In the early days of my ministry, not many people left our church. I was in a rural area, there wasn’t much competition and people were loyal to the institutions of their community. They would no more leave our church than they would send their children to another high school, stop doing business at our only bank or stop shopping at our local grocery store. They were loyal to the few institutions they had because they instinctively knew if they didn’t support them, they would lose them.
When people left our church, it was normally for one of four reasons:
1. Move—This really didn’t come up very often except for our young people. Not many people moved into our community, fewer moved out, but there wasn’t much of an economy to keep the students, especially those who went to college. Some young people left, but everyone else tended to stay.
2. Shut-in—Our main back door consisted of older people who simply couldn’t make it to church in bad weather, then not in the winter and then not at all. They would soon move from home to an assisted care facility or move in with family, but they still read every word in the newsletter and considered us their church.
3. Die—Death was clearly the most acceptable reason to quit church, and the whole community showed up to celebrate life and our great faith. Growing up in a church and dying in that same church was empirical evidence of a life lived well.
4. Mad—When people did leave, it was normally because they were mad at someone; it might be me, but more often it was with someone else about something outside of church. It was bleed-over kind of mad. Teacher strikes, competition for farmland coming up for sale and community political squabbles fueled people getting mad, but honestly, it didn’t happen very often either. And when people quit, they usually came back.
That was about it. Then the world changed, I moved to the suburbs and after a few years our medium-sized church became huge. I had heard about the back doors in big churches, but in recent years, I have found such back doors to be universally true. Our congregation has grown every year for 18 straight years, but we continue to lose a lot of people through the back door. This troubled me greatly for years, but upon prayer and thought, I am beginning to see things a bit differently these days.