I remember when a friend of mine stated matter-of-factly one day, “Well, no one’s even here from our evangelistic series in _____.” I knew otherwise and I said, “Sure there are, what about Ron, Jim, Mary?”
“Really, They were part of that group?” He reacted. I went on and listed about 10 more names and was just getting started. When he stood there slack-jawed in amazement. His final words were, “I thought they’d been here longer than that!”
For years, I couldn’t imagine why people couldn’t see it like I did. It’s another myth, people leave within a year after being baptized. As a pastor, I knew otherwise. But why couldn’t other people see it? Thus began a journey of mine to document the retention of people. As the pastor, I knew otherwise. In the course of that documentation, I found out two things I wasn’t expecting.
First let me tell you what I already knew. My spreadsheet has been verified by two people with national numbers. My numbers spread over two churches, but before I began documenting, I can take you back to two other churches with the same numbers. My experience is in the small church district, the contemporary church plant that grew large, and now in the very large church. The numbers come in that our retention is about 70%. True story. The NAD average for evangelism is the same, as confirmed in seperate conversations with Russell Burrill and Ron Clouzet, they see the similar numbers.
But let me tell you the two unexpected things I did discover when I began keeping track of retention: 1) We did lose people, but not whom you would expect and 2) The new people who stayed were perceived by the members to be here longer because of their huge involvement levels.
Yes, we did lose people. But the people we primarily lost were not the newly baptized. The people we really lost within a year after the baptism, were people who were already members, but we’re on the fringe. In other words, people left, who were barely hanging on already. This, I believe, has to do with the capacity of the church discipleship ministry. We bring in new people and take care of them, but in the course of that, some people realize they aren’t being taken care of and leave. Often times, they have been long-time members. I found, until we patched some of the discipleship mechanisms, that we always lost people after evangelism – but they were primarily “old” members who had been there for awhile. The patch? Small groups, social interaction and visitation (another blog post someday)
Yet the perception and even surprise of the old members that Ron, Jim or Mary weren’t part of that evangelistic series was strange to me. What I realized, and began to decipher was that those people got so involved in the life of the church, most people couldn’t imagine church even functioning without them. Therefore, they must have been here much longer, because the church was certainly functioning before that seminar….
New people do stay. New people get involved because they love the church and are excited about helping it move forward. But for us to see the growth we need, we must have a strong discipleship mentality in the church. Discipleship is not just evangelism follow-up either (ahh… I see another post coming)….