It’s no secret that people are leaving churches faster than ever. Why?
By John Bosman
The reasonable question some may ask is, “Why should we be so anxious about focusing our attention on providing care in this season of the church? What has changed?” That is a vital question and needs particular consideration since we prefer not to do something just because it sounds good, but because it is essential. So, let’s stop, take inventory of our activities, and contemplate the needed application of providing congregational care. Considering church history and present-day realities, it becomes evident that we are in an interim age, not being sure whether we should hold on to the past or take active steps into the future. The fact is, the church mostly cannot remain where it is now. Conventional structures are disassembling; membership is declining, and so are the finances. Our culture, in general, is uninterested, unsympathetic or benignly intolerant. Our communities do not think the church is relevant, and does not support its cause.
In this interim age (the period between what the church was and what it is becoming), church development strategies differ significantly. Some churches are trying to recapture the past. Their goal is: Do what we have always done, just do it bigger and better. Some are holding steady. Their hope is the curve somehow will turn back upward again. Others are shifting gears. Their risk is: We’ll cast our lot with the Scriptures and successful church models.
As we get ready for the next great move of God, it may serve us well to take progressive and reformist steps ahead to stabilize and invigorate our churches. If we never evaluate the level of ministry we provide and the results we are getting, our congregations will continue to struggle and even continue to regress. There are few things as valuable as self-evaluation—if done honestly.
Despite the many great things happening in many churches across the world, the truth remains that most churches are facing unbelievable challenges, have stagnated, or are in severe decline. No wonder unregenerate people are asking, “Where is the glue to reassemble the degeneration and the disarray?” It’s almost like the young lady who frantically cried out one day in desperation, “The only thing that is holding me together is my hairspray!”
IT’S TIME FOR HONESTY
If we are serious about revitalizing the church and bringing freshness to its relevance, I am convinced that we should stop blaming someone (or something) else for the position in which we find ourselves. It’s not going to help us much to continue finding fault with our denominational systems or criticizing its leadership, or the lack thereof. It is honestly time to take a moment to consider where we have come from, evaluate where we are, and then fervently bring innovative direction to a bright new tomorrow. We all understand that we can do nothing without the Lord. But truthfully, as the saying goes, if it’s going to be, it’s up to me.
he will not.”
—St. Francis of Assisi
It is the epitome of stupidity for a person to continue to do the same thing over and over and yet expect different results. When are we going to learn in church circles that it is time to get out of the rut—or the proverbial box—and get something done? As it is said: “If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”
It is my full intention to not simply help you identify the problem and then offer a solution, but instead go beyond and let you know of the appropriate resources available to you—so you can implement the solution. I don’t know about you, but quite frankly, I have become tired and frustrated listening to speakers and teachers telling us what to do and even how to do it but never providing, or at least pointing us to, the tools with which we can accomplish the task. Don’t just tell me I should build a bridge from where I am to where I need to go—I get that. Help me with the vehicle to get there.
That is what I have in mind. Hopefully, you will get just as excited about the concept as so many others have, and when you get ready to build the bridge, you will discover that we have already done all the work for you. All you will have to do is get behind the steering wheel of the bus and steer your people toward their determined destiny.
I will begin by describing the background of the local church’s dilemma, show the biblical basis of the solution, lay the foundation for a system that works, and thoroughly explain this useful and proven concept to you. Unfortunately, in ministry, we often attempt to rush to the solution at the expense of actually evaluating the way we have come. We quickly get excited about what may potentially work and implement it before we have calculated the outcome.
We are forever looking for a quick fix, which usually never works. The truth is that unless we discover what caused the stalemate and learn from it, we will never be able to reach our dreams of tomorrow. As it is said, if we forget our history, we will tend to make the same mistakes again.
A QUICK SNAPSHOT
People today are looking to the church for interaction and personal attention more than ever before. The vast expansion of the electronic age has caused people to become reclusive and, in the process, created a relational void. I don’t know how long it has been since I have seen such a search for real relationships among people as we know it today. Look around you on Sunday, and you will see many church members have even become more and more distant from each other, and yet they desire the closeness they once knew.
Church members often feel the leaders don’t hear their cries, don’t help to heal their hurts, and do not give proper attention to their personal and family problems. Others feel the church does not assist them sensibly in their social, relational, and employment struggles. The bottom line is that most people feel distant from their church and its leadership and as a result often feel abused. Attending church on a Sunday is great, but that alone does not provide the cohesiveness that is required.
To our amazement, when we started focusing our church on caring for people, we found to our dismay that often our people were not regularly visited and prayed with in hospitals—or at least not systematically. Individuals in nursing homes and other aged and infirm people felt neglected, while yet others thought they did not receive the attention they deserved concerning spiritual matters. All of this was happening primarily because, in most cases, the ministry was being left to a select few people to do.
And it’s not that our folk had no concern for their fellow church members; it’s more a matter of them not knowing how to reach out to others resolutely. People seem to come to church and then unassumingly leave without sincerely showing interest in what’s happening in the lives of other people. But then it almost looks like a paradox. While they are longing for a relationship, they become reclusive in their attitude.
