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Why People Leave a Church

In the early days of my ministry, not many people left our church.  I was in a rural area, there wasn’t much competition and people were loyal to the institutions of their community.  They would no more leave our church than they would send their children to another high school, stop doing business at our only bank or stop shopping at our local grocery store.  They were loyal to the few institutions they had because they instinctively knew if they didn’t support them, they would lose them.

When people left our church it was normally for one of four reasons:

  1. Move This really didn’t come up very often except for our young people. Not many people moved into our community, fewer moved out but there wasn’t much of an economy to keep the students, especially those who went to college.  Some young people left but everyone else tended to stay.
  2. Mad When people did leave, it was normally because they were mad at someone; it might be me but more often, it was with someone else about something outside of church. It was bleed-over kind of mad.  Teacher strikes, competition for farmland coming up for sale and community political squabbles fueled people getting mad but honestly, it didn’t happen very often either.  And when people quit, they usually came back.
  3. Shut-in Our main back door consisted of older people who simply couldn’t make it to church in bad weather, then not in the winter and then not at all. They would soon move from home to an assisted care facility or move in with family but they still read every word in the newsletter and considered us their church.
  4. Die Death was clearly the most acceptable reason to quit church and the whole community showed up to celebrate life and our great faith. Growing up in a church and dying in that same church was empirical evidence of a life lived well.

That was about it.  Then the world changed, I moved to the suburbs and after a few years our medium sized church became huge. I had heard about the back doors in big churches but in recent years, I have found such back doors to be universally true.  Our congregation has grown every year for twenty-one straight years but we continue to lose a lot of people through the backdoor.  This troubled me greatly for years but upon prayer and thought, I am beginning to see things a bit differently these days.

Here is why people leave our church:

  1. Consumers Because we live in the age of the consumer, some people have no more institutional loyalty to a church than they do a big box store or a restaurant. They shop widely for goods and services (including the internet), want them as cheap as possible and often utilize the ministries of two or three churches to meet their needs.  They send their kids to day care here, worship there; Bible School here and take a Bible Study there.
  2. Called We live in an era of bi-vocational lay ministers and I think this is a great thing. But as a result, many gifted leaders seek a “call” to a congregation and when they can’t conduct the exact ministry they came to offer or feel their ministry is complete they move on.  They are not mad; they are “released.”  They came to serve…and to leave.
  3. Loss of Connection This one gets a lot of press and it should. In a virtual world, people are clearly longing for real relationships.  They want to do life with people who know their names and are of the same age and stage.  Or at least they think they want to.  Though we offer many such opportunities, many still can’t find that desired connection and some particularly find such a connection challenging in a large church.  It is naïve to think people will stay if you offer more programs.  It often really isn’t you, it is them.
  4. Objectors In a polarized culture, more and more people can’t imagine attending a church where people in leadership don’t share their positions on social and political issues they deem to be important.  This is a new one but we are going to see more and more of it.  It is much less a sign of the kingdom than a sign of the times.
  5. Drifters I used to call these church hoppers but drifters sounds cooler and less judgmental. These folks, and there are a lot of them, just drift from church to church (mainly large ones) and don’t take root anywhere.  They are looking for a personal faith tips, entertainment, bore easily, don’t volunteer, don’t give and would prefer to live out their faith in anonymous fashion.  When the church calls upon its members to step up for something like a building project or a capital campaign, they simply move on.  No harm.  No foul.  Individual churches are like shelters along the Appalachian Trail for these folks; you stay for the night and continue your personal journey.

I am suggesting that is not always the church’s fault when people leave and sometimes it is not anyone’s fault.  In this new world, people are going to stop by your church and mine as they travel though life.  Many of these folks will stay for a while and move on.  Rather than worry about things you can’t change, I suggest you pour all the Jesus you can into people while you have them.  That way, whether they leave tomorrow or stay for a lifetime, you will have given them something of true worth!

Empty Church

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

What Grandkids Teach us about God

It is amazing how much our grandchildren teach us…

Rev. Shane L. Bishop

Crazy About Them

(Fairview Heights, Illinois circa 2013)

 

Fridays are normally a day with the grandchildren.  Melissa watches all four of them each weekday and since I take Fridays off, we are all in the house together all day.  I used to sleep in every Friday, take the dog on a late walk, take a shower, eat some lunch out and then piddle for the rest of the day but that was before we had grandchildren…things are different now.

Last Friday, I had planned to take my oldest grandson Maddox to Chic-Fil-A.  This one-on-one time always goes well and it gives Melissa a three-to-one ratio for a couple of hours.  However, I discovered that my granddaughter Mabry was coming along as well and suddenly it didn’t seem right to leave Elijah at home.  In a moment of extreme courage, I determined to take all three of them (ages four…

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The Road to Success (may not be what you are thinking)

Success is a fascinating concept.  It is something we all desire but we are not exactly sure of what it consists.  So we must each determine what success looks like for us.

