I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by the poaching that I see going on between different church congregations. There seems to be a constant flux of people moving from one church to another–looking for something that they didn’t find in their previous church.
Maybe they didn’t like the music, or the children’s ministry, or the small groups, or somebody said something that offended them. Perhaps they wanted a church that offers more service opportunities, or maybe they are just following the recommendation of a friend who has told them how impressive another church is. (I recognize that there are perfectly legitimate reasons for finding a new church. Please know that I’m not condemning everyone who leaves their church.)
You will also find churches who actively encourage churchgoers from other congregations to start attending their church. For whatever reason, they believe themselves to be in the right. When you combine these two elements, you can see how small churches are suffering.
I live in a small town and attend a small church. Even though we are collaborating with other churches for youth group, we still have a small group. Both to the north and south of us (about 1/2 hour for both), there is a large church with a large youth ministry. They both have party-like atmospheres, which is particularly attractive to teens. We’ve lost several of our teens to each of these groups. I can’t blame the teens–it’s in their nature to want to congregate in that type of setting. Who could say no to free pizza, right? It really is a terribly sad and disheartening thing for those of us who are left, though. When you have such a small group to begin with, you cannot help but feel the absence when members leave.
I won’t claim that our youth group is party central, but we are a committed group of adults who want to build relationships with these teens and help them learn what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. It requires steady application, study of God’s word, regular fellowship, and service in your own little corner of the world to fully develop into an authentic Christ-follower. I am sad about each of these teens who has gone off in search of something more exciting. It makes me wonder though, shouldn’t church be more about quality than quantity? So what if we have a room packed with 100 kids, but their faith isn’t being formed in a way that will see them through college and adulthood? I’d rather focus on fewer teens and invest in them in a way that will impact the rest of their lives.
Small churches as a whole cannot keep up with large churches in terms of professional music, luxurious children’s facilities, 101 small groups to choose from, giant block parties, and a concert-like feel at every service. We also differ in that small churches really do need all members to contribute, if they are to keep afloat.
In our consumerist society, most people want to come to church as consumers. They want their preferences to be catered to; they want to come and go as they like; and they certainly don’t want to feel like they have to share more than a small load in the work. I can see why people would want to attend a large church where they can remain anonymous, and not much is asked or expected of them. It’s a whole lot easier than going somewhere where everyone knows your name and personal business, and you have to carry a portion of the load every week.
I’m not against people finding the church that fits them best. However, I think it is very foolish when people continue to church shop over and over again, never settling down and contributing in a meaningful way to one church body.
The thing that irks me even more, however, is when churches poach congregants from another church. Some do it unwittingly, but there are others who know full well what they are doing.
There are several effects that poaching has…
- Smaller churches are robbed of their members, because they cannot compete with the more showy trappings of a large church.
- It breaks the relationships that have already been established in the church that is being left behind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed this–more than I care to think about. It feels like losing a member of your family.
- Small churches have to get by with reduced manpower, funds, and talents. This is incredibly difficult and it wears on the members, causing some of them to burn out.
- Local communities are robbed of the Christian influence and good works that its poached members would have provided. It’s a drain on the community, and it’s unfair.
- It creates an unhealthy dynamic within the Church. Congregations start to see one another as competition, instead of feeling confident enough in their roles that they can work together without fear.
This is my plea to larger churches:
- Please think about the way that you go about getting new members. Are you aiming at getting new converts, or at getting people who already attend another church? Are you more concerned with numbers, than with who you are reaching? What good are you really accomplishing by relocating Christians to your facility?
- Pay particular attention to the quality of the Christian experience you are offering to believers. Do you give them the opportunity to minister in meaningful ways in their local communities? Do you challenge them to live out God’s will in their daily lives? Is there any way that congregants are kept accountable in their Christian walk? Do your congregants ever have to go through experiences in your church that challenge their faith and help them to grow in it? Is there the opportunity for people to develop authentic personal relationships with one another that are nurtured outside of church?
- Encourage Christians who have relocated to your church to go back to their old churches and deal with any unresolved issues that they have left behind. It is unwise to allow people to relocate to a new church, without making them deal with the garbage they have left in their wake. When our church was torn apart, the couple that caused much of the damage left without having to deal with the mess they left behind. While those of us who stayed had to do damage control and try to piece things together, they were allowed to join in the ministry team of a large church not too far away. I will never understand how that was justified, and it taught me a great lesson about the importance of dealing with your own issues.
If you are a person who has been poached from another church, please take the time to think about the impact this has had on your local church. Might your absence have created some difficulties for the other members? Who did you leave behind? Did you break any relationships? What is it that prompted you to leave in the first place? Was it a valid reason for leaving? Talk to God and ask Him what you should do going forward.