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Keep Them Coming: Ideas for Closing the Back Door of Your Church
An e-book from ChurchLeaders.com

You are no longer strangers or outsiders. churches aren’t growing.S. second. . to make one.” a hideous-looking Borg intoned.). “You will be assimilated. 2:19. 5% of a growing church’s total weekend attendance should be first-. assimilation into a local church is a spiritual process. since I had seen the show before). Making the Right Impression What kind of first impressions does your church make on visitors? Most churches don’t know because their regular attendees can no longer see the church through a newcomer’s eyes. The Message). “Don’t! It will be all over!” I couldn’t look … (even though I knew what was going to happen. “Resistance is futile!” “No. But first impressions have everything to do with whether or not visitors will return. Most churches average 1 to 2% visitors—which is one reason why most U. an obvious prerequisite to effective assimilation is having enough visitors. where assimilate is defined: “To include into the larger whole. to involve.” I shouted. How is your church doing in each area? Attracting First-time Visitors You can’t assimilate visitors if you don’t have any. THE BORG had just captured my hero and brought him onboard. Scripture offers numerous insights into the importance of our “assimilation” into the Body of Christ: The kingdom of faith is now your home country. A more intellectual approach to the term takes us to the dictionary.Visitor Assimilation – It’s Not Rocket Science! By Charles Arn I sat affixed in front of my TV. How many are enough? According to The Church Growth Ratio Book (Church Growth Inc.or thirdtime visitors. it can be facilitated by a loving church that’s committed to making those connections. Captain Picard was about to lose his ability to think for himself. He was going to be (gasp!) … assimilated. While ultimately. raising his tentacles to the temples of Star Trek ’s Captain Picard.” Moreover. Here’s a look at the critical checkpoints in the process of seeing outsiders becoming insiders. Thus. You belong here … (Eph.

When? It is the first 10 minutes following the service. First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton. my friends. You can leave silently. but apparently not the most important time. I found it a “freeing” experience. At the end of the service. it’s apparently not rocket science. “Simple. and a visitor’s impression of the “friendliness” of that church: Many conversations = friendly church. stations hosts wearing red blazers and a “Questions?” button. The people are who they really are. and that window is critical for the first impression of friendliness. remember our three-minute rule here: No one can talk with a person they know for the first three minutes after the service. The first 10 minutes before a service are an important time for making good first impressions. before we go. the pastor said to the congregation: “Now. The perceived “friendliness” of your church is the most significant factor in whether or not a first-time visitor will return. “It was whether or not anyone talked to us. You can sit and meditate.” Most chose the latter. Calif.The first 10 minutes of the visitor’s experience present prime opportunities to say. Or.. Our “three-minute” conversation lasted 15 minutes. our subjects said. Critical Endings We asked one more question in our study: “When did you conclude that the church was or wasn’t a friendly church?” The most frequent response surprised us. Calif. yet profound relationship between the number of people who talk to a first-time visitor. while looking for a new church following our move.” If you were to visit Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Pella. we have interviewed people after their first visit to a church.” “So. The rules are now off. There is a 10-minute window in the 75 to 90 minutes most people spend in their first church visit. “Welcome. you can talk with someone you don’t know. And that’s when it really shows. There is a simple. after all. We asked: “What most impressed (or depressed) you about the church you had just visited?” One answer far outdistanced all others: “the friendliness of the church. few conversations = unfriendly church. my family and I visited Cornerstone Bible Church in Glendora. which allowed me to turn to a stranger and start a conversation..” Well. how did you determine whether or not the church was friendly?” we then asked. And guess who we looked for at that church when we returned for a second visit? . Iowa. The Most Important Factor At Church Growth Institute. A few years ago. you’d be met in the parking lot by welcoming hosts.” they told us.

Returning: Seeing Visitors Come Back Upon closer study of the visitor assimilation process. twice or three times in that timeframe. We asked churches to identify a continuous six-week period and observe the number of people who visited once. contacting and following up on your visitors. even in non-growing churches. more than one-third of the newcomers who visited three times were now participating in that church. a remarkable pattern appears. We found that 9% of those who visited non-growing churches one time during that six weeks became involved in that church the following year. we asked the churches to determine how many of those people had joined or become active. but logical: The more often visitors return. Yet. Several years ago. Joining: Affiliation and Membership . we conducted a study on visitor return rates.000 laypeople in the past 11 years: “Why did you join this church?” If your people are typical. new attendees and even regular attendees can be difficult and time-intensive. one year later. 75% to 90% of them will mention “a friend or relative” as a key part of the process. Relationships have been the most important factor in the expansion of Christianity since the first century. the more likely it is that they will stay. My wife was later invited to be part of a women’s Bible study. Then. Electronic Support The question should leap off the page: “Do we have an effective visitor follow-up system for more than just our first-time visitors?” Tracking. therefore. Many churches have begun to use computer-based databases and visitor assimilation software. It was an invitation to become part of the church softball team. However. of those who visited twice in the six-week period. 17% subsequently became active. sophistication and price. And. Nurturing: Building Relationships with Newcomers Try asking your new members the same question we’ve asked more than 40. most churches have found that having some type of computer-based solution for tracking attendees is now a necessity. An effective assimilation strategy. will create a “greenhouse” in which new relationships between newcomers and church members are nurtured. While these programs range in capabilities. nothing is worse than someone falling through the cracks. Remarkable. an important part of our eventual church selection grew from an invitation I received two days after our first visit. In my own case.

