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How to Learn From Those Who’ve Left

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Even churches reporting shining statistics of new members are often losing equal numbers out the back door. What’s happening? Why are they leaving? Do you know? Before you call in a consultant to help analyze the situation, talk to your past customers. Conduct exit interviews! Here’s how:

1. Form a small team of volunteers who are good listeners and won’t get defensive when hearing negative comments about the church. Don’t enlist pastors or other church staff; departed members are not as likely to be candid with them.

2. Assemble a list of those who have gone missing. Contact them personally and let them know they’re missed. Ask if they’d share why they left. Assure them your purpose is simply to listen, not convince them to return.

3. Set up a time to meet personally on neutral ground, such as a restaurant or coffee shop. Don’t try to collect information through written surveys or over the phone.

4. When you meet, reiterate you’re there to listen. Ask for their honesty and candor. For example: “I’d really like to hear about what might have led to your departure. It may help us avoid problems and hurt in the future.”

5. Take notes. Let interviewees know you’d like to pass along helpful information to appropriate people who can make improvements for the future.

6. Sincerely thank them. Extend a heartfelt apology that the church did not measure up to their expectations.

7. Compile the interview results and look for common threads. Prepare a report for church leaders and staff.

8. Take appropriate action to improve your ministry.

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