Social Media has become the new trophy case for success and it is filled one a post at a time.  The messages are clear; I have friends, I am happy, I have new things, my kids are talented, we go to cool places, we are beautiful, I work out and the trophies keep piling up.  As people post the subjective evidence of their successes; friends and followers wonder if they are comparatively successful.  “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to post THAT?”  And the moment they can, they do and in this way, insecurity plays forward; it’s like a pyramid scheme for neurosis.

For our purposes, I will define success as the achievement of worthwhile ambitions.  Success begins the precise moment we stop having to prove to ourselves that we are successful.  Success is achieved the moment we stop having to prove to others that we are successful.

So let’s ask the big question: “Can you actually pursue success?”  “Yes.”  I believe success comes intentionally and the best route to it is found by following the steps of those who have already arrived.

Here are some observations formed by watching successful people over the decades.

Successful people…

  1. Have defined success. They know what a win looks like for them and they get all of them that they can.
  2. Stay positive. I don’t see negative people succeeding. At anything. Ever.
  3. Are 100% present where they are. There is no attempt to balance.  Whether are work, at home or at play, these folks give all they have to what they are doing right now.
  4. Work hard at the right things. They are efficient. They understand that it is not “how long you work;” it is “how smart you work.”
  5. Are risk takers, not gamblers.
  6. Want to make a difference.  True success is bigger than how much money you can make or how high up the ladder you can climb.
  7. Take personal responsibility for failure. They own, learn and grow from their misses, miscalculations and miscues.
  8. Make other people successful. Success wants to be shared and elevates others.
  9. Prepare for future opportunities. Over the course of a lifetime there are a handful of defining moments. Being prepared to stand and deliver when these moments arrive is the testimony of every successful person.
  10. Refuse entitlement. This is a choice that has to be made every single day.
  11. Give back.  Generosity does not come “after people have made it.” Generosity is a virtue successful people have practiced all along.
  12. Leave a Legacy. 

When I talk to successful people, I consistently discover they have been doing these things long before they “made it.” You see, these twelve things are not just what successful people do; they are how people become successful!

Jesus asked the question, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?”  It is the question we all must answer.  Successful people emerge from this life with their legacies secured, their relationships strong and their souls intact.

Valley of the Doves Shane

 

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.   He is the author of “12 Things I See Happy People Do (that unhappy do not)” and the book “Love God. Love People. Don’t Do Dumb Crap.”

Scars and All (Tremont People)

Scars and All

 

I recently drove along a gravel road that was once a bed for a logging railroad tracks near Townsend, Tennessee. The wooded area called Tremont is beautiful with a stream running through it that jumps from one side of the raised road to the other. I paid my dollar and picked up an auto guide that relayed a story that was difficult to believe.

 

About 100 years ago about 2/3rds of the present Great Smoky Mountains National Park was clear cut. The pictures are stark and unbelievable. Loggers pulled down the trees, great steam machines loaded massive trunks on box cars and geared steam engines pushed the cars about four or five miles to a sawmill a few hundred yards from my (not five star) motel.

 

Workers and families lived in 12×12 portable shelters that lined the railroad tracks giving rise to names like Stringtown. They rented for one dollar per month. Erosion ravaged the picked bare mountains and sparks from steam engines ignited forest fires that burned for days or weeks.

Then one day the area became a national park. The loggers left, the hotel closed; the saw-mill cut its last board in 1938.  It was a veritable disaster.

 

Then there was a long slumber as the land was given time to heal. Decade after decade the land healed. Now some 75 years later, you would never believe the desolation that now can only be verified by photographs and scars barely discernible if you know where to look: A pipe just rising above the ground here; a braided metal wire there buried in a tree with its origin in a rock. The casual observer would not see these scars, they would see only splendor. These mountains are healed.

 

I know a lot of Tremont people.  They are people with old scars and deep pain that have somehow healed, mended and soften over time. To look at these folks today, their lives would not even hint of their troubled pasts for they have become pristine, beautiful and again made whole.

 

Healing a person, like healing a forest takes time, intentionality and care. Such healings are compelling testimony to a loving and restoring God.

 

That is why our personal stories of restoration and healing must be shared…scars and all.

 

-From “Love God. Love People. Don’t Do Dumb Crap.”

