4 Keys to Closing the Back Door

More than 200 church leaders sat in the room, each preparing a list of their church’s greatest needs. I gave them the assignment hoping to discover some commonalities we could address together. My expectations were quickly surpassed.

In one way or another, nearly 90% of the church leaders indicated that their churches had a problem with “closing the back door,” that is, they were losing members or attendees even while new people were coming to their churches.

“If half the people who came to our church over the past five years still attended, we would be double our size,” one pastor lamented. “We seem to get them into the church,” another church leader confessed, “but we just can’t keep them.”

For years, the primary focus in many churches has been on the “front door”—people coming into the church, and while such an emphasis remains the Great Commission priority, our research shows that churches and their leaders must not neglect the issue of the back door, commonly called assimilation.

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The Big 4

Through our research, we discovered that four major factors were at work when churches closed the back door effectively. If all four were in play, the back door closed tight. But any one of these factors still contributes to more effective assimilation.

1. High expectations.

The first “big four” issue is high expectations.

Our research indicates that the American Church went through a period of more than 10 years when churches significantly lowered their expectations of members and attendees. The result was an exodus of people from the church.

“Why would I want to be a part of something that expects nothing of me?” a former active church member told our research team. Many churches are now attempting to remedy this problem with entry point or new member classes, where expectations of service, stewardship, and attendance are clearly established.

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Thom Rainer
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.

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