Five Major Questions and Answers about Losing Church Members

February 5, 2018
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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.

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 during this brief seven-day registration period.

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

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24 Comments

  • I totally understand each of points but our challenge is that the whole Church resists getting connected. However, for as connected as any of our people are, they easily and eagerly seem to want to leave our Church. It is frustrating, devastating in some ways, and discouraging. It seems that if you aren’t pastoring a large Church with all the bells and whistles anymore you just can’t keep a momentum going that builds enthusiasm. I know this isn’t uncommon in Churches across the Country, but boy do we need to pray for our Pastors and leaders and boy do we need to pray for the flock.

  • It’s a tough situation talking to someone who wants to leave your church. Sometimes you gain a helpful insight into how a certain doctrine or gospel is being perceived and you can change your way of teaching it so it is more correctly understood. Sometimes it’s a struggle with faith, which is a great opportunity to work with an individual one-on-one. Other times it’s just anger and there’s nothing you can do about it in the moment except love the individual. It’s a really hard situation and I hope that, through God’s grace, that we all can find appropriate ways to love those we are serving so we don’t see them fall astray.

  • Over a period of 1 1/2yrs we lost 3/4 of our church (small 25 member church). Most had to be contacted by church leadership to confirm that they had left. And even though we have continued, we have not really recovered from this lose. How do you recover and move on?

  • A visitor acted excited to be in church and introduced himself to the pastor. The response was indifference. The pastor acted like he did not care and was not interested. This continued after the “new” person no longer came.
    There was a pastor of a different church who was hard to even meet. One of the only times someone encountered him was when the pastor ran (literally) past.
    One time a pastor joked with someone from the church about domestic violence. He did this in front of someone who was staying at a domestic violence shelter. When the pastor saw the horrified look, he said, “Lighten up!” and then really went at it with the domestic violence jokes.
    One pastor scolded someone after a service, telling them they were not allowed to leave during the service, and then started to talk scatalogical.
    One pastor stepped in and got involved with a group with which he was not directly involved and interfered. The attitude was, “I am the boss.”
    A Bible study that announced itself as a safe place to share jumped on an individual who was in serious need of comfort who started to share (“You are selfish for feeling bad”)–started, as the group interrupted and turned it into a rebuke session. Afterward, they ignored the individual.
    In all these, in the end, the individual no longer attended.
    Another example–a pastor said in a sermon, “The Bible has contradictions”.
    Another–it was taught/presented that faith plus good work will get one into Heaven.
    These resulted in loss of attendance.
    Another example–someone from a church stole from and did destructive things to another person. The person on the receiving end was not a member of the church. The pastor found out about it and emailed the individual (who was not going to the church) how the person should be ok with being wronged and that God was going easy on the person. Of course, that resulted in the person staying away from that church.

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