. But. Our experience is that 85% of all graduates from such a class decide to join.A missing assimilation link in many churches is the Inquirer’s Class. Have high expectations for your new members. 2) be involved in a small group. St. Paul’s has a high member-to-attendance ratio and a low dropout rate. There’s much to learn. where anyone can learn more about the church no strings attached. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Trenton. 3) give financially and 4) have a ministry in the church consistent with their spiritual gift. No wonder St. It’s not rocket science. neither is it all intuitive. For there’s no doubt that the heart of God is filled with joy when the sheep He places in our care are all present and accounted for—in your church. Make the Connection Assimilation.. tells its class that every member is expected to: 1) be regular in worship. Mich. But it’s well worth our effort to learn it.

). try to walk into the lobby or entrance of your church with a new nose. The Front Door Before a guest ever steps foot on your church’s physical campus. What Stinks? It’s important that no church ever underestimates the sense of smell. I’ve found there are some reasons that I will tell a church I would not return for a second visit. 1. Coffee is a good smell. service times. This lack of attention to detail can be costly and discourage many from ever returning.000. parking instructions (is there a side of the building that is better to park on if one has kids?). As best you can. 2. Bleach is a bad smell. the sense of smell is the strongest and most vivid for long-term memories. While sight is the strongest sense for short-term memory. he or she has probably already checked out your church Web site. Throughout this post. some things are universal and should be present regardless of church size. and encouragement for them to be sure to stop by Guest Central or your church’s Information Booth to pick up a first-time guest packet.8 Reasons Why People Aren't Coming Back By Greg Atkinson As a secret shopper or mystery worshiper of churches around the country. Every church has the potential for positive or negative smells. Once clicked on. Mold is a bad smell. that’s your sense of smell in action. etc. what to wear (are jeans okay? are shorts okay?). What every church should have clearly visible on their homepage is a section or button for first-time guests. Citrus is a good smell. Many churches have restrooms that are disgusting and smell bad. Biblical preaching in a come as you are atmosphere. 3. and some may be news to you. practical. Park Here . what to expect (upbeat music and relevant. directions. this should take you to a page that addresses FAQ’s. we’ll look at actions and areas every church needs to address. Whether I’m working with a church plant of 60 people or a mega-church of over 15. If you’ve ever smelled something and had memories you hadn’t thought of in years come flooding back.

is big on this. Regular attendees may know to go up to the check-in kiosk and enter their phone number or swipe their card. 5. but guests will be clueless and need a manned station that is clearly marked for guests with a volunteer to walk them through the registration. Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham. Chris Hodges will have ice cream trucks pull up outside the church doors and give away free ice cream to congregants leaving on a hot. AL. Then have that person or another helper walk you to your kid’s class. Of course. Give It Away Something subtle but powerful is a church that has a generous spirit. 6. this needs to be explained to them. Do not assume people know where to go once they enter the building. they are appreciative for a close parking space. give away free coffee and message CDs (and other surprises throughout the year). They have a coffee shop.” Some would argue that guests want to remain anonymous and don’t want special parking. Signage for the kids check-in should start in the entryway of the guest parking. “This is why Visitor Parking is so crucial. Too many churches charge for everything and wonder why no one buys CDs of the message. 4. it’s a kind gesture in an already intimidating and nerveracking experience of attending a church for the first time. explaining what will be going on and how to go about picking their kids back up. especially a large one with a huge campus. some want to go unnoticed and will choose to park in regular parking (a minority). but for the rest of newcomers. They also give away their message CDs.One of Tim Stevens’ three “growth lids” that he thinks every growing church should have is someone who is constantly watching is parking. This Way. or hard to find process for getting their kids registered and in the right classroom. Wise churches have signs for first-time guest kids’ check-in and make the process quick and painless. long. If you want to bless people and create a generous spirit throughout your church. they won’t go. Parents One way to assure guests will not return is to have a confusing. If it’s difficult for newcomers to go to your church. If they must have a sticker with corresponding numbers on it to get their kids. but they also have a designated area where people can get free coffee and not pay anything. Tim says. summer day. Security Counts .

Some pastors stand down at the altar and meet and pray with people like Kevin Myers at 12Stone in Atlanta. This is vital and goes a long way to ensuring a tragedy doesn’t occur and a parent has peace of mind. you’re asking for trouble and will turn off potential newcomers. TX. Erwin McManus at Mosaic LA has an “After Party. This. Security also includes the check-out process. It’s important that your kids’ volunteers are trained well and know to ask for the parent’s sticker when picking up their kids. If anyone can walk into a classroom and pick up a kid.and third-time guests. have your first impressions team stationed at their posts when the service ends to say. Even pastors of the largest churches in America make an intentional and strategic effort to be seen. The Visible Pastor Accessibility of the senior pastor is another subtle and powerful statement of a church. greeted. To go to another level.” like Steve Stroope at Lake Pointe in Rockwall. Some walk around the campus shaking hands like Don Wilson at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix. .” This goes a long way to wrapping a bow around the entire morning experience and will send them off with a lasting positive impression. but they are available and willing to pray with people that need to speak to their pastor. especially in a large church. and hugged after a service.One issue that is huge to a secret shopper and visiting families is security. “Goodbye” or “Have a nice week. They may have a bodyguard present for security reasons. 7. Some churches have a designated “Guest Central. goes a long way toward countering the rock star or unavailable pastor stigma that so many guests walk into the church expecting. or Brady Boyd at New Life in Colorado Springs. Some have a “Meet and Greet” like Charles Hill in Utah. Finish Strong It’s simply not enough for greeters and parking lot attendants to say “Hello” or “Welcome” when one walks into their church. safe. If a parent is worried about their child’s safety. A children’s classroom must be clean.” at which the pastor is present and available to meet with newcomers. Do these 8 things and you’ll see a greater return and higher percentage of second. and secure. they will not enjoy the service and will likely not return. 8.

