closing the back door to the church

As many of you know, we have had 2 very good weeks in terms of attendance at Sunday School and worship.  While I am extremely encouraged by this, it also makes me a bit nervous.  Like you, I want all of our guests and people who are making an effort to reconnect to have a positive experience.   While we can’t, and shouldn’t remove the burden of personal responsibility from those who come needing to be committed; we can do our best to remove any obstacles to getting involved.  The number in attendance is an important measuring tool because every number represents a person. Another number that really matters is how many of those visitors are joining us for a period without ever really getting connected.  Everyone of those numbers is a person who may be lost to the Kingdom.  We have a huge responsibility.

This effort is commonly referred to as the church needing to, “close the back door”.  At Poplar Springs, God blesses us with a steady stream of folks who are coming in the front door.  They visit us at our family friendly events, they visit us in worship, and many visit in a small group.  Reducing the number of folks who visit us in one form or another, never connect, and then quietly disappear is a big part of our effectiveness for the Kingdom.

Thom Rainer and the folks at Lifeway recently conducted a study that reflected the best ways to “close the back door” at church.  Here are the top 4:

The Big 4

Through our research, we discovered that four major factors were at work when churches closed the back door effectively. If all four were in play, the back door closed tight. But any one of these factors still contributes to more effective assimilation.

1. High expectations.

The first “big four” issue is high expectations.

Our research indicates that the American Church went through a period of more than 10 years when churches significantly lowered their expectations of members and attendees. The result was an exodus of people from the church.

“Why would I want to be a part of something that expects nothing of me?” a former active church member told our research team. Many churches are now attempting to remedy this problem with entry point or new member classes, where expectations of service, stewardship, and attendance are clearly established.

2. Small groups.

Second, churches that close the back door seek to get as many of their members as possible into small groups.

In some churches, these groups meet in homes. In other churches, the small group is a Sunday school class that meets at the church.

The key issue, according to our research, is that the small group is an open group, meaning it has no predetermined termination date, and anyone can enter the group at any point.

3. Ministry involvement.

The third key component is ministry involvement.

The earlier a new member or attendee can get involved in a church’s ministries, the higher the likelihood of effective assimilation.

Churches that close the back door have a clear plan to get people involved and doing ministry as quickly as possible.

4. Relationship connections.

Finally, the more new members connect with longer-term members, the greater the opportunity for assimilation.

In an interesting twist in our research, we found that most of these relationships developed before the new member ever came to the church. In other words, members were intentionally developing relationships with people outside the walls of the church. They invited them to church after the relationship had been established.

The interesting thing to me is that Sunday School plays a huge role in each of these factors.  We in Sunday School small group leadership are on the front lines of closing the back door to the church.  Our shared values reflect those opportunities:

Sunday School that W.O.R.K.S.will reflect these values:

Wants to grow

Organized to serve

Reaches out to new people

Keeps people connected

Studies God’s Word together

When we work together to accomplish these things, we will get the job done.  Thanks for all you do!  As always, I appreciate your thoughts and feedback.  Feel free to comment in the feilds below, or on facebook at

We will not have a Sunday School leadership meeting on November 21, due to the church-wide  Thanksgiving service.  Our next meeting will be  on the 5th of December.

Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

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