So here's my best-but-surely-flawed shot at explaining what happened. Bottom line: more people left than usual and less people joined than usual. If we had reached more people this past year at a rate similar to other years, we would not have had nearly the shortfall in growth or in finances (I''ll address this in another post). But I think we would still have had some troubles because enough people left to make a serious dent, and there was a lot of sadness in many of our members over those who left. It hurt morale. I personally was reeling and have talked to others who felt the same way. Add to this long-time leaders/friends/staff that moved away like the Westurn's, Thomas', Jackson's, Bents', Johnson's, and LaCroix's (transitioning to leave). (I think I missed one or two others, but I'm tired and it's late right now.)
So why did so many people leave? My analysis is based on several "exit interviews" and conversations with others who are still here but talked to those who exited.
I think a perfect storm of factors led to a larger than usual number of exits. But I think it's important to note that most of the folks that left this last year had been dissatisfied for quite a while. It's a little disconcerting when someone seems to have to go back five or more years to talk about the good old days at Five Oaks or a series they felt exemplified the best of my preaching.
Among the reasons I heard for people leaving included (with most people offering multiple reasons):
- We're not doing enough to disciple believers.
- Disagreements with leadership decisions, sometimes dating back five years.
- Personal offenses, some dating back two years.
- Not being fed spiritually and leaving the service "empty" week after week.
- The worship style, quality, leadership, changes, lights, staging, song choices, etc.
- The way we do small groups or their small group experience in particular.
- Not enough emphasis on one ministry or another that is dear to them.
- Too seeker oriented.
- Unduly influenced by places like Saddleback and Willow Creek.
- A very particular dislike for specific series like No Perfect People Allowed, U2CanRocktheWorld and even The Naked Truth About Sex from 2006.
- The desire to find a place that "just teaches the Bible" or "teaches the Bible and only the Bible."
- Particular comments I made in a sermon or this blog.
- The need for change in their own lives.
- They like us but some family members don't and they wanted to go with their family members (I know of at least three instances of this one).
I could go on. I'm not listing some that were more personal and pointed...but I think you get the idea. And some themes began to emerge for me the more I listened.
The tipping point--the big dip in attendance which was then reflected in the general fund--was Easter. Our infamous Easter service that didn't feel much like Easter. For most of these folks it seems that my apology came too late and didn't cover enough of their concerns.
Okay, I'm ready now to give my analysis, but this post is already too long, so it will have to wait. Be back soon.