This is funny…but true. Tardiness to responsibilities. The wife’s body language. If a person cannot connect relationally. . 9. Divorce. Excitement over another church’s vision. Complaining. A decrease or complete loss in financial support. Resignation of a volunteer position. 10. No connection to a small group. 8. The first thing that goes is a person’s money. This indicates broad-based frustration with the ministry. 4. This is the beginning of removing responsibilities and attachments. If you want to know if a man is happy. always look at his wife. 6.” The key leadership question that must be asked is not “Are we going to lose people?” The reality is that you are. 3. People naturally navigate towards a brighter tomorrow. A Mega-church opens a satellite location in your community. This indicates a lack of patience with the ministry. one individual will often leave the church. Minor items cause major frustrations. The last thing that comes is a person’s money. 7. Having the children firmly planted into the church is the key to retaining this relationship. the other person finds it difficult to fit in with their “married friends” and often leaves to start over at a different congregation. they will leave the church. 2. you should proactively reconnect and rebuild the relationship: 1. This indicates a loss of passion. Sadly.10 Ways to Know Someone is Leaving Your Church By Brian Dodd Does it bother you when someone leaves your church? The reality is that every church has a “back door. 5. If you see the following items. Here are the warning signs that indicate a potential move towards the back door is underway. When a divorce takes place.

.My desire for you is to build a strong leadership culture at your church. Use this list to help keep leaders who can help you advance the mission and vision of the church.

Here are some tips to help you engage all guests more effectively. not just ads for what’s going on at church. a CD or DVD of a previous sermon. so he thought he might go and look it over. a list of some of the church projects and a leaflet with a short description of all the Sunday school classes and planned short-term mission trips. Idea #3: Update your website. over-the-top people-grabbers) at those centers to welcome people. Idea #2: Offer maps of your campus and directions. . but it was really hard to make himself go. She is a people person. If you are in a neighborhood with lots of children. Guests can't go to places they can't find. Use whatever languages are appropriate for your neighborhood.5 Creative Ideas for Welcoming New Guests By Mary Margaret Gibson My friend Marjorie moved to my town to be closer to her family. Betty is a single mom with three children in elementary school. easy-to-read map. More than anything. Put joyful individuals (not scary. But a friend of his said he liked the men’s Bible study. even if it is tiny. although there are visitors. make a leaflet for each one. there is no "typical" visitor. even if every other thing had been just right. Idea #1: Provide Welcome Centers Put a Welcome Center at every entrance to the church that a visitor might use on a Sunday. At the centers. When she visited my church for the first time. describing what they do and when and where they meet. she might have gone to another church if people had not been friendly! Steve thought he might visit a church in his neighborhood. make a color. and his friend didn’t know much more than Steve did. Put up directional signs. Make a really colorful map of your campus. provide the church newsletter. But remember. If you have youth and other specialty groups. put the map outline only so the younger kids can color it and print the locations on it during church. He didn’t know much about Jesus. An investment in this center will pay off. People like these are in your community and may be visiting your church on any given Sunday. It took three weeks for him to get up the courage to walk into a church alone. and on the reverse. she wants Christian friends and Biblical discipleship for herself and her young family.

Do they ask any questions about people they don’t know? Do they say something like. “I’ve missed meeting you before. don’t you think we should get to work on that before we invite anyone to come? Stand up in the front and watch your congregation for a couple of Sundays.” put all the service projects. Put your beliefs there and a simple presentation of the Gospel (you can use EvanTell's video from YouTube). Have a button that says. Idea #5: Put lots of ways to connect into your church. do they tell them anything valuable? For example. If there’s no joy in our churches. Betty. We take care of each other here. Encourage this conversation. services they can get from the office and on the Web. Alcoholics Anonymous. make that website work for you. suggest that they start saying good things when they meet someone they don’t know.Declutter it and get all the ancient stuff out of there. all the small group contacts. “Ready to Get Connected?” Behind “Just Checking. simple information about the church and how to find things. What did they try to find that they would never. ever find? Idea #4: Prepare regular attendees to respond well to guests. Narcotics Anonymous. How about you?” Believe us: Some people do not talk to other people. “You’ll love our church. If you have a website. do they say.” Or do they say. Behind “Ready. Get six new people to tell you what’s wrong with it and why they still can’t find information on the current evening or home Bible studies. Do they sing? Well. “Some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life I made in this great. the Sunday school and evening/morning Bible classes. We’ve been in the area for about five years. get to meetings. park. “Just Checking Us Out?” and another that says. friendly church. and tell people to do this before the service starts.” put all the basic. and hours for all the activities. GriefShare. and any other help groups you have with contact people and emails and phone numbers. The BEST—Idea #6: Have some FUN with these new folks! God sent them to you for a really good reason! . My name is Paul Smith and this is my wife. get them to sing! Do they smile? Do they actually talk with one another before the service starts? Do they greet new people? When they greet new people.” If they don’t.

