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Top 7 Ways to Close the Back Door

It is incredibly easy for a growing church to appear healthy, while leaving bruised and battered people in their wake. This is because if you subtract a 20 percent back-door rate from a 40 percent visitor connection rate, you are left with a 20 percent growth rate, which appears healthy! I think it’s tragic. Just so I won’t be picking on the growing churches, I have seen just as many churches who have had the same attendance for years, but the faces are constantly changing. Where did they all go? I would like to think they just found another church that “met their needs.” Unfortunately, I am scared to ponder how many have not just left a church but have left Christianity altogether. 

As a point of clarification, when I refer to the back door, I am talking about people who made an initial connection, assimilated into one of the main areas of emphasis of the church and made church a part of their normal routine. I am not talking about people who have never connected into the life of the church. If a person never successfully connects, they just turn around and go out the same way they came in, through the front door. Initial visitor connection requires its own proactive process and has a different set of dynamics.  

People stop coming to a church for many reasons, but the biggest factors are the lack of close relationships and the lack of meaningful service. This situation opens the door to a perception among unconnected people that the leaders are apathetic toward their situation. Identifying the factors is the easy part. Doing something about it is a bit harder. 

In this post, I would like to share what I believe to be the top seven ways to close the back door of the church. I want this list to be practical, so in order to set the stage, I want to talk a little bit about attendance. Every church I have worked with of substantial size has lamented the inability to capture worship attendance. They are right. It is virtually impossible to get accurate individual attendance of worship services. We’re not talking head counts but attendance that shows who was or was not present. That does not stop churches from trying! I just don’t see inaccurate attendance as good stewardship. If you can’t trust your attendance numbers so you can confidently follow up with absentees, then it is a waste of time.

1. Measure what is measurable. While worship attendance is hard to capture, adult small groups classes are relatively simple. Children’s activities are the simplest of all since security issues require us to keep accurate records anyway. So, measure what you can measure. Yes, you will get push-back from some of your established groups, but if you give them some context, you will get their support. By context, I mean they have to understand the issue is bigger than their group. If you show them you are trying to be good stewards of these people who are your responsibility, they will usually get on board. Ask them to help you be faithful with your responsibility.

2. Catch people on their way out of the back door. One of the fundamental mistakes I see churches make is to focus on what has happened in the past. It is not that looking back is not of value—it just won’t help you get anyone back! Gone is gone! Think of it this way: If someone gets upset and you recognize they are about to leave, you can intervene and smooth the situation. But if that person leaves, gets home and settles into their favorite chair in front of the TV, what are the odds of getting them to come back? Not very good, are they? It takes a person about four weeks to move from, “I don’t think the church cares about me” to, “I know the church does not care about me.” Catch them on the way out and this can be prevented.

3. Know who you expect to attend. In order to know who was not in attendance, you have to know who was supposed to be in attendance. This sounds simple, but it is often counter to the way churches have kept their records for years. This means you are going to have to do some work to keep class rosters clean enough to know the difference. For example, a list of 100 kids who missed the past three classes is too large for you to effectively contact. In reality, there might only be five kids on that list of 100 who have been attending in the past few months. These five kids represent the five families that are on their way out the back door! This is the information you desperately need to know, and it is so often buried in the attendance reports of the church.