Probably most churches experience a high tide of church attendance this time of year, with Lent and Easter. We definitely do. But this year we have taken advantage of this special season to really challenge parishioners to invest and invite their unchurched friends to join us. And it seems to be working, currently our weekend attendance is up 8 – 10% over last year. We also invite guests to identify themselves at the Next Steps Kiosk when visiting (where we have a gift bag for them) and recently there have been as many as two dozen a week.
Its great to see your parish grow as you welcome newcomers and guests. But there is another kind of growth that happens in healthy parishes: growth by attrition.
People leave failing churches all the time: financial instability, congregational conflict, doctrinal divisions, all can lead to departures. And that is not surprising. But none of those dysfunctions would be present in a healthy church. So, why would people leave a healthy church, why say good-bye to something that is working well? How can it be true that church growth is accompanied by attrition?
In fact, as Pastor Carey Nieuwhof writes, some people leave because things are going well, or because you’re getting healthier. As your parish makes progress on the path of health you absolutely will lose people.
Why? One of several possible reasons, all variations on the same theme.
- They liked it the way it was.
However dysfunctional a church community might be, it works (at some level) for the people attending. Change something, or anything at all, and you threatened what they have.
- They’re afraid of your direction.
Directionless churches can be comfortable churches. Set a direction, cast a vision, unveil a master plan, question the status quo and you’re threatening someone’s comfort.
Perhaps they’re more interested in the past they knew than the future you envision. However inspiring your vision, however compelling your mission, there will always be people who just don’t want to hear it.
- They don’t like the new people.
Suddenly there is someone else sitting in my seat; more cars on the parking lot means I have to arrive earlier; I don’t know everyone by name. Newcomers can be unwelcome to the regulars, and if the newcomers are different (ethnically, culturally, economically) they can be very unwelcome.
- They don’t really want to be in a healthy church.
Not so long ago a parishioner left our parish. He was definitely a never-miss-a-Sunday kind of guy and active in ministry. All evidence suggested he was on board. Then one day he left? Why? The guy had demonstrated some dysfunctional behavior (right out of the playbook for dysfunctional churches) and we called him on it. He resented being challenged when it came to emotional health.
Like seeks like: people who gossip want to be around other gossips, complainers love complainers, consumers seek the company of other consumers.
As you grow a healthier church unhealthy people will want to leave. Let them go and you will grow.
For a much more comprehensive and complete take on this see:
“5 Rather Startling Reasons People Leave Your Church” @ careynieuwhof.com