"I know the church does not care about me. If you show them you are trying to be good stewards of these people who are your responsibility. But if that person leaves. and it is so often buried in the attendance reports of the church. This sounds simple. Yes. you can intervene and smooth the situation. Measure what is measurable While worship attendance is hard to capture. So. gets home and settles into their favorite chair in front of the TV. . adult small-groups classes are relatively simple. These five kids represent the five families that are on their way out the back door! This is the information you desperately need to know. I mean they have to understand the issue is bigger than their group. For example. a list of 100 kids who missed the past three classes is too large for you to effectively contact. "I don't think the church cares about me" to. In reality. Know who you expect to attend In order to know who was not in attendance.7 Keys to Keeping New Guests By Rob Overton 1. Ask them to help you be faithful with your responsibility." Catch them on the way out and this can be prevented. 3. but if you give them some context. what are the odds of getting them to come back? Not very good. you will get their support. measure what you can measure. Catch people on their way out of the back door One of the fundamental mistakes I see churches make is to focus on what has happened in the past. 2. Children's activities are the simplest of all since security issues require us to keep accurate records anyway. are they? It takes a person about four weeks to move from. By context. you have to know who was supposed to be in attendance. it just won't help you get anyone back! Gone is gone! Think of it this way: If someone gets upset and you recognize they are about to leave. you will get push-back from some of your established groups. This means you are going to have to do some work to keep class rosters clean enough to know the difference. they will usually get on board. there might only be five kids in that list of 100 who have been attending in the past few months. It is not that looking back is not of value. but it is often counter to the way churches have kept their records for years.

children do not attend church on their own. Facebook notes or any other method of communication that would be effective. If they are assured it is OK to try a new group or a new volunteer position. Use the right people to reach out to them In a group setting. Focus on families For the most part. Make sure to offer a graceful way back in. This is particularly true of a family where the parents are not active in any other area than worship. 7. and that it might make all the difference. it is a very safe assumption Mom and Dad have not been there either. Build retention mechanisms and processes Mechanisms are just ways to find out who is leaving. but treat a third or fourth time absentee as an opportunity to connect a family. the group leader is not in a position to help. These contacts have to be personal. emails. 5. I think people don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and think the easiest way to solve a problem is to just leave. In this situation. letters. You have to establish some policies on what kind of attendance pattern will trigger your retention processes. Just make sure to stick to what is happening rather than what happened! Your processes are the methods you put in place to make sure those who are identified are contacted and assisted. while others might use four or five. this might be three absences in a row. In some churches. So.4. Build processes for the major emphasis areas of the church . I have found they are much more willing to share information with church leaders. This where the church staff can be very effective by helping people find a place where they fit better or acting as an intermediary to rectify a dispute. Since it is much easier to track children and students. If people in the church trust you have good processes to follow up with people. sometimes the problem is a disconnect between the group itself and the person who is leaving. They will not share information with you if they don't think it will make any difference. use that information to prompt your efforts toward the families of those kids. Let the ministry area try to reconnect the individual. texts. 6. This can be in the form of reports from your attendance records. sincerity and authenticity will be of the utmost importance. if little Johnny has not been to his 4-year-old Sunday school class in three weeks. No matter the form of communication used. This might include phone calls. It can also be from feedback from people in the church.

Constructed correctly. I have a good deal of experience in these systems. Church management systems (ChMS) today offer many ways to facilitate these processes. If possible. I have found I can see both problems and possibilities in a situation just because I am a little removed from the day-to-day ministry of that particular church. I encourage you to step back and critically look at the situation at your church. serving opportunities. This is the same thing that must be done in an assimilation process for a newcomer to the church. spiritual formation steps or any other activity you consider to be part of your "church core. no one should ever slip through the cracks once they are identified. I believe any church can guard their back door if they are serious about it. The processes you build will be logical steps that will lead to participation in that particular area of your church. This might be connection groups. the processes are always slightly different. and it is important to choose one that fits your needs and is flexible enough to work the way you need it to work. leadership roles. As I have worked with churches across the country. assimilation and retention processes. but they still require careful configuration and a very intentional approach to be effective. . As every church is unique. I have been told many times by pastors that their stress level was lowered considerably when they established good processes of connection. bring in an objective third party to help you see what you can't see because of your proximity. The most important element is an acknowledgment that it is critically important to guard the back door of the church." I have spent thousands of hours helping churches build connection. This is not one of those problems for which there is no answer.The difference between good intentions and success is often determined by the presence of a logical process. care and retention. The only difference is it has to be handled a bit differently.

