Fall is back to school time, but it’s also back to church time, according to an article in The Christian Science Monitor, as more people tend to return to church or start shopping around. Apparently more and more churches are accepting the idea of church shopping, deciding they’d rather see members find a church they can stick with than fall away.
But church shopping does have a downside. 1 in 4 church attendees started coming to their current congregation in the last five years. Of those newbies, only 7 percent are entirely new to church. That means a whole lot of folks are church hopping.
The fear with that kind of congregation hopping is that people are leaving because of conflict and refusing to reconcile differences. Forgiveness seems like something Christians should be good at.
There are other issues at hand, including a consumer mentality looking for what churches can do for us. Perhaps we need to “Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church,” to rephrase the famous John F. Kennedy quote (which I’m sure I read somewhere: maybe Spencer Burke’s Making Sense of Church?) No church is perfect, and continually looking for the best preaching, the best choir, or the best children’s ministry is going to be an endless search.
So what does church shopping mean for church marketing?
- All types of people are looking for a faith community to call their own. Make sure your services are accepting and inviting. No really: is your congregation genuinely friendly? Do you make people feel welcome? It’s easy to think your church is visitor-friendly simply because you feel welcome. Try to imagine the perspective of an outsider who can’t find the Fellowship Hall, let alone a bathroom.
- It’s fine if someone leaves another church to call yours home, but it might be wise to make sure there aren’t unresolved issues with their previous congregation. It’d be a shame for conflict to arise in your congregation and have them hop off to another church. Of course it’s a rather sensitive topic, something a pastor might want to address.
- If you notice familiar faces have disappeared from their usual pew, it might be time to check in and see what’s up. If they’ve decided to leave your congregation, don’t take it personally. Encourage them to find another church home and find out why they left. An informal church member exit interview might help uncover some common and easily remedied problems.