by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

A conversation with a young mom was a giant “aha” for me regarding the revolving back door of congregations.

She said, “We’ve been taking our children to worship at the congregation I grew up in forever. My husband and I have been very active leaders in this congregation and even though we have moved across town, we felt like the drive was worth it because it matters to us to be known in our church.”

Then she paused and I could feel her emotions rising. “But lately we have been wondering if we are the only ones who feel this way.”

She continued, “My husband and I have considered moving to a nearby congregation. With that in mind, we have said no to new invitations into leadership. We have not been in worship much lately, mostly due to travel and sick kids. Not one single person has seemed to notice. I guess I am wondering if it matters more to us to be known then it does to everyone there to actually know us.”

She paused again before adding, “I guess they will notice when we stop giving because we’ve transferred to another congregation. It really breaks my heart because I love that congregation.”

Closing the back door to the congregation means ramping up relational currency. Just as the flight attendant reminds us that “we know you have choices, thanks for choosing us” at the end of a flight, people who actually want to be in church have choices too. We are quick to think people leave because of programs, but what if the truth is that they leave because of us?

Ouch! I know it hurts to think like this, but what if leaders in the church paid more attention to the people around them? What if instead of talking about people, we talked with them? Just asking each other, “Has anyone seen this person lately?” is not the same as checking in on the person who is not showing up. A great next step after noticing someone is missing is to send an email or make a phone call.

Are we all so maxed out on doing ministry that we miss the deeper need we have to be in relationship with each other?

Imagine if every leader (all staff, council, committee, and team leaders) had, as a metric, how many people they actually know at church. Knowing people means recognizing when they don’t show up, when they are in crisis, or when they need the church to celebrate with them. I know the to-do list is long, but, in the end, I am not sure anything on the list matters more than paying attention to relationships. We can close (or almost close) our back door by loving the people who walk through the front door a little more.