When we need them. I don’t have to tell you that trying to keep these people isn’t healthy or God-honoring leadership. and enthusiasm we needed to reach new people and grow. and this is the role we have as pastors. They also were stifling the credibility and influence I was building as a leader. Nothing is more destructive than a wolf dressed up in sheep’s clothing. But I soon learned that this attitude was both unhealthy and destructive. they malign me to other members on their way out. I’ve chosen a foundational principle that I build my life and leadership on: “I have to love people without needing them. Realize this: people who are talking about leaving your church for negative reasons will not be positive or supportive. Because the average age of our congregation was 60-plus. The major problem and disappointment comes when the people who leave are dishonest with me and minimize the magnitude of their disagreement.Should We Pursue Those Leaving the Church? By Brad Powell Q: Our church has been in transition for about 15 months. To me. To both react and lead properly in this challenge. each person represented growth and size. Would you advise pursuing these members and lay leaders who are leaving our church or indicating they’re about to leave? A: I can’t tell you how common this problem is and how often I’ve experienced it in my own leadership. Instead. Yet. It caused me to fight to keep people in the church who were undercutting the vision. I loved growth—which I translated as “success”—so I did whatever it took to keep every single person in our church. we compromise the good of the church to keep them. Though I desperately wanted . and we are still slowly losing people. The good shepherd protects the sheep from exposure to harmful and destructive elements. We must love them without needing them.” In the early days of my ministry. In the early days of our transition at NorthRidge. It won’t be positive for your church or for them. losing young people was about the worst thing that could happen to us. they will make it their goal to influence other people to think and act negatively. as pastors we must love them enough to let them go and find a church that lives up to their expectations. a young couple’s class of nearly 60 people walked out of the church. Anyone leaving seemed to represent failure. So I don’t advise pursuing them or attempting to get them to stay. So you must protect your church from people like this. As a result. biblical values. The only thing worse would’ve been surrendering our vision and values to their agenda in order to keep them.

” Ouch. for whatever reason. Though we must be willing to lose people. will never be part of the church moving forward. These people don’t generally leave quietly or respectfully. I’ve known many leaders who compounded the problem by introducing it to a larger group than necessary. Just remember: the negative splash won’t last long. By the right people. it’s not worth it. I’d call together anyone or any groups of people I knew who had heard the negative comments and I’d spend time with them. I mean those people who. Experience has shown me that negative people only have one agenda—to spread their negativity. Sometimes the best thing that can happen for the health of a church is for the right people to leave. In most cases. they seldom are content to leave alone. So while it’s your responsibility to protect the church.them to stay. Rather. Of course. But be prepared. And remember. I strongly believe that you should let them go. When these situations erupted in our church. I knew I couldn’t allow myself to need them more than I needed to make the right decisions as a leader. but the shortterm loss has allowed our church to experience long-term gain we would never have found if I’d tried to keep them. I don’t necessarily mean bad or ungodly people. and then protect the rest of the congregation. this is sometimes the case. If the problem stems from a misunderstanding with people who have proven to be good-hearted and have bought into the church’s new direction. it’s certainly not the goal. as well as the negative ripple effect that happens when people don’t know the truth. but the heart of a thief. this honest interaction protected our church from misperceptions of reality. And I encourage you to do everything you can to mend those relationships. But remember to address the issue with only the people potentially influenced by the negativity. make sure you’re talking to the appropriate people. you must love people without needing them. Many years ago. you’ll always have caveats. So you must get them out fast. my dad gave me good counsel: don’t bring a hundred people in on something that only affects three. The situation was difficult. When people leave this way. This heart-wrenching loss taught me a valuable lesson. Though to be honest. I’ll never forget the very public words one disgruntled lady directed my way as she was leaving for the last time: “You have the face of an angel. I’d lay out the situation before them and talk about what they had heard versus the reality of the situation. . But if fixing the misunderstanding requires you to change your ministry direction. pursuing a fix could very well be worth it. but the health and peace that follows will have long-term positive impact.

In fact. Thom S. Work responsibilities change. But this generation must fuse faith and church. The dropout number that the research uncovered alarmed us: 70% of young adults drop out between the ages of 18 and 22. Why Do Dropouts Leave? Their faith doesn’t look like their parents’ faith. They simply “want a break” from church. that they have faith. or else they see no reason to stay in church. 2. Perhaps more distressing are some of the reasons why these students are leaving. or confession goes against the personal and internal belief structure of the younger adult crowd. Clearly. programs. The top ten life changes that affect the younger generation’s church attendance are as follows: 1. we were stunned. One of the most glaring issues of estrangement for 18-22 year-olds is the gap between their personal belief system and their church’s stated beliefs. Rainer. only 53% of all young adult churchgoers state that they agree with the beliefs of their church. Of all the major categories prompting someone to leave the church. We knew anecdotally that people leave the church. this life change category was by far the most influential. venue. In other words. 3. rightly or wrongly. Ninety-seven percent of dropouts stated that one reason they left the church was a change in their lives. . This generation likes to talk about faith. Their lives change. Most maintain some level of interest in spiritual topics. Many believe. and church attendance gets cut. the church’s external beliefs. or location of the church. What we did not realize was the concentration of people that leave during their college-age years. This crisis is much deeper – it runs to the core of the doctrinal truths of the church if only half of our young adults agree with the church’s teachings. the dropout crisis isn’t found in the style. covenant.Squaring Off with Church Dropout By Sam Rainer When my father. the faith of their parents is not reason enough for them to claim it as their own. And studying the latest research. we understood that many leave the church during their young adult years. and I began looking at research about the young adult population. Religious matters do not scare them. They move to college. Frankly. The number alone is numbing.

