One of the things that really concerns Christians is the problem of church drop-outs. To use the language of the parable of the sower and soils (Matthew 13), these might be the ones who are on thorny or rocky ground, the people who come to Christ but then slip out the back door.
People spend a lot of time writing about why people leave and what can be done to stop them, but the most helpful “cure” is one that can be done by any of us. If we notice that people are disengaging, we can act!
Dr. John Savage identified what he called the “drop-out” track. In his studies, he recognized five stages and warning signs that people are heading towards the back door. Take a look at these and see if they can make you a more helpful brother or sister in Christ.
- Differentiating. When people start to say “your” church instead of “our” church, they are already moving towards the door. If they glorify the “good ol’ days” and talk about all of your missed opportunities, they no longer see themselves as part of the family.
- Chilling. Did someone who used to be warm and talkative suddenly go cold? When a person only gives you the polite formalities and social niceties, they’re beginning to leave.
- Questioning. Some questions are real and helpful. Other times, they’re just a cover for criticism. “I wonder if I offended the elders, since none of them pay attention to me anymore.”
- Sabotaging. This is the stage where gossip abounds. They will “forget” to be involved or help in areas that they previously served in an attempt to make the church miss them.
- Terminating. They announce their plans to leave. Attendance becomes erratic.
(You can read more about this at http://www.leadplus.com/Articles.htm)
If we keep our eyes open to these signs in our brothers and sisters, we might be able to help people before they leave the family. It’s always easier to prevent someone from leaving than to help them come back. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
One more thought: in Luke 15 there are the parables of lost-and-found (coins, sheep, and sons). One of the most significant thoughts in each story is this: somebody noticed what was missing!