Dr. Erik Strandness says it’s not just historical facts that...
A good sales person will discover not just why people buy their product, but why they don’t. Is it price, quality, presentation? Is there anything that could have been done to secure a sale?
Transferring the analogy to the Christian world may seem crass, but there’s no doubt that many church leaders are failing to secure some vital information, that could be fairly easy to obtain, by asking people the real reason why they left the church.
I say ‘real reason’ because not many have the bottle to front up to what’s really happened. They may cite a host of true reasons, without ever expressing, what for them, is the real reason. I have known people who have found leaving so tough they have moved house to give themselves what they regard as a legitimate excuse.
Of course if they are believers in Jesus they are not leaving ‘the’ church and in many cases the church leader doesn’t need to be too bothered for them.
But that doesn’t mean that the move may have given them insight.
Now in case you think I am suggesting church style by opinion poll, let me explain that I am very aware that in many cases, you may not want to pay attention to what the leaving person/couple says. Sometimes the reasons say more about you than about them. But there will be times when a good ‘exit interview’ to use an HR term could illuminate how the local church you lead is perceived. You may have a pastoral care team to rival the nursing staff at the local hospital, but if someone leaves questioning whether the church ‘cares’ you might want to consider raising their profile. You may spend hours each week on preaching but if someone leaves telling you that they don’t feel helped, you may want to consider getting feedback from members you trust to see if your sermons are accomplishing what you intend.
One of my recent guests on The Leadership File, Olaf Fogwill is involved in work that specifically speaks with people who have disconnected from a local church. It's the second recording we did together. I am hoping to invite him back on the show in a year’s time when the results are out. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence on why people leave, and some research (check out Leslie Francis’ books, ‘Gone but not Forgotten’ and 'Gone for good? Church-leaving and returning in the 21st century'), but this promises to be a real insight into leaver’s real reasons.
It is said that the first job of the leader is to define reality. Hopefully you have fellow leaders and wise church members to give you much needed insight to help you know what is real. But it just may be that you will get as much insight from people who are no longer with you, than from those who are.