TREMONT

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997

Late Summer Musings on the Wesleyan Covenant Association

Rev. Shane L. Bishop

For years, I stood in the middle ground of the United Methodist Church.  Right-middle to be sure but middle none-the-less.  My plan was to batten down the proverbial hatches, keep Christ Church growing (we have grown for twenty-one consecutive years) and hope the denominational storm would pass.  When asked about my lack of denominational positioning, I would respond, “I am going to hold the middle until there isn’t a middle anymore and then I am jumping right.”  The storm did not pass.  I jumped right.  In the aftermath of the 2016 General Conference, I lost hope there was enough true middle to realistically occupy…and there were too few people holding it.  I mourned for a couple of months and then I accepted an invitation to join the Council of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

Since joining WCA exactly none of my positions concerning the denomination have changed.  Nothing has changed in…

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Musings on the UMC and the Wesleyan Covenant Association

For years, I stood in the middle ground of the United Methodist Church.  Right-middle to be sure but middle none-the-less.  My plan was to batten down the proverbial hatches, keep Christ Church growing (we have grown for twenty-one consecutive years) and hope the denominational storm would pass.  When asked about my lack of denominational positioning, I would respond, “I am going to hold the middle until there isn’t a middle anymore and then I am jumping right.”  The storm did not pass.  I jumped right.  In the aftermath of the 2016 General Conference, I lost hope there was enough true middle to realistically occupy…and there were too few people holding it.  I mourned for a couple of months and then I accepted an invitation to join the Council of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. I could not sit idly by and watch the UMC change into something of which I could not be a part.

Since joining WCA exactly none of my positions concerning the denomination have changed.  Nothing has changed in my leadership at Christ Church, the content of the messages I preach or my upbeat attitude toward faith and life.  I have never considered Christian people who think differently than me to be my enemies.  Still don’t.  I do not doubt or disparage their positions, nor do I deny their right to hold them.  I don’t think they are evil.  I just disagree with them.  In addition, I do not plan to spend time defending and debating my positions or attempting to get others to rally to them.  This is all you are going to get out of me.  A blog.  So if you are hoping for a popping on-line debate, I will take a “hard pass.”  This is just where I stand.  With no ill will.  In good conscience.  Always smiling.

I have a burning desire to see the churches of this tribe flourish and I am hopeful we can find a way to keep our wildly diverse denomination under one roof with integrity.  Yes, you read this correctly; I am a part of WCA but I am hopeful United Methodism can stay together.  Staying together may not be possible or even best but it is certainly worth our best efforts.  I prayed for the Commission on a Way Forward and for the Bishops.  I pray for the 2019 Special Session of General Conference.  I pray for all of us caught in the “meantime.”

I have written much concerning United Methodism over the years; primarily along the themes of turning around our decades of decline, getting back on mission and the intentional development of leadership.  This is where I think our real challenge lies.  Even if we suddenly agreed on everything concerning human sexuality, we would still be in precipitous decline in the American church.  Too many of our churches are off-mission.  Too many of our clergy are ineffective.  Too many of our structures are anachronistic.  On top of that, we have collectively digressed into the lack of civility concerning our differences that plagues our larger culture.  I once thought our challenges were a tempest in a teapot. I now believe we are a teapot in a tempest. We are in need of the kind of fresh wind and fresh fire that produces professions of faith, baptisms, committed disciples of Jesus Christ and unapologetic evangelism.  We need to address our in-house differences civilly and as quickly as possible for the purpose of focusing our collective attention toward our shared mission.  United Methodists, regardless of theological convictions, need better “weather” in which to pursue our mission of “making disciples for the transformation of the world.”  The end game must be to powerfully recover our mission, not to preserve our structures.

The formation of Wesleyan Covenant Association has invited a spirit of revival and counts some of our most effective pastors and most dynamic congregations among its members.  As a member of the WCA Council and I have found this incredibly gifted group to be thoughtful, warm and loving people…toward everyone.  This Council defies the modern notion that being an orthodox Christian makes you a hateful person. WCA has provided community for many, inspired hope for the future and has allowed the Bishops and the 2019 delegates to get an accurate reading of where many United Methodist pastors and churches actually stand.  I think this is a good thing.  It is not just the people who scream the loudest who need to be heard.

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Fairview Heights Christ in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

10 Game Changing Choices You Can Make Right Now (That Non-game Changers Won’t Make)

Rev. Shane L. Bishop

1. Choose to be happy

That is right, happiness is a choice. It is not a natural disposition or a matter of favorable circumstances. Choosing to be happy has no down side. It makes things better for everyone…including you!

2. Choose to not be offended

Make people work really hard to offend you this year. After all, why should you have a bad day because someone ELSE is an insensitive idiot? Don’t let other people’s problems become your problem.

3) Choose to control impulses

Often the things we DON’T say, post or tweet are our best decisions of the day. Just let it go. You don’t have to respond. You just don’t…

4) Choose to not do dumb crap

For me, this comes down to a simple question, “Could anything good possibly come from what I am about to do?” If the answer is “no” or “probably not,” don’t do…

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