4 Kinds of Members Your Church Will Always Lose

Thom Rainer headshot

On the surface the issue looks hopeless.

Your church will lose four categories of church members; and you can do absolutely nothing to stop it.

Of course, this membership and attendance loss is in every organization where resident membership is part of belonging.

Churches are no exception. Here are the four categories:

1. Members who die. 

I went through the membership roll of a previous church I served as pastor. I discovered nearly 40 members on the roll who were deceased. Of course, those deceased church members were not able to attend worship services.

2. Members who move out of the community. 

I know some churches have this strange category of members called "non-resident members." There really should be only a few types of members who are granted such status. Those in the military and those in college are two good examples.

3. Members who are disabled and unable to attend. 

Of course, these are not members we take off the membership roll. But they have some type of physical condition that precludes them from attendance.

4. Members who are homebound or in care facilities. 

Like those who are disabled, this category of members are not lost to membership but to attendance.

For clarity, the "loss" of these church members is an attendance loss for all four, but typically a membership and attendance loss for the first two.

The reason I am stating the obvious is to help you church leaders understand the impact of such losses. The impact is measured by a number we call the Natural Attrition Rate (NAR). It is a simple calculation. Add all of the four categories above for a full year. Now take your average worship attendance and divide it by the total of the four categories.

Members lost to natural attrition / average worship service attendance = NAR

So a church with an average worship attendance of 300 that loses 15 members to natural attrition has an NAR of 5% (15/300 = 5%).

I recently surveyed a number of church leaders and asked them to calculate their NAR. With thanks to the pastors I emailed and the Church Answers mentoring group, I was able to discern a median NAR of 6% (My approach was not a scientific study).

Congregations with many senior adults and churches in a military community tend to have a higher NAR.

A church with an average attendance of 200 and an NAR of 6% will thus lose 12 members each year before church dropouts and church transfers in the same community.

If your church is experiencing declining attendance, a large portion of it may be due to natural attrition. And though you as church leaders can do nothing about natural attrition, it is information you need to know for planning, budgeting, and strategy.

I hope this exercise was helpful and not too messy.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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