures like a newcomers class or small groups for the people to make genuine relational connections.
How would you evaluate your church in these three areas? Where do you need to improve?
Dan Reiland is executive pastor of 12Stone Church® in Lawrenceville, Ga., listed in Outreach Magazine as the No. 1 fastest-growing church in America in 2010. He has worked closely with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. His semi-monthly e-newsletter, The Pastor's Coach, is distributed to over 40,000 subscribers. Dan is the author of Amplified Leadership, released in January 2012.