Lost: The Church Edition

The latest Lifeway poll says that every week, 115,000 people leave their church. That’s more than 8,000,000 people that choose to leave their churches annually. Ouch.

I know that in our recent annual meeting it was scary to see how many left our church last year.

So, what are you doing about it? Quickly, I always hear Pastors put a spin on it. “There’s no way we can keep everyone“. Or the more spiritual answer, “The person probably has internal issues that keep them from realizing how great our church is”.

Is it spin? Or is it the truth. The answer? I don’t know. But I can tell you based on my knowledge of church marketing and secular industry (where most brands suffer from the same thing) that 4 things must be realized:

  1. An interview is essential. In order to find out why people are leaving, you must ask them. Or even better, don’t let it be you. The Pastor’s not the best person to retrieve the information. Don’t let the “spin” cloud the real reasons. It’ll be hard to hear some of the reasons, but you have to a) identify those that have left, b) contact them with an informal, non-confrontational, and — if possible– anonymous survey, c) don’t accept a simple congenial answer, d) if all else fails, try to contact friends to find out the reasons. It’s not easy, but it’ll help you identify trends. You do want to get better, no?
  2. Methodology of the Church must change. Remember that if someone takes the time to complain, that’s a good thing! Apathy is when people stop complaining. Using the collected information (along with other constructive criticism), start looking at methodology. The truth of the Gospel must NEVER change, but how you do things should always be in flux. Consider if some simple (or not so simple) things can be changed to help the issue(s).
  3. Leadership is responsible. It’s hard to stomach, but anytime there’s issues of people leaving, it’s a leadership issue. When something goes wrong in my business, I’m responsible. Every time. The moment I blame something or someone else, the problem won’t be solved. When a leader doesn’t take responsibility, they’re not a leader. Remember, when there’s a strong leader with definite direction and well-explained vision, people will follow. The reason people are leaving a church I know? People have no clue of the vision. It’s random. It’s not defined. And the Leadership is like a loose cannon. Doing as he pleases.
  4. It’s easier to get “disgruntles” back, than to seek “new” people. The good news! Like any marketing director will tell you, it’s easier to woo a former person back; than to go for a “cold” call. The same for the church. That’s why the success of “Back to Church” Sundays. FYI: Sept 12, 2010 is the next one in a few weeks. And over 1,000,000 have be asked back (to date) to their churches according to Lifeway.

It’s a shame to know that as we welcome people in our front doors, we are losing people out our back doors. We need to start closing the back door! Identification of the issue is key. Communication of vision and brand is the second step. I’m praying that the Church starts realizing that!

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