5 questions and answers about losing church members

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I still have painful memories about the first time I experienced losing church members as a pastor. I took it personally. Too much so. In fact, I didn’t handle the situation with much maturity at all.

Thom Rainer

But it’s still a common concern I hear every week. Allow me, then, to address the five most common questions I get about losing church members.

  1. Why do they leave? There are three broad categories of church members who depart. The “movers” are relocating to another community. They are common in our transient culture. The “dropouts” stop attending church altogether. Third, the “transfers” move to another church in the community. The dropouts typically leave because they were not connected in the church. The transfers move for a myriad of reasons, some legitimate, but some are self-serving. Those in the self-serving category typically see church as more of a country club where they pay their dues and get their perks. If they don’t get the perks the way they expect (if they don’t get their way), they will move to another country club church.
  2. Should I contact the disgruntled members who leave? That’s a tough one to give a uniform answer. On the one hand, it helps to find out why people leave so we can make legitimate changes and improvements. On the other hand, listening to a series of self-serving complaints can be a draining distraction.
  3. Should I do anything about a member who is moving to another community? Absolutely! You should view that departing member as a missionary sent by your church to another area. Some churches actually have commissioning services and commissioning certificates. It is a really healthy process to send a member. Indeed, you begin to view them as “sent” rather than those who “left.”
  4. Other than members who move out of the community, what can I do to reduce the loss or inactivity of members? Remember, the more a member is involved and connected to others, the more likely he or she is to remain active within your church. You should be moving all your members to groups. You should seek to get members involved in ministry. And you should exhort your members to give as an act of stewardship and discipleship.
  5. Losing a member makes me feel sick. Am I alone in my feelings? Not at all. You are among the majority of pastors who have the same feelings. Accept your pain as real and common, and then channel those feelings to lead your church to become more effective at assimilation and discipleship.

These are the type of questions we answer every day, almost every hour, at Church Answers. If you are interested in becoming a part of the largest ongoing gathering of church leaders in the world, you can join us.

Thank you, pastors and church leaders, for your ministries, and lives. You are truly my heroes!


This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on Feb.5. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and ten grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

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