Regardless of church size, we’ve all felt the pain of membership loss. As Sue and I were visiting with a couple this week, we heard how they had left their previous church in search of a new one. On the way home we rejoiced in how they seemed to relate so well to our church and would make great members. But we also talked about how disappointed their previous congregation must be to lose them. We have also felt that pain when an active church member decides to leave. How do you respond?
Don’t assume you can “reel them back in.” People leave churches for many reasons, but begging and pleading for them to return rarely works. They have probably prayed over their decision and taken several factors into consideration. If they are determined in their decision, no amount of attention will change that.
If appropriate, conduct an “exit interview” with them. Be careful not to get defensive about issues they may raise. Instead, offer to bless them in their new church and pray with them for a fruitful ministry. But listen to their responses and gain some insights that may help your church.
If they are leaving because of falling into sinful lifestyles, minister to their needs. Galatians 6:1 (CSB) reminds us, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted.” When their fellowship with God is healed, they will crave fellowship with the family of God.
If they are determined to worship elsewhere, let them go. Accepting their decision to join another church family may be painful, but it may also be best. If they have disagreements with the way the church does ministry or some of its core values and beliefs, they will be a hindrance if they stay. Let them find the ministry that best fits who they are.
If they are “dropouts” create a strategic ministry to find out why and address how to reclaim them. Jesus tells us there is great joy in heaven over reclaiming the lost sheep (Luke 15:7), but there must be a plan to involve members in the reclamation process.
One of the best resources available to help churches with dropouts is a book titled, “Essential Church,” by Thom and Sam Rainer. Subtitled, “Reclaiming a generation of dropouts,” the book describes how to make worship community an essential part of life. Every church must recognize that the loss of significant numbers of members may signal that drastic change is needed. Be willing to take the challenge and adjust to reaching a new generation for Christ.