They have one simple mission statement that everyone knows. the problem of hypocrisy isn’t rooted in general perceptions of the church as a whole. the ministries of the church have little muscle. point to the shortcomings in discipleship. This process is clear to everyone in the church. School responsibilities prevent them from attending church. Despite the multitudes of programs. and other ministry areas. parents are not doing what they say. They move too far away from church. Numerous studies. Bible study classes. and ministry groups. parents are not saying as they do. They spend more time with friends outside of church. The age-old excuse of church hypocrisy has some merit. They lose touch with churchgoing friends. In other words. 10. assimilation. They want to make life decisions not accepted by the church. In this simplicity. they are intentional about a process of discipleship. By moving from complexity to simplicity. It is in the context of those groups that relationships are formed.4. Basically. They see hypocrisy in the home. many churches out there are reaching the younger generation. A complex church will have a plethora of activities as well as too many organizations and programs. but our research found a new spin on the issue as it relates to young adults. 5. not fourteen different statements that have been piecemealed over several years. 7. That is a clear sign of poor structure. Quite frankly. or perhaps more appropriately. 6. But parents are not offering spiritual guidance to their young adult children. The structure of the church is not nearly as important as other aspects. One of every five dropouts indicated that they had no meaningful relationships with other members of the church. though still want to attend. Without a clear structure. Churches that keep dropouts have a simple structure. Parents are attending church. but the structure is the bones of a church. and their young adult children see them participating in the worship service. not just what the church slogan is. a complex church is typically weak at bringing members into meaningful Christian . A healthy structure is designed with intentionality to move members into small groups. people understand how the church makes disciples. But I believe that God is still doing a great work in the American church. Some common themes exist in these churches that help them accomplish the goal of reaching and keeping this generation of dropouts. The dropouts see spiritual hypocrisy in their own family. Family and/or home responsibilities prevent them from attending. They become too busy. 9.   How Can the Church Reclaim Dropouts? The tone of religious research can be quite negative. including my own. This time. 8.

I felt so embarrassed about not knowing where the books of the Bible were located. One dropout indicated that the doctrinal teaching at his former church was “piecemeal Christianity. A number of dropouts admitted that they were biblically ignorant. We do them a great disservice by failing to challenge them and instruct them in the depths of God’s word. Why? It is expected of them. Why? It is expected of them. but I can blame the shallow teachings of my former church for at least part of the reason I left. but I couldn’t figure out how they tied together. and we would talk about some great issues.” “I would hear about passages from three or four books of the Bible in a single sermon. leadership has been reticent to create an environment and attitude of accountability. these churches are just too busy at activities to be intentional at most anything. Most young adults will seek employment. Frankly. Over half of the church dropouts left the church because of differences or uncertainty about the church’s religious.” one dropout told us. I can’t blame anyone but myself for not being in some church.relationships with one another. But over two-thirds of young adults that leave the church will drop out before their twenty-second birthday. but no one explained how it tied in to the totality of Scripture. Because the local church was comprised mostly of volunteers. I had not received any significant doctrinal teachings. A church can connect with people without compromising the fundamentals of the faith. “And then I would go to a small group. By moving from shallowness to depth. so I taught myself. membership expectations have been communicated with extreme caution. At least part of this problem can be directly attributed to shallow biblical teaching and preaching in the church. bright and eager to learn. they also blamed many of the churches for the doctrinal ignorance. Most of recent American church history has had low-expectations. for the most part. By moving from low expectations to high expectations. Church existed to serve them. Depth and relevance are not mutually exclusive. except maintaining their activities. ethical. In most cases. Most young adults will complete a level of education. After four years at that church. They confessed that they only had a shallow knowledge of biblical doctrines.” The younger generation is. serving others through the church was never an expectation. And if you don’t expect a behavior. Most young adults will remain loyal to friends and social networks. Why? It is expected of them. if at all. . lest the members become offended and leave. And while they usually took personal responsibility for their lack of biblical understanding. you are unlikely to get it. As a consequence. Why? Church was an option. or political beliefs. Low-expectation churches make it too easy for young adults to drop out.

By moving from inward decline to outward multiplication. Why? Because it was. and hear what I say. Unfortunately. Many of our churches are producing a lot of soft and self-centered Christians. But churches that are outwardly focused are sending a different message: The church is not all about my needs. Parents must talk to their children about why church and spirituality are essential. The spiritual guidance that children hear from their parents weighs equally with the actions they see from them. The church that is not multiplying. . that the church is there to serve them. of what is expected of them as a church member.” He makes it seem that multiplication was just a natural part of the New Testament church. they are hearing that the church is all about them. we have a lot of anomalies among our churches today. This is the irony of the essential church. they have seen church as a low priority or even optional. Through parents providing spiritual guidance to their children. The essential church does not separate depth and relevance. And the church that resonates with the dropout generation is one that maintains a culture of multiplication. it’s about how I can glorify God as I meet the needs of others.This low-expectation environment has been normative for most of the churches in which young adults have attended. Most of them have heard very little. not starting new churches. The outwardlyfocused church creates better inwardly-focused assimilation. if any. Luke states it as matter-of-fact in Acts 2:47: “And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. not reaching people. the two go hand-in-hand. Through the actions of many of our church leaders. and that the church is a place for all their needs and desires to be met. and not involved in missions is the New Testament anomaly. As our young people meet the needs of others. and thus they are prone not to enter the ranks of the dropouts. The church that is essential to the lives of the young adult generation is the church that communicates a process of discipleship through a simple structure. As a consequence. The essential church that reclaims dropouts holds this generation to a reasonable level of expectations. Children and teens must hear regularly from their parents or guardians as well as seeing their actions: do as I do. and the young people in our churches are getting the message. “Doing church” is not enough. they see that they are important to the life of the church.

