Keep the Front Door Wide Open

November 1, 2012 — 5 Comments

Closing the back door is more about keeping the front door wide open. The spirit and atmosphere that makes a church inviting is the same spirit and atmosphere that makes people want to stay.

Church leaders have been talking about “closing the back door” for years. It’s a good conversation. After all, it is frustrating to see visitors come, people say yes to Jesus, get baptized and maybe even attend a new Christian’s class. And yet, the church still struggles to grow. People seem to be coming in the front and going out the back.

When the equation reveals that the number leaving nearly equals the number coming, that demands attention. However, it seems like in many of the conversations, though unintended I’m sure, it sounds like the church leaders are trying to “keep” people rather than to lead them, inspire them, and help them grow.

The truth is, you can’t keep anyone. I know you wouldn’t literally try to keep someone, but this is more than semantics. It’s about how you and I think as a leader.

Trying to keep people is leading on the defense, you never really lead, you chase. When you lead on the offense you are out in front inviting.

Last week a sharp pastor in a large church asked me about how much effort should be put into going after people who leave. My answer is very little. It’s not that you don’t care, it’s that the amount of energy you invest in chasing people who don’t want to be chased is highly unproductive. It is very uncommon that a person who left the church will come back.

The push back is that it’s worth it if just one comes back. Yes and no. If we’re talking about salvation, of course I agree. One soul means everything. But, let’s be honest and look at the other side. What if the same investment of time and energy to chase one that may or may not come back (and usually will not) brought in ten new people? Now repeat that one hundred times. Again, chasing people who don’t want to be chased is usually highly unproductive.

So, yes, your connection processes are important. From newcomers gatherings to small groups, make spirit and atmosphere in your church a place people want to be! (0ffense) But don’t do it in order to “keep” them. (Defense) Remind yourself you can’t keep anyone. Lead them. Love them. Inspire them. Grow them… and they are highly likely to stay!


  • Tony

    Great post. This opened my eyes on some things.
    I was wondering if people give off hints that they don’t want to be chased?
    I am a youth pastor and find myself chasing these students. Some come back for a month or two and are gone again. When do you finally say ok I’m done? Thanks.

    • Dan Reiland

      Sure, people definitely give off hints they don’t want to be chased. The main one is lack of response. I love that you have a heart to chase students, don’t lose that heart as you lead, but pour your leadership time and effort into students who have not yet attended, students that are new and students that want to grow. As for when you finally say “I’m done” — different in different cases but for a student ministry, after about 2-3 months, it’s time to move on — let them know you are “here and available” — then it’s up to them.

      • Tony

        Thanks for the response. This helps a lot. Thanks again!

  • David Lyons

    Interesting perspective. I agree that it’s like leading on the defense. I’d also say that most (if not all) churches/leaders are trying to “lead them, inspire them, and help them grow.”

    So, the question is, why are they still leaving? Of course, there will always be those who leave regardless of what efforts are made, but what about the others?

    It may have to with the direction they’re being led, the way they’re being inspired, and/or the approach/efforts to help them grow…

    Maybe you could write a post that could help church leaders define some effective ways to help them determine the “how to’s” of leading, inspiring, and growing.

    As always, thank you – David

    • Dan Reiland

      Insightful! Good comments… and yours is the million dollar question . . . so why ARE they leaving? Of course, many possibilities, but if its true that everything rises and falls on leadership, then we have to look there first. That means it’s not really the programs, small groups, and processes as much as the culture, vision and momentum of the church. That’s what makes the stuff we do sticky!!