I recently read this post by Thom Ranier about “closing the back door”, which is about helping new attenders become long term participants. It seemed at the time, similar to a post I wrote about serious defections from churches called “Dealing with Leaks“.
Thom talks about 4 “keys” to assimilation. They are pragmatic, relatively easy to measure, and relatively well understood by most evangelical church leaders. The problem I had with them as I read, was that they keys treated all people walking in the door generically – with no concern or understanding of what brought that person to your midst.
My proposal is that you have to tie that back door to the front door. I expect that most people who “bounce” off your church, who don’t stick, stay, or plug in; can be predicted by understanding where they are “spiritually” and practically, when they show up.
A direct survey of newcomers, designed to determine where they are on the continuum of spiritual formation, why they started coming to your church, what their pattern of attendance and participation or involvement has been, and what drew them to attend your church – should help you understand more about them.
Knowing where they are and where they came from, should allow you to to correlate which groups you are successful at retaining:
In building this survey, you want to discern those who are:
- Experienced servants from spectators
- Unchurched Seekers from unchurched apostates
- Growing from stagnant believers
- Focused on giving from focused on receiving
Notice that in each bullet, the healthier, or more mature position is on the left, and needier position is on the right. Based on the people you retain, you can infer several things about your own ministry including who you are effective at reaching, but also, who is growing under your ministry as well.
If our church is otherwise in pretty good health, I would expect that those on the left side are likely to stay and those who are on the right side will need to make some adjustments. The thing is, that as shepherd/leaders, it is our responsiblility help the sheep heal, grow, and find their way back to the master. Christians like most people sometimes develop unhealthy spiritual patterns. If we can assess their spiritual health, we have an opportunity to help them heal and grow.
If the pattern that we see is that the needier folks (right side) stay and do not heal or grow, but the healthier folks (left side) do not stay, we probably need to consider other aspects of the health of our ministry.
Maybe I am totally wrong, but the reason someone starts coming to a church and the reason someone leaves shortly thereafter are probably related.
This is a hypothesis, not a proven formula, and I would love an opportunity to work with a chuch (for free) to develop a survey and test the approach and learn what can be learned from it.