“Closing the Back Door: Keeping the Members You Have”
Most church leaders and ministers recognize that there is a retention problem in our congregations. It appears we baptize 20 to 40 people a year and yet that many (if not more) disappear or leave the church (I call this members going out the back door of the church). There are 3 reasons why people leave the church: (1) they fall away, (2) they move away or (3) they pass away. We have some control on #1 and no control over reasons #2 and #3.
What May We Do About Those Who Fall Away?
I think there are three basic reasons why we have this retention problem in some churches and why people “fall away.” We need to fix the problem.
First, in some congregations we promote baptisms to the neglect of spiritual growth. We are in a hurry to baptize people (nothing wrong with that) and then we ‘forget’ or neglect those we’ve baptized because we’ve got to get to the next person that we wish to baptize into Christ. Simply put, we are all about teaching and baptizing folks and then we forget/neglect the ones we’ve taught and baptized. Some churches have poor retention because they have no plans to teach and mature new Christians. Many of these novices grow tired of coming to church and not having the personal attention they need to grow and they slip out the back door.
Second, there is confusion over the role of preachers and elders. In some sense, both evangelists and pastors are to equip the saints for service (cf. Eph.4:11-16). However (in many congregations) we expect the located evangelist to fulfill His God-given roles of preaching, teaching and evangelizing the lost PLUS many congregations expect the preacher to fulfill the role of a Pastor (feed the [saved] flock, protect the flock, discipline the flock, comfort the flock, go after sheep that have strayed, equip saints for service, visit every member, keep up with every member, get every member involved in ministry, mentor every member, do all the funerals and weddings, and basically be everywhere, etc.). What happens in many cases is the preacher does not have the energy or time do both: he simply cannot fulfill his biblical calling well and he cannot do the work of the elders/pastors well. The result: more members ‘go out the back door.’ However, when an evangelist fulfills his primary biblical roles and elders/pastors fulfill their God-given primary roles, the back door gets shut and few people can walk out the back door. At the very least, those attempting to go out the back door are intercepted.
A third problem is that many new members aren’t befriended by other members of the church—and they fall away (go out the back door). Brother Fravil Yeakley (church growth expert for the churches of Christ) many years ago told us that new members must make at least six new friends immediately upon becoming members. If they don’t, they will fall away within six months. I’ve seen that prediction come true too many times. Every growing church needs to have some ministry or means of new members being befriended. It may be through worship assemblies, Bible classes, small groups or ministries. Whatever that means is, it must be an intentional.
The point? We all bear a responsibility to increase the retention rate and close the back door. Please share any suggestions you may have. Trav