The Attrition Rate in Churches

Church consultant Lyle Schaller took the stage at the first “Church planters” conference I ever attended. He was an author and speaker who was known for his wisdom achieved from years of working with Churches. He said something that morning in Chicago that I have never forgotten. He told about how he will stand up before congregations and explain to them, “All of you sitting here are going to move, quit or die. We cannot count on any of you being here in 20 years.”

I literally cannot remember anything else he said that day, but he put something into words that I had noticed in ministry, but no one had articulated for me. Later on, I would hear it called an “attrition rate” by other people in the Church world. It is the concept that every year you are going to lose people in your Church community in one way or another.

In the early years of ministry, I said boldly, “Not on my watch.” I will teach, preach, lead and motivate in a way that no one will ever want to leave.” This just led to frustration as people still moved away to be closer to family or to make more money at a better job. I had no control over people and their decisions, and they left. Not only that, but people drifted away despite my best efforts. One couple was going through a rough patch in their marriage, and I allowed them to put me on speed dial. It seemed like every night they had a new fight, and I was there to help them through it. Once again, I failed, and after months of work they decided to divorce, and both of them left the Church.

It is estimated that at least twenty percent of the people who attend the Church I lead in January will not be there by the next January. Simply put, people will move, quit or die. Most Church communities need to add twenty percent new people, just to maintain their average attendance. The people who attend worship each week are a sea of ever-changing faces.

Unfortunately, even in communities of faith people will leave. It still breaks my heart, but I have come to the point where I do not take it personally. My goal is to help people on their journey with God as long as they are walking the same path with me. Maybe God brought us together so that I could teach them a little something. Perhaps he brought us together so that I could learn something. God only knows. Our job is to plant the seed of the gospel, water it and harvest it as God allows.

Being a part of a Church community means we will see people grow and mature in their faith, but it also means we will see people leave sometimes long before we wanted them to go. That’s okay, God is bigger than my Church and is doing his mighty work in ways I will never understand. Faith is trusting God with me and also with you.

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