Closing the Back Door of Your Church: Moving from Entitlement to Servanthood

Numbers of gifted persons and organizations have studied the phenomenon of the church “back door,” the metaphorical way we describe people leaving the church. And there will always be the anticipated themes of relocation or personal crises. We should recognize those issues, though we can respond to the latter more than the former.

But all the research studies of which I am aware, including my own, return to one major theme to explain the exodus of church members: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these members have ideas of what a local congregation should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been met.

Certainly we recognize there are many legitimate claims by church members of unfulfilled expectations. It can undoubtedly be the fault of the local congregation and its leaders.

But many times, probably more than we would like to believe, a church member leaves a local body because he or she has a sense of entitlement. I would therefore suggest that the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality.

Look at some of the direct quotes from exit interviews of people who left local congregations:

  • “The worship leader refused to listen to me about the songs and music I wanted.”
  • “The pastor did not feed me.”
  • “No one from my church visited me.”
  • “I was not about to support the building program they wanted.”
  • “I was out two weeks and no one called me.”
  • “They moved the times of the worship services and it messed up my schedule.”
  • “I told my pastor to go visit my cousin and he never did.”

Please hear me clearly. Church members should expect some level of ministry and concern. But, for a myriad of reasons beyond the scope of this one blogpost, we have turned church membership into country club membership. You pay your dues and you are entitled to certain benefits.

The biblical basis of church membership is clear in Scripture. The Apostle Paul even uses the “member” metaphor to describe what every believer should be like in a local congregation. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul describes church members not by what they should receive in a local church, but by the ministry they should give.

The solution to closing the back door, at least a major part of the solution, is therefore to move members from an entitlement mentality to a servant mentality. Of course, it is easy for me to write about it, but it is a greater challenge to effect it.

May I then offer a few steps of a more practical nature to help close the back door by changing the membership mentality? Here are five:

  1. Inform church members. Though I do not have precise numbers, I would conjecture that more than one-half of church members do not have a biblical understanding about church membership. Providing that information in a new members’ class can move an entire congregation toward a servant mentality.
  2. Raise the bar of expectations. We have dumbed down church membership in many congregations to where it has little meaning. Clarify expectations of members. Again, doing so in the context of a new members’ class is a great way to begin.
  3. Mentor members. Take two or three members and begin to mentor them to become biblical church members. After a season, ask them to mentor two or three as well. Let the process grow exponentially.
  4. Train members. Almost 100 percent of pastors agree that their role is to train and equip members. But almost three-fourths of these pastors have no plans on how they will train them (see Ephesians 4:11-13). I will address this issue more fully on my blog next Wednesday.
  5. Encourage people to be in small groups. Those in Sunday school classes and small groups are more likely to be informed and functioning church members. In others words, there is a much greater likelihood of a member with a servant mentality to be in a small group than not.

What are you doing in your church to close the back door? What are you doing to move members from an entitlement mentality to a servant mentality?

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Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Recent Comments
I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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