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Jan27TueFive reasons new people leave our corps. January 27, 2015 by Captain Scott Strissel
From time to time, every church struggles with attracting and keeping new members. While it's not about numbers or filling pews in the church, a healthy church is a growing church. Jesus had a lot to say about making disciples. Needs have to be met. Souls have to be sought. A ministry niche has to be cultivated.
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
What is your corps' niche? I don't mean a lure to pull people in. I mean what does it look like for us to follow Paul's instructions and become “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22)? How can we not only stop new people from leaving, but keep them coming back and getting involved in our ministries?
Here are five reasons newcomers leave our corps after only a few visits. It's not an exhaustive list, but rather a primer for a complicated topic. How can we devise fresh approaches that welcome and retain new members?
1. Felt Unwelcome
It seems obvious and yet first-time visitors to our corps need to be shown friendliness. Generally, they don't want to stand up and be recognized as a “new visitor,” but they would like a few people to talk to them and show an interest in who they are. They want people to remember their names. No one should ever feel unwelcome in our buildings. After all, we are here to minister to the whosoever … right?
2. Lack of Fellowship
I love it when people linger and talk after the service. It's a sign that people care for one another, that there is real fellowship in the corps. Visitors can sense when there is division instead of unity. I'm not talking about some sort of “sixth sense” here; it's just obvious in certain types of body language that something is off about the fellowship … or lack thereof. New people want a place to fit in, a sense of belonging. They want to go out for coffee or lunch together following a service. But if division in the corps is causing a quick exit after the service, you can be sure new people will disappear very quickly, too.
3. No Ministry Geared for Their Generation
We serve many generations in our corps. We need to maintain a balance in how we minister. If you have 30 young adults in your congregation, there ought to be something specific to reach them at a deeper level during the week. If you have a primarily senior corps and only a handful of teens, make sure you have something for the seniors as well as the teens. When a newcomer visits your corps, is there a ministry that feeds them spiritually and a place for them to serve?
4. Army Lingo Not Explained
Sunday announcement: “Next week the DC will be here to install the YPSM. Don't forget about DYB coming up shortly in preparation for youth councils.” I understood what that was about and perhaps you did, too—but the new person in the back pew has no clue what we're talking about. Foreign terminology in a new place can be intimidating and can make a newcomer feel like an outsider. This doesn't mean we have to stop the announcements, but don't use Army lingo without explaining the terms.
5. Members Fear New Visitors
Some corps members do not like change, and new people are a form of change. They may complain that we need “new blood” in our corps and yet when that “new blood” walks through the door, they treat them with as much disdain as a new worship song. They might not even know they are acting this way. Some corps members are intimidated by new people—they may even feel they might lose power because the new person seems more energetic, charismatic or educated, and begin to show subtle aggression. The newcomer will sense hostility without understanding why. Change is hard, but how can we keep new people coming back if we're afraid of change—even for the good? Education needs to take place.
Be sensitive to the needs of new people. We don't have to cater solely to them, but we ought to make our worship spaces available and friendly so that all are welcomed, the new and the not-so-new. Beware of possible hurdles new people might have to jump in order to “fit in.” Finding a new place to worship isn't easy, especially if this new person has never gone to church before. We are the body of Christ and as we extend his love to new people, may we display to them and each other genuine love, compassion and grace. May our fellowship be so sweet that we linger in each other's company. May we seek to minister to all people. Finally, may we be open to change and, with the grace of God, usher in new soldiers for this mighty work.
Captain Scott Strissel lives in Brainerd, Minnesota. He is an active blogger and contributor for the purpose of encouraging and challenging the Salvation Army world. Read his blog at pastorsponderings.org.