Pastors are often dismayed and troubled when families to whom they have faithfully ministered leave the church. Some move away for work-related reasons, some leave in a huff over an offense (real or imagined) and a few confess that they need something different than what the current church has to offer. There’s the practical loss of a worker and financial contributor and the emotional loss of a member of your spiritual family followed by the nagging fear that others will follow and the church is about to crumble.
I have noticed however that growing churches seem to have a high turnover of members. After a three year absence from one church I served, I noticed that the church had doubled in size but many of the faces I remembered were gone. When I returned a year later the church continued to grow but more old timers were gone.
On the other hand I have noticed that stagnant and declining churches have a more stable membership. Few people come and go.
Gary McIntosh (One Size Doesnt Fit All) identifies three signs that a church is stagnated.
1. 50% or more of the congregation has been in the church for more than 12 years
2. 33% or more of the governing board are related to main families
3. 10% or less of members have joined in the last year
Every time my current church has broken through a growth barrier we have lost some key families. At first I mourned but then I realized that they preferred the church to be smaller. I have learned to let them go with a blessing and help them find another small church they can help grow.
Some people join a church because of the vision of what it can become; most join because they like what they are presently experiencing. As the church grows some will leave because the church has changed and newcomers will join because they like what they are presently experiencing.
People who like things the way they were and decide to stick around will fight hard to maintain control and bring the church back to its lower numbers. Often these individuals will become disgruntled and complain about many things without realizing that the root of their problem is that they don't want the church to grow. If they persist newcomers will leave and the church will stagnate.
While I’m not sure of the ecclesiological soundness of it, I am sure that this is the current reality in the American church. It helps me to view the church as being greater than my own local church. I am grateful for those individuals who have served alongside me and are now serving elsewhere. I am open to working with them again.
I recommend Gary McIntosh’s, One Size Doesnt Fit All, as a conversation starter for churches that are stagnated and want to know why. It is a good book for leaders to read together. The book is short and easy to read, describing the common characteristics of churches of similar size and what it takes to get to the next level.