The Leaky Bucket: Examining Church Dropouts

Have you ever carried a leaky bucket?  One that, no matter how cautiously you carried it or how carefully you patched it up, just won’t stop dripping? Even if you haven’t been in such a situation, it’s obvious that you couldn’t let the bucket drip indefinitely.  Think of the cost - how much water you would waste and how high your water bill would be if you had to continue refilling the bucket! 

How would you ultimately deal with the water leakage?  Maybe you would watch a video online that taught you how to properly patch your bucket.  Or, perhaps, you might get out your toolbox and tinker with them to get it to stop dripping.  Or, maybe as a last resort, you might seek out an expert to fix the leak. No matter what, one thing remains clear: you will not let the bucket continue to drip!

Now think about our Church.  Have you noticed any “leaking” of church members in your local congregation?  People who attend for any amount of time, but then suddenly disappear?  What is being done to reclaim the dropouts from our Church?

According to a recent study, 39.25% of all members over the last 50 years have left the Church (Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, 2015).  Our Church is experiencing the same heartrending trend as many other Christian denominations when it comes to church membership – the number of those leaving continues to increase. To stem this distressing drip, we have learned some important information about individuals who have left the Church.

In 2013, the Center for Creative Ministry conducted an international survey of 925 former or inactive Seventh-day Adventists.  These in-depth interviews looked at respondents’ experience with the church as a whole – from the beginning of their journey to the present. 

Many of the respondents interviewed were not raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Only 30% were brought up in Adventist homes; the remaining 70% were converted at some point in their lives.  Forty-five percent of respondents had been raised or affiliated with another church previously, while 27% reported that they claimed no religion prior to converting to the Adventist Church.

What initially brought respondents into the Adventist church, and what experiences did they have while they were part of the Church?  What events led up to them turning their backs on Adventism?  We are about to embark on a journey together to learn more about those who are leaking out of our church.  While this topic may feel uncomfortable, it is essential that we understand why people leave so that we can both keep current members and find ways to reconnect with those who have left.

For more information, check out:
Survey of Former and Inactive Church Members
2015 General Conference Session Report: Membership Audits and Losses (PDF)
2015 General Conference Session Report: Membership Audits and Losses (PowerPoint)
Nurture, Retention & Discipleship: An Integral Part of Evangelism and Witness
Retention and Reclamation: A Priority For the World Church