Tom Holland and I have been emailing back-and-forth about how small churches keep their members.  Tom and I have both experienced families leaving our churches to go to larger churches where the programs are a draw.  If the two of us are dealing with this issue of “closing the back door” as Thom Rainer puts it in his book, High Expectations:  The Remarkable Secret for Keeping People in Your Church, some of you must be also.

I asked Tom, who pastors Gatetree Church in Danville, California, to tell me something about his church, to which he replied:

“We have accepted the fact that we have a niche. We haven’t abandoned everything else, it’s just that we have a niche. Ours is leading people to faith and baptizing them. We baptize a lot of people for our size church. The common denominator in every family that has moved onto bigger churches is that one or more members in their family trusted Christ at Gatetree. I can accept that as our niche. I still offer a public appeal at the close of every service and people still respond.”

Tom and Gatetree Church are doing some good things to be able to find and lead new people to faith in Christ.  Tom says he does 4 things to incorporate and encourage new members at Gatetree:

  1. “Class #1: Discovering Gatetree is the entry level class into Gatetree Church. It is a one-hour, one-time explanation of who were are — beliefs, core values, structure and strategy. I have recently re-written a portion to address the pros and cons of being a member of Gatetree. As you can imagine, pros far outweigh the cons.
  2. I have returned to addressing our purpose and how each member shares a part in the purpose on a more regular basis. I’m not legalistic about it, but I will try to do this every six months.
  3. When new folks come into our fellowship, we walk a tightrope between giving them time to adjust and hooking them up to a meaningful task of ministry. The rule of thumb used to be six months. I’ve concluded that is way too long.
  4. Tom also said they have high expectations of their members.  Essentially, we say, “Doing church today is not easy and especially for a smaller church. It’s not easy to be a member of Gatetree. The demands are great and the immediate rewards are few and far between. However, if you sense God’s leadership to invest your life into the greatest enterprise the world has ever known, then there’s no better place to do that than Gatetree.”

Tom is using exactly the “backdoor closing” posture that Thom Rainer observed in High Expectations.  And, if you think that Rainer only wrote about big churches, think again.  Half (50.8%) of the churches surveyed had less than 300 in attendance. 

“High expectations” were one of 8 factors Rainer identified in churches that create commitment in their members:  “Effective assimilation churches have one primary characteristic that sets them apart from churches that do not keep their members in active invovlement.  Effective assimilation churches had high expectations of all of their members.”  — High Expectations, pg 23.

Leave a comment or email me on what your church does to keep the people you find.  Let’s get a conversation going about the stuff we’re doing and help each other!