A Church You Would Attend

I have always enjoyed meeting visitors on Sundays. I am always fascinated by why families decide to visit churches. I often ask where they live and how they heard about the church.  One common conversation I often have with visitors is about how hard it is for people to find a church that truly fits them. People often talk about how it takes months of visiting churches before they find something they want to attend.

I heard church leadership experts talk about building your church not on who is there, but on who is not there yet.  They often argue that you have all the people you have because of who you are now.  If you want more people, you have to change to try to attract those who are not there yet. Knowing this, I used to  spent a lot of time thinking about how to make our church a place where people would want to attend.

So I decided to spend time and effort focusing on doing things that I thought would attract and keep visitors.  I started to question the format. I worried about aesthetics. I worried about what I would wear.  I worried about who was on stage and what they looked like.  As a Spirit-filled church I worried about what people would think if visitors were to come who didn’t understand the type of gifts we believe in. I put my focus on changing who we were in order to become a church that people would want to attend.  I even found myself making changes that I personally did not enjoy, but I did them to please potential visitors. After all that effort, we didn’t have any more success in keeping visitors. The worst part is, now not only did visitors not want to attend, I didn’t want to go there either!

After exhausting myself trying build a church that some imaginary family would want to attend, I started to think about what kind of church I would want to attend. It was a question I asked our team during our vision discovery process. As our team discussed it, I realized that for the most part, the people who were already there all wanted similar things.  We had similar values and were all there because we wanted to be there. We took those things and made them our core values.   What a freeing decision that was. I no longer had to  worry about whether a visiting family liked us or not. We knew who we were and the type of church we wanted to be. 

This is one of the best parts about being a pastor.  You get build a church you would want to go to.  Its sounds sort of self serving, but it is actually not. As pastor, you should love your church. You should be its biggest fan.  Plus, you will only be effective in doing the things you feel the most passionate about. You can change all you want, but if you don’t love what you have become, what good is it?

Instead of trying to chase the illusive goal of building a church that some imagined visitor would want to attend, why not spend your energies working to build a church culture for the people who have already said this is a church they want to attend.   You can go out of your way to change for the people who aren’t there, but often when we do that, we alienate the people who are there!  While its true, that some visitors may not fit what you are trying to do. But lets be honest, that is happening anyway. There are people out there looking for a church that cares about what you care about. 

If you don’t love your church, start by asking yourself a simple question. If you were to leave your church today and had to search for a church to attend, what would you look for?  Write those things down. Discuss them with your team.  Then put your energies toward building that kind of church.  When you love it, when your team loves it, when your church members love it, others will want to join you.

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They Always Come…And They Always Leave

Hello-Goodbye-Doormat1I love it when a new family visits our church.  It is exciting, isn’t it?   I am not totally sure what our retention rate is, but we seem to have one or two people or families visit every month. Sometimes they stay.  In 2014 we had 8 families/individuals come but we also had 7 families/individuals leave.   It is wonderful when people come.  It is not so wonderful when they leave.  We all have experienced that. It stinks!   Sometimes its for good reasons. Sometimes it’s not.  Pastor Josh Mauney has a great post  about how we feel when people leave.  You should read it here: The Most Honest Post I Know How to Write

For an average church, having one family join could represent a 5% increase in your church’s membership.  If you add two or three families your church has the potential for 10-15% growth in one year.  That is the power and impact of each and every family. Our church lost 3 families in October.  That was 16 total people, nearly 15% of our church gone in one month. That is hard to deal with. These were highly involved and faithful people. Two moved for jobs and one was just ready to move on.  We loved all three.  I hate that they are gone. But my experience tells me that others will come.  They always come…and they always leave. That is just how it works.

Our Average Church has been slowly growing over the past 4 years. In October of 2010, we had 39 families or individuals that called our church home for a total of 94 people.  Four years later we have 51 families/individuals that call our church home for a total of 110 people.  We have slowly added families and individuals. But we have also lost families and individuals.  In fact, from 2010-2014, we have only 17 families (43%) who have made it with us these past 4 years.  The ones we started with account for only 33% of our current congregation right now.  Were I to study it more closely, my guess is we probably turn over a third of our congregation every year or so. That is tough on us Average Pastors.  Just when we gain momentum, one family leaves and it takes it all away.

As I have tried to deal with this reality I have learned a few thoughts that make it easier:

  • Every family matters–  I had to realize that at some point that family chose to come here and contributed at some level. They are part of our story. They are important and I need to be thankful for them.
  • They came from somewhere – We have had some wonderful people come. We have had wonderful people go.  Every time I have to remind myself and our leadership team, they came from somewhere. They left another church and pastor who probably grieved when they left.   We cannot praise God when a family comes and be mad when they leave.  We need to rejoice in both.
  • They are His people, not ours –  We don’t own people.  I realized that most people these days only come to us for a season.  We are stewards while they are here.  Cherish and appreciate them. And when they leave, graciously turn them loose.
  • They all will leave – Gone are the days when church members are born in a church and die there.  They all will leave.  You will too one day!  Every pastor, staff member and church member will leave the church they are at.  Be gracious with those who leave.  Love them and celebrate them.

We have had many wonderful families come and go in the past 4 years.  Some were only here for a season. Some moved away. Some just didn’t want to be at a small church anymore.  I have learned to roll with the ebb and flow of families coming and going.   I learned to rejoice when they came.  And now I am able to rejoice when they leave.  I still grieve, but I can do it with thankfulness. Because in the end, they always come…and they will always leave.