For the last two years, I’ve been praying over, thinking over, discussing and researching the answers to this poignant question:
Why are people leaving our churches (and not going anywhere else)?
I’ve read several books, spent much time on the Lifeway and Barna websites and looked at several other sites of all denominations and flavors.
I’ve talked to hundreds of people both churched and unchurched.
I even spent an entire airplane flight (2 hours) talking to a Catholic nun about why she thought people had left and were leaving her particular parish.
Some of the research blames people leaving on some “fun” and “loaded” topics (that we love to argue about).
They cite things like:
- Music style differences
- Leadership style differences
- Should we preach and teach topically or verse by verse
- The size of our buildings, parking lots and classrooms
- The carpet and the wall colors
Other research points to our differences in theology and beliefs as the reason that people leave our churches. They discuss things like:
- Should we give an altar call?
- Should we offer a sinner’s prayer?
- Should we talk about things in church like homosexuality?
- Should our families sit together, or should our worship times be organized by age group?
- Should we have elders and deacons or just deacons?
- Should women be allowed to be deacons and elders (and preachers)?
- Is the King James Bible the only true version?
All of these things do matter, and we do need to have structure, balance and to know what we believe as a church.
Theology and convictions are very significant.
However, as important as all of these things are, they are not (in my opinion) the main reason that people are leaving our churches.
If I could boil all of my research, conversations, reading and digging for answers into one simple reason, it would be this:
People are leaving our churches (never to return to anyone’s church) because:
THEY DO NOT THINK THAT WE CARE ABOUT THEM!
It is that simple.
And, it is that challenging.
Those who have fallen away, drifted away, walked away and run away from our fellowships have this one thing in common:
SOMEWHERE ALONG THE WAY,
THEY GOT HURT,
FELT REJECTED BY OUR CHURCH,
OUR PASTOR AND OUR PEOPLE.
Maybe it’s because we forgot about what Jesus said mattered most.
Do you remember how He responded to the church leaders of His day?
‘When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault.
One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up:
“Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”
Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list.
But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’
These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”’
Jesus made it very clear: Love God, and love others as much as you love yourselves.
Those two things mattered greatly then, and they still matter in our lives today.
So, I’d like to propose a very simple formula for reconnecting with the people who have left or fallen away from your community of believers:
Really care about those who have left, gone away or just fallen away.
You and I can care by:
C = Concern
We have to start by being genuinely concerned that these people have left our fellowship.
We have to actually take the time to unselfishly notice that they are not with us anymore.
Think about it…
Can you name 5 people who you used to see that you haven’t seen in a while?
Missing church members want to know that we care and are concerned about their welfare!
A = Acknowledge you could have done more than you have done.
This step is hard, but to really start to care, we have to be honest with ourselves and with each other.
We should have, could have, would have called, but we didn’t.
We blew it.
We know we could have done more.
Think about it…
When was the last time that you thought of someone you should reach out to, but then you let the thought pass and you never followed through?
- Last week?
- Last month?
For me, it was last week. I thought about reaching out to someone who has been out for a while, but I did nothing. The idea passed me by, and I let it.
How about you? Have you let some people leave without reaching out to them? Could you have done more than you did?
Missing church members want to hear us admit that we should have checked on them, should have called them, and should have reached out to them.
They want us to acknowledge that we didn’t follow through with them.
R = Reach out now. It’s never too late to try!
This is a great day to call, text, write, email or go see that person that God has put on your heart.
Maybe it’s a fellow choir member or a class member or someone you used to sit near in church.
Today would be a great day to check on them!
Think about it…
What 1-2 people have been on your heart that you will check on today?
Person one _______________________
Person two _______________________
Missing church members LOVE it when we reach out to them.
E = Encourage others to reach out too!
Tell someone else that you are reaching out to missing church members.
Let others know that they can help to reclaim some old friends as well.
Think about it…
Who could you partner with on this outreach plan?
~ Do you have an accountability group you could share this with?
~ Do you have a prayer partner who would team up with you in this effort?
~ Could you share this with your Bible study group or Sunday school class?
Missing church members love it when many people are encouraged to reach out to them (it’s okay if more than one person shows concern)!
And so, all of this research brings me back to something simply profound that most of us learned as little children:
Love and care about other people as much as we love and care about ourselves.
Philippians 2:1-4 puts it this way:
“Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?
Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
Maybe today our churches would be filled if we just loved others better, more sincerely and more genuinely.
Maybe the secret to reclaiming our lost members is simply to – CARE!
What do you think?
I’d love to hear from you today~
Some of my research came from these sources:
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Maybe you can send it to a friend or family member?
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