The pastor announced to his peers, “It’s National Church Shopping Month!”
I love the community at our coaching and consulting site on Church Answers. Over 1,600 church leaders interact in significant numbers every hour of the waking day. They ask questions. They seek examples and stories of God’s work in churches. And, on occasion, they vent. I love the fact they feel the freedom to express themselves in a safe place.
Recently, one pastor lamented how many members start shopping for other churches in the summer months. His peers immediately joined the conversation with a number of similar concerns and observations.
For those in church leadership, this pattern of members deciding to leave is far too common and almost always painful. Here are a few observations from both the Church Answers’ community and me.
- You are not alone. In fact, I’ve never known a church leader who has been in a church three years or more and not faced this reality.
- It is not always bad. Sometimes members are simply not aligned with the ministry of the church they are leaving. It could be a doctrinal issue. It could be a philosophical issue. It is not always bad to release members to a church that better fits their convictions.
- It is an opportunity to learn and to be pastoral. I rarely hear from a pastor or other church leader who really enjoys interviewing or talking to departing members. But those who do share that the experience is typically one where they learn something they can do to improve themselves or to lead their church to improve.
- Some church shoppers have a me-centric view of church. They see church as a place to get perks and benefits. They have no concept of the giving and sacrificial nature of church membership noted in 1 Corinthians 12. They have a consumer mentality and, unless and until they change, they will not be satisfied.
- Some church shoppers have been hurt and/or been in conflict in the church. First, awareness of this pain provides church leadership an opportunity to be pastoral. Second, it is not always bad for these members to get a fresh start elsewhere. Sadly, it is common to see at least one party leave a church after a divorce.
- The issue for some church shoppers is to find a place where their children will want to go. This issue had all types of implications. I may pursue it in detail in a later post.
- You will never please everyone. The late Steve Jobs is probably not the best source to quote on a blog about church life, but I still love his words, “If you want to make everybody happy, don’t be a leader, sell ice cream.”
- Take the pain of church shoppers to review your expectations of membership. How do you assimilate new members in the church? Do you clearly communicate what is expected of them? Why do exiting members have a consumer mentality?
- Accept that many church shoppers will migrate in pack to the latest “hot church.” Many church shoppers will go to the church that has the most buzz at the moment. The buzz never lasts, and the members move in pack again to the next hot church.
- Pray. In importance, put this issue at the top. Seek God’s wisdom and strength to deal with these painful issues. Seek Him to understand how to deal with departing members. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone as long as you are striving to please Him.
Is it National Church Shopping Month in your church? Let me hear from you about this reality all church leaders face.
Originally posted at ThomRainer.com.
Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.