Our church was certainly not unfriendly. But what we discovered was that our people were often gathering in groups, seemingly lost in their delightful conversation but oblivious to those who were desperately seeking connection. These were typically individuals in leadership or those more prominent in the operation of the church. But the quiet, withdrawn, and less-known members and visitors many times felt ignored and wondered if anyone even knew of their existence. They walked in, and they walked out, and nobody seemed to care. This action usually causes a distant feeling by people, which creates the vacuum in relationships.
The truth of the matter is that those who are substantially engaged in ministry, especially on higher levels of leadership, for the most part don’t sense the reality of relational depravity. If they need attention, care or support, it’s usually freely available. I have found over and over that those people who are noticeable in the church or have been in leadership a long time, or even members forever, usually say they don’t need someone to care for them. “We don’t need someone to be there for us,” they say. “We have a pastor if we need one.” Prominent as these people are, they may be correct when they say they don’t need additional attention, but unfortunately, it creates the impression that nobody else needs care or attention.
These leaders find their fellowship, love and acceptance in the long-term relationships they have built with each other over the years. However, this traditional thinking has led the church to stagnation. In their minds, the congregation is being taken care of, and they need do no more. But those who are farther away from the core are frequently left in the cold—many times struggling on their own—and seemingly never receive any meaningful attention. To them, the church as a body has become useless.
After I had done an in-depth presentation of the workings of a ministry of care at a growing congregation in the Dallas area, a senior member of the church came over to me and said, “I so appreciate this concept you are bringing to our church. I have been part of this congregation in leadership for a long time and have always wondered if we are adequately staying in touch with everyone and making sure we are tending to them.”
She went on to say, “They have recently discharged me from the hospital, and I must say that my church and pastor took care of me well. I learned to appreciate my spiritual family.” Her tear-filled eyes were saying much more than she could express.
“But strangely enough,” she continued, “I was lying in my hospital bed, thinking of the concept you are sharing with us. I was wondering if all the people in the church were also receiving the same kind of attention.” She apparently had a heartfelt passion for people as she continued her thought process, “What about those who are not as well-known as I am? I don’t think they do.”
She said she started asking other members about the situation and, quite frankly, did not like what she was hearing from her loving church. People came up with all kinds of excuses, but the bottom line was that all people were not receiving the same level of care she did.
“I am saying all of that to underscore that your teaching comes as an answer to my prayer. I cannot believe all the confirmation you are bringing. Why haven’t we always done it this way?”
The more we consider these things, the more we will realize how many of our people are going unnoticed—feeling distant and uncared for by their church. If they are not in with the in-crowd, they are out. It is quite often the quiet and reserved people who do not get the attention they should.
Can we honestly afford to continue this way? Are we secretly just hoping it will get better? Do we think the needs of people will disappear, or that they don’t expect our attention? Or do we assume people will understand that times have changed and that we are all busy, and then just get over it?
The basic answer to these questions is: No, it will never change. No, they will never understand. People are people, and their human needs will never change. There is a biblical expectation for us to care for those God has entrusted to us. Reality beckons us to answer the question: If we are not taking care of those God has already sent us, why should he send us any more?
SEEING PEOPLE FOR WHO THEY ARE
Our dilemma lies in the fact that many people come to our churches, but just as many also leave. We advertise, we market, we promote, we put on “big days,” and the people come. But we do not retain enough of our visitors, and sometimes, as Pastor Rick Warren says, “It seems as though we are pastoring a parade.”
Attracting a crowd is not that difficult, but keeping them is. You can do all kinds of things to get people to come, but if you don’t have a system to retain them, your labors will be futile.“Big days” work. Well-known guest speakers and celebrities could help attract people from the community. Musicals can open the door. Offering each person who shows up a twenty-dollar bill will guarantee you a crowd. But if you do not have a process of keeping them, you are wasting your time and resources.
Some years ago, I read of a denomination that did some research on people that had left their churches and did not know the reason for why. I cannot remember the exact percentage, but I do remember them reporting that the most significant portion of these people said they received no contact whatsoever from their church after they had left. A significant number stated that they would have at least appreciated a conscious effort from their pastor or even a church member before they decided to separate from the church permanently. But nobody called or followed up.
And if the truth were known, it is not that pastors and churches do not care; it is instead that they have no system or ministry plan for retaining these people, and consequently have no workable method of rescuing members when they do fall through the cracks. For that reason, we need a new paradigm. Pastors often just hope the people who left will come back. But that is a myth, and we know it.
People usually leave because the church does not meet their expectations, or because they were not able to establish close enough relationships. On the other hand, new attendees come, for the most part, to receive the love, attention and fellowship that the church has become known for, but are many times disillusioned when they realize that the care and concern they had hoped to find is not there. They quickly discover religion, but then battle to find relationships. And if new members do not make close friends within six months, they will begin to drift off again in search of another church or fellowship. That is why we need a system.
For the most part, we are not tending well to God’s flock and, unwittingly, creating an atmosphere of unrest and insecurity. The people are anxious, they’re not feeding well, the fruit of evangelism has become minimal, and those who are supposed to support the church financially are holding back in their giving because their souls are not satisfied. That’s when they slip out through the holes in the fence to seek another shepherd who may potentially take care of them. And I know, our mission should be to have people be satisfied with Jesus more than anything or anyone else, but if people experience a vacuum of some sorts, they find it difficult to connect to the spiritual.
Excerpted from The Care Revolution by John Bosman. Copyright 2018. Equip Press, a division of Outreach Inc. Used by permission.