It has been said that people “vote with their feet.” Definitions of voting with your feet agree that it is showing your opinion by leaving an organization or by no longer supporting, using, or buying something. At times it is a way to show your displeasure with a person or a circumstance, hoping to effect change.
I have a feeling we’ve all done it at one time or another. Voters do it to express displeasure with candidates. You and I might refuse to return to a place of business where we encountered poor service or poor quality with a product. Sometimes we vote with our feet when we believe there is no other way to get the attention of a manager, a company, a local business owner, or a person.
In church, people vote with their feet as well. People leave groups – it’s a fact of group life. Lifeway Research recently conducted a survey and discovered a host of reasons why people leave Bible study groups. I was surprised by some of the findings. Take a look at the chart below, taken from the eBook Together: The Power of Groups. There is some good news for groups and group leaders in this graphic.
First, note that the number one reason people stop attending a group is beyond the control of the group or the group leader. “Changes in my life situation” is why 40% of attendees stop participating. People’s jobs often keep them from attending because they are required to work when the group meets (i.e. Sunday morning). Sometimes people move away and are no longer in the community. In a small percentage of cases, the person dies or experiences a prolonged illness. All are out of the control of the group leader. That’s good news.
The second highest reason why people leave a group is within the church’s (or the group’s) control. 36% of people vote with their feet simply because the group ended. That’s a high percentage of people who the church has to convince to come back when groups restart.
If your small groups or Sunday School classes for adults are only offered during specific seasons or if you ask participants to find a new group each quarter or semester, you are providing them with an off-ramp from groups. When someone exits, they will not automatically resume participating when your new groups resume. If you believe in the power of groups, you will want as many people as possible to participate. Creating off-ramps from these experiences is counterproductive. In fact, for 36 percent of those not in a group, the reason is there was an off-ramp.Together: The Power of Groups, 21
The third observation from the chart above is surprising: small percentages of people leave groups for things that you might think were “deal breakers.” As you look at the other reasons people disconnect with groups, take notice that they don’t leave in large numbers because of the Bible study content, the group leader, or other people in the group. Also note that people don’t vote with their feet in high percentages when you consider the impact of friends (or a group leader) leaving the group. For the most part, things are relatively stable in group life once you get a person (or a couple) connected to one of your church’s Bible study groups! That is great news for the local church.
So what do you do with this new information? My big takeaway is that I shouldn’t worry about the #1 reason people leave (I can’t control it, anyway). If I’m going to do anything to curtail people “voting with their feet,” I’ll work with my church’s pastor or other staff leaders to keep my group meeting all year long, and not just seasonally. If I want to reduce the percentage of people who vote with their feet, I’ll want my group to meet as frequently as possible with no breaks. In the world of groups, we call these kinds of groups “ongoing” groups. If your group stops and starts throughout the year, how might you turn that into an ongoing group? Your people’s feet could do other things besides vote.