She then handed us a VIP brochure that included a short note from Pastor Steven Furtick.First Impressions: My VIP Experience at Elevation By Tim Schraeder First impressions matter. they would donate $1 to a local charity as thanks for sharing our information with them. notes for where to go for your first-time visit. She was incredibly friendly and genuinely acted excited that we were there. An Incentive to Get Your Info We were also handed information cards and a pen and told that if we would fill those out and return them to a designated spot after the service. All this in the first 45 seconds of being on their property. That was pretty cool. They literally treat their first-time visitors like VIPs. . N. changed my perception. We did and were given a parking spot literally steps from the front door of the church. but my recent visit to Elevation Church in Charlotte. info for families with children. every guest is treated like a VIP. Here’s how it went down: Rock Star Parking When we pulled up to the campus. there was a sign for first-time visitors to turn on their hazard lights to let the parking lot volunteers direct you to the VIP Parking reserved for guests. There was also an audio CD attached to the brochure that had a few songs written by the Elevation worship team and a message from Pastor Steven. I thought I had seen and heard all of the tricks and styles of welcoming visitors to churches. She explained to us that at Elevation Church.. and ways to connect at the church. one thing I love to do is play the part of a ‘secret shopper’ and experience how a first-time guest is welcomed at a church. a volunteer came to our car and welcomed us. As I travel around and visit churches. A VIP Welcome As we were parking. we can quickly neglect an important aspect of our worship gatherings: how we welcome first-time visitors. I loved the idea that I could chip in and help a local charity. Even though I was an out-of-towner.C. Oftentimes in the programming and planning of church services.

they’d invest as much as they did. I listened. Some of the volunteers recognized me and asked what I thought of the service and wanted to know about my experience. please raise your hand’ moments can be in church. it wasn’t too much and didn’t seem pushy.Warm Greetings All Around As we walked in. I Got a Free T-shirt So after the service (which was great) was over. Great Welcome From the Front We all know how awkward those ‘if anyone is new here. By default. The service was great and the message was challenging. and then they asked me if I wanted a T-shirt. That may have been a little over-the-top for me. At Elevation. but it was still cool that for every first-time guest. Now I can literally say I went there and got a T-shirt. there’s no doubt that my reception and welcome at Elevation would have kept me coming back. But I will add. (I would note we were in the South. but rather warmly welcomed all of the VIPs of the day and reiterated how we could get connected and where to go after the service to get more information. people are just friendlier there. Unreal. But Wait … There’s More … A Real-Life Telephone Call On Monday night. I was back home in Chicago and got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. I got a voicemail notification. and it was a real-life person calling me from Elevation Church to thank me for being there the night before. Yes. He noticed I was visiting from out of town and wanted to let me know if I was just visiting that he hoped I had a great time.) The volunteer that met us at our car literally walked with us into the auditorium and led us to an usher who directed us to our seat. As I was driving away. I was blown away by the experience. the VIP brochure I was holding was a dead giveaway to the volunteers. an Elevation Church T-shirt. they didn’t put any pressure on you to acknowledge your newness. and if I was . If I had been new to Charlotte and looking for a church home. About a minute later. but it was the welcome I received that really made the entire experience. and each one of them greeted us enthusiastically. I went to the table we were directed to go to with our info cards. I don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t know. I turned in my visitor card.

there’s more!” The email was beautifully designed and included a video message from the campus pastor of the campus we visited and included links for information about their small groups and children’s ministry. A Letter From the Pastor Then. Long gone are the days of the pastor or elders going to visit first-time guests at their homes. He also offered that if I needed anything or needed prayer that I could call the church. I got an email with the subject line. It was more like a form letter. but this is definitely a 21st century spin on that. Every time someone visits a church. I got a handwritten postcard in the mail. There were also links to take a survey to get feedback from your experience and a link to spread the word and invite your friends. it was totally fine that he didn’t personally sit down and write me a letter. seriously not joking. But this personalized call was unreal. they are taking a risk.relocating or coming back to Charlotte. WOW! In our automated age. Everyone has their reasons for NOT going to church. that he hoped I’d come back and visit again. but after the mix of personalized touch points. More bonus points for the personalization. and letting me know that they were praying for me. A Handwritten Postcard The day after that. I got an official welcome letter from Pastor Steven in the mail. the simple act of a personalized phone call is HUGE. But again. inviting me back to visit. He’s kind of a big deal and a busy guy anyway. no joke. I visited a church a while ago that routinely calls me every Thursday night with a prerecorded message from the pastor letting me know what’s going on at the church that weekend. “Thanks for joining us! But wait. I don’t know how to unsubscribe from that. I can tell you that I’ve been in many other great churches in the last few years where my presence as a visitor was hardly acknowledged. again. it was just an incredible continued way of keeping me in the loop. A Helpful Email Then. the following morning. That’s huge. and people have reasons for making the . I do believe that every church should take some notes from my experience there. thanking me for visiting. Some Thoughts While it may not be feasible for every church to provide the rock star VIP treatment that Elevation does for their guests. the day after that.

