Last Friday I posted a piece on When You Lose People to Bigger Churches. Tim Challies linked to the article earlier in the week and since then over 3000 people have visited this blog and read the article. Apparently it resonated with a good number of pastors and church leaders, which means that there are a lot of you whose experience is at least somewhat similar to what I wrote about.
Because of the response, the subject of people coming and going has been on my mind over the last several days. May I share a few more thoughts with you?
First, Whenever new people come to your church from another congregation, it is appropriate to contact the pastor of the church they left.
When you do this, you are practicing good pastoral ethics. In our area there were pastors who would extend this courtesy. I appreciated that. There were others who didn’t. I didn’t appreciate that. None of us gets it right all the time, but it’s something that should be a priority.
When you contact another pastor, you might be heading off trouble. On occasion you’ll find that people who were poison in their last church come to you with big smiles and lots of warmth. But give them a year or two. You may end up having the same difficulties their former pastor had.
It is good to talk with the new people and make sure that they have not left their church for the wrong reasons.
People change churches for all kinds of reasons, and some of those reasons may not be valid. But some certainly are. People may be look for a new church because the preaching in their former church lacks substance. Perhaps they are leaving a liberal church because they’ve come to trust in Christ and want a church that preaches the Gospel.
Perhaps decisions were made that they do not feel they can support biblically. Perhaps the leadership has failed in a substantial way. As a result people may decide that leaving is the best option. (A good read on this is the 9Marks article from last year titled, “Some Counsel for Christians Leaving Toxic Church Environments.” )
As I said, there are multitude of reasons people look for a new church. I’m not advocating pastoral paranoia. Just be sure to do due diligence as you welcome them.
If you are a smaller church, make it all that it can be. While larger churches can offer more programs, smaller churches can often offer more intimacy and pastoral care. Smaller churches can create an environment where the whole church can gather together for a meal, for prayer, or just to spend time together.
If you know other smaller-church pastors, schedule a lunch or meet at a coffee shop to talk over ways in which they are building community and caring for their people. You may find that you can join together on occasion with another congregation or two. One of my close friend’s church had not had a Good Friday service but wanted to start one. So we began meeting together on Good Friday, alternating meeting between their church and ours. Each year dozens of people stayed afterwards to talk.
I don’t know what the prognosis is for smaller or medium-sized churches. On one hand, our people have been trained by our culture to be consumers, and it’s not surprising that people go to churches that offer what looks to be “bigger and better.” But while that seems to be the current trend, I wonder if the pendulum will swing the other way, and people will get tired of “Walmart church” and desire something more “Mom and Pop.”
Finally, be careful that a consumerist spirit doesn’t exist in your heart. If you find yourself in a smaller or medium church, unable to do all that bigger churches can do, don’t give in to what might be a lust for more than God wants you to have. Your people need to be fed, and they need a caring shepherd. Be that person to them, and you’ll be doing what God wants you to do.