Responding to the Loss of Members
Every church experiences the loss of members. Not every loss is a bad reflection on the church or its leadership. Sometimes people move out of the community and can no longer feasibly continue to be an active participant in the former church. Sometimes people are disgruntled and quite frankly were inclined to create problems rather than resolve them. No one generally regrets the loss of trouble makers. Some people who leave have not been involved in years or never really plugged in to begin with. And then of course there is the loss of those who go on into eternity.
While the loss of some members can simply be a reflection of the normal course of life, like the death of a senior saint, losses can also be detrimental. What happens when the number of people leaving are outpacing the number of new people being reached? What about those that have been lost because of failure on the part of the current leadership to provide ministry in times of need? How about those who drift away because of hurt, whether real or perceived, because of broken or damaged relationships? You can easily overlook losses when the church is growing. But should you? If you ignore the losses of members, you are missing an opportunity for personal growth and a pathway to more effective leadership and ministry. I want to propose that five things should always be true when a family or member leaves your church:
- A leader of the church has engaged in a conversation with every member or head of family who leaves to determine the bottom line for why they are departing.
- In the event that someone has been wronged, or perceives they have been wronged, the leadership proactively seeks reconciliation, not based on whether they will return or not, but based on biblical responsibility.
- Someone in the church has responsibility for tracking who engaged in the conversation, when it happened, what the bottom line reasoning for the departure was, and documents any response from the church when and if applicable.
- Every three to four months (minimum), the pastor along with key leaders examines the documentation to determine if there are identifiable patterns. For example: Six of nine families left because of concerns or problems related to the preschool ministry. That is a pattern. Some action is needed to prevent other families from the same experiences. Another example: Three of the twelve families that left in last few months were put off by the political comments of a Bible Study leader. All three couples were in the same group. Is there a problem here? Maybe and maybe not, but it is worth consideration.
Some people seem to live disgruntled lives and cannot be satisfied. Others are looking to be served rather than to serve and move from church to church. But, when you lose committed members who have not left the community, you would do well to ask the hard questions. Really, it is not the questions that are hard. It is the answers! They can hurt, but they can also prompt us to improve. One more proposal if you want to take it all the way.
5. In spite of the fact that the church is losing someone, and if the departure is determined and inevitable, they graciously and proactively help the departing members find another church. That is a kingdom mindset that is rarely found in churches. I don’t want to lose anyone but I would rather one of my members find a new place to serve, worship, and thrive, than to see them disconnect. That would certainly be a reflection of their immaturity but the fact is that our church was given the task of bringing them into maturity. Therefore, I want them in church. If not mine, then yours.