What to do When Sheep Leave the Pen (Part 1)

If you hang around church long enough, you’ll notice that some people have slipped through the proverbial cracks.  They are there one week, you don’t see them for a while, and then someone asks “Hey, where’s old so-and-so,” and you realize they’re gone…for good.  Well, maybe not for good.  I am launching a short series of blog posts on reclaiming inactive church members.  It’s something every teacher and church leader will have to deal with at some time or another.  I took some of this information from a great book (it’s an oldie but a goodie) called Reclaiming Inactive Church MembersYou can click here to go to the Amazon.com website and purchase a copy.

This first blog post is all about the big reasons why people drop off the radar.  See if you can put some faces with the situations below…

5 Reasons Why Sheep Leave The Pen

1.  CONFLICT – this is unavoidable in any size church.  Most people have an instinct for avoiding this, and it plays a factor in their becoming inactive.  Lyle Schaller once reported that, “On a given day in perhaps three-quarters of all churches the ministry of that congregation is reduced significantly as a result of nonproductive conflict.” (Reclaiming Inactive Church Members, p.19).  Sources of conflict include:

  • Friction with the PASTOR
  • Disagreement about the DIRECTION of the church prescribed by its leaders
  • Strained relations with OTHER MEMBERS
  • INTERPERSONAL conflicts not related to church members (i.e. unconverted spouse, arguments with children, etc)
  • THEOLOGICAL issues – majoring on minor issues or “choking on gnats”
  • FINANCIAL issues – disagreement about how the church allocates its monies
  • People who are PEACEMAKERS and simply cannot tolerate conflict

2.  Unmet EXPECTATIONS – similar to #1 above, this one is more passive in nature.  I may have a conflict with you because of what you do or say; I will become frustrated with you by what you do not do or say.

A person who has unmet expectations typically has the two words “I thought” on the tip of their tongue.  They’ll say things like, “I thought the church should have done blah blah blah,” or “I thought someone would call us,” or “I thought everyone knew how we felt about…”

3.  Lack of AFFINITY – this is all about the homogeneous principle of church growth – churches grow as members find things in common with one another.  When a member senses he has few things in common with other members, he feels uncomfortable and looks for a way to exit the church.  Some phrases that people might use who have a growing lack of affinity might be:

  • “This just doesn’t feel like home anymore”
  • “I liked it better when so-and-so taught our class…I can’t relate to the new teacher”
  • “I liked our former style of worship better”
  • “No one talks with me anymore”
  • “I can’t make any friends….and I’ve tried”

People with a lack of affinity tend to have a BACKWARD glance at church life.  They tend to focus on the good ol’ days.

4.  Inability to RELATEthese types of members tend to be unhappy wherever they attend church.  This breed of church member tends to have a series of consecutive church memberships, all within a short period of time.  You might call this group “church hoppers.”  They are in a category all to themselves, and they tend to have strained relations with just about everyone by the end of their time with a church.

  • They tend to take PROBLEMS with them wherever they go
  • They remain largely unRELATED and unCOMMITTED
  • The problems they complain about in the church sometimes reflect problems within THEMSELVES

5.  EMBARASSMENT about personal circumstances – most people are very sensitive and private about their lives and when they feel that “everyone’s looking at me” their default position may be to retreat.  Some things that may cause embarrassment are:

  • A changing FINANCIAL situation
  • Job LOSS
  • A MORAL failure (of themselves, the spouse, or one of the children)
  • Not performing well in a LEADERSHIP role in the church
  • CONFLICT with another member that remains unresolved

There you have it.  5 reasons why sheep leave the pen.  If you are a teacher, ask yourself if anyone in your class has left because of any of these reasons.  If so, pray and ask the Lord’s guidance as you make plans to reclaim them to your class.

Because this is Superbowl week, many Sunday School classes will have fellowships on February 5.  Consider reaching out to the absentees on your class role this week and invite them to attend.  Don’t send a postcard…call them or drop by their home.  Coming back to class might be awkward for them, but coming to a party is a different story.  Take advantage of Superbowl Sunday and fellowships to start the reclamation process.

In the next blog post, I’ll help you understand the kinds of games people play when they’ve gone AWOL.  In a final post I’ll outline some steps to take in order to be the kind of reclaimer God wants all of us to be.

Until then, thanks for dropping by and reading this post.  Please retweet it or invite friends to sign up for future posts.


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