They had a great experience at the restaurant. People want to be acknowledged. and they made a great one.000 in less than six years. then.” . and we need to make people feel like they are coming home when they come to visit. it doesn’t even really matter what happens in the service. People want to feel like they belong. First impressions matter. It’s called Elevation. There’s a lot at play and an obvious movement of God’s Spirit and favor. Elevation Church has grown from a small group of 40 people to more than 16. I’m not suggesting churches bend to meet what people are looking for. A Cool Side Note … One of my co-workers was with me in Charlotte. If their experience from the parking lot to the sanctuary isn’t positive.choice to go to a church. You’ve got to go out of your way from the moment they arrive at the door to roll out the red carpet. People want to feel valued. but let’s face it. but I believe their commitment to welcome people like they have has helped them grow as much as they have. The manager came around. and she went to dinner with some friends in the area. we live in a consumeristic society. I think I have the church for you. “Well. but that we meet them halfway and go out of our way to welcome them. and people go ‘church shopping’ with lists in hand of what they expect. People need to feel welcomed when they visit churches. The church is a family. and she told him about how she had always said she had wanted to find a church that welcomed people as warmly as the Apple Store does. but that now she would need to add that restaurant to the list. They are searching for something and a need to feel loved and embraced by the church. It’s been said that people will make up their minds about their experience at a church in the first five minutes of being there. He said. I know this all could sound a bit consumeristic.

Here’s what we learned about contacting lost sheep: 1. Then. But they may miss the glaring problems. They talked openly. your staff may already feel pummeled themselves. they all agreed to meet. So. We invited past members to sit down with us and talk about why they left our church. They typically uncover predictable things. Without hesitation. it was painful to hear of their wounds. Even for churches that report shining statistics of new members. Second.Find Out Why People Leave Your Church: 8 Tips for Exit Interviews By Thom Schultz This week I listened to people who left their churches and never went back. I was involved in a small team that did just that. Usually these hired guns interview the staff and survey the congregation. for a couple of reasons. select volunteers who are not currently serving in any . they’re often losing equal numbers out the back door. And they were so thankful that somebody finally noticed they had left and cared enough to inquire. calmly and candidly. Unfortunately. First. Their reasons for leaving varied widely. Don’t enlist pastors or other church staff for this work. and you’ll show care for those who feel hurt. they conduct exit interviews. What’s happening? Why are they leaving? Churches like to call in paid consultants to analyze their situations. it was agonizing to hear how none of them had been contacted by the churches they left. the departed members won’t be as blunt with paid leaders. this contact is rare. What they told us was eye-opening and very helpful. You’ll learn how to improve your ministry. from mistreatment to malfeasance to neglect. in the church world. which are best articulated by those who have left. their stories are all too common. See what good employers do. It seems so obvious. Why? Are we afraid of what we’ll hear? Is it too awkward? Do we feel that contacting lost members will only pander to their complaining? Let’s forget the excuses and consider how to reach out to the lost sheep. They felt ultimately disposable and forgotten. But. So. First. take a hint from other organizations: talk to your past customers. before you call in the next consultant. Form a small team of level-headed volunteers to contact the lost sheep. I didn’t like their stories. The last thing they want to do is sit through another feared pummeling.

Then compile the results of the interviews. Say something like. Prepare a report for church leaders who have the responsibility to make your ministry as strong and effective as it can be. Take notes. When you meet. to meet personally on neutral ground. about an hour. Assure them your purpose is simply to listen. such as a restaurant or coffee shop. 3. You simply want to know how to improve. And extend a heartfelt apology that the church did not measure up to their expectations. We used to see you all the time. 2. Set up a time.leadership capacity at the church. Be sensitive about handling accounts of individuals who were named by interviewees. I’d really like to hear about what might have led to your departure. 6. reiterate you’re there to listen. These should be good listeners who will not get defensive when hearing negative comments about their church. Meet face to face. And inform your interviewees that you’d like pass along helpful information to appropriate people who can make improvements for the future. sincerely thank the interviewees.” 5. Let them know they’re missed. Do not attempt to collect information through written surveys or over the phone. It may help us avoid problems and hurt in the future. Look for any common threads. 4. This isn’t admitting guilt. not to coerce them to return. 7. Assemble a list of those who have gone missing. Ask if they’d share why they left. 8. It’s simply offering remorse and compassion for how they feel. . Part of the being the Body of Christ means noticing and caring when a part goes missing. Ask for their honesty and candor. Contact these past members personally. Consider the results and take appropriate action to improve your ministry. “I know you haven’t been around for some time. At the end of the interview. That information should be shared directly with the named individuals and/or their immediate supervisors.

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