Jackson Doggette has been in local church ministry for decades and has based his new book Retaining the Harvest on the following New Testament Passage. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” – Matthew 28:18-20.
Church growth! The primary agenda of the Christian church is evangelism or making disciples of Jesus Christ. However, it seems most churches stop at obtaining baptisms and almost totally ignore Jesus’ command to make disciples.
Each year, literally millions of dollars are spent on various evangelistic efforts. Thousands of people join the church. Unfortunately, thousands of people also disappear from the church through the “back door.” From the “convert’s” perspective, why does this happen?
My first assignment as a church consultant in 1979 was to answer this question for a particular church organization. Among the more than fifty people I interviewed who joined the church through a specific tent meeting but left before year-end was James Jefferson*, a white-collar professional. James attended the tent meeting at the invitation of a co-worker. The great singing wowed him. The terrific preaching moved him. The constant personal attention impressed him. He was baptized at the tent and subsequently introduced to his new church family.
James noticed immediately that he did not know anyone at “his” new church. He had developed a relationship with the paid Bible Instructors and the visiting evangelist who had moved on to another evangelistic campaign. After being ignored for the next six weeks, except for the formal “greeting” period during service and his attempts to speak to members, James decided to go back to the church where he had real relationships with people he knew and loved. Imagine if James was not a church member before his decision to be baptized at the tent and had no church to go back to.
Do you recognize James’ story? Chances are pretty good that many people who fit James’ profile have come and gone from your church. This member hemorrhaging might have something to do with how Christians think about evangelism.
Evangelistic and church growth efforts have advanced with technology. However, the excellent glitzy satellite-supported global NET meetings and church planting initiatives continue to emphasize baptisms and not disciple-making, retention, or mission. Is this focused emphasis on baptisms accomplishing the intended goal of increasing stable membership in the church? The evidence indicates it is not.
In Is America’s Faith Shifting?, an article published by The Barna Group way back on February 24, 2003, George Barna notes, “The research confirmed what more traditional measures have been suggesting: little is changing in the religious realm, despite a lot of discourse regarding new models of church experience and the need for a deeper faith commitment.“ There is certainly a lot of evidence of people church hopping and experimenting with congregations of different sizes and theological persuasions, but the end result is that there is little evidence of “outside-the-box activity,” reasoned George Barna, who directed the survey. “For the most part, people are staying put in their faith: a little tinkering here and there, but generally seeking stability and continuity. With all the instability in the economy and global politics, people are focused on fostering as much consistency in their lives as possible. Their risk-taking seems limited to how they spend their entertainment dollars rather than how they experience faith.”
In spite of newfangled efforts to get people to switch teams, as it were, or join the Christian church, many are opting for stability and continuity of spiritual experience—in many churches, a stability and continuity that often ends when the evangelistic net is pulled back into the boat. Truth is simply not enough to keep converts in churches.
Add the evidence that people are not as willing to join churches as they used to be. More and more people in society do not see the relevance of church for their lives. The staid rituals that support church traditions just do not seem to connect to people who are not used to the atmosphere of church. If they venture into a church, they often do not desire to return. If they think they need what church has to offer, it is becoming more and more difficult to find a church that addresses their current felt needs long enough for them to see they have other needs that a connection to church could adequately address.
So, what is the answer?
*James Jefferson is a fictitious name but his scenario is real.
Searching for Answers
“We all want answers to the big questions.”
James expressed to me what the majority of the interviewees shared. They believed in the doctrines of the church. That was not the problem. However, they left the church for three primary reasons. First, the evangelist was not the pastor, so the attachment they had to the evangelist could not be maintained. There was no smooth transition that allowed James to get to know the pastor or what he was like. Second, they never felt the new church was “their” church. They never established any significant nurturing relationships. They were locked out of the fellowship they joined the church to enjoy. Third, the church environment was very different from the tent environment. Ever-present attention and exciting services ended when the tent came down. The atmosphere shifted from excitement to tradition and ritual.
Even though tent evangelism is not as in vogue as it used to be, the same can be said for the various evangelistic approaches used today. After the evangelistic “event,” the ministry of the church shifts back to its normal and often marginally relevant activity. This pushes the new “convert” away because what they thought they were joining turned out to be something else entirely.
This cycle of “winning souls” and “losing” those same souls within a twelve-month period is repeated every year in too many churches. What are some of the reasons for this phenomenon from the church’s perspective? First, the emphasis is on the baptisms or membership acquisition and not on disciple-making, retention, or
mission. Baptisms are measured and leaders are held accountable for reporting baptisms and increased membership. No one gets re- warded as “Pastor of the year” for “retaining” the highest percent- age of souls baptized into the church or helping those souls become engaged in building the Kingdom of God. Have you ever heard of anyone being celebrated as a “soul keeper” or “soul engager?”
Second, evangelism is too often left to the professionals. The yearly “effort” with budget appropriations is sometimes perceived as more important than the year-round personal evangelistic effort of members or a system that is designed to move people into deeper and deeper discipleship with Jesus and participation in kingdom-building ministry.
Finally, there is no system in place to measure retention or engagement. Without a system, it will be difficult or impossible to understand how the loss of members is impacting the progress of the ministry. Even if there is satisfaction with the pace of growth, it will not be clear how much faster the growth could be with better retention. Expectations may or may not be met. Remember, one can only expect what one inspects.
Jackson Doggette – Retaining The Harvest was written by Jackson Michael Doggette Jr. is a consummate professional with more than 40 years of leadership experience as an ordained minister, author, business and nonprofit consultant, life coach, professional musician, and practicing attorney, who is licensed in three state bar associations, a federal court bar, and the United States Supreme Court Bar. He currently serves the Allegheny East Conference Corporation of Seventh-day Adventists as General Counsel and Public Affairs & Religious Liberty Director. Attorney Doggette is Founder of Life SOULutions, an IRS recognized nonprofit organization supporting his preaching and teaching ministry. He is also Founder of Doggette Solutions LLC, a church and nonprofit development consulting group, and creator of the Retaining the Harvest System ™ Mastery Program designed to help leaders and churches implement a system to attract, engage, and retain the people who join their ministry and build capacity to acquire the funds they need to advance their missions with excellence. Jackson Doggette formally prepare as a graduate of Oakwood University (BA Theology), Andrews University (MA Religion), and Thomas M. Cooley Law School (Juris Doctor). He serves on the board of the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives through which he acquired certifications as a Certified Nonprofit Executive, Certified Development Executive, and Certified Nonprofit Consultant. He is also a Church Consultant, Certified Specialist in Planned Giving, Certified Life Coach, Certified Value-based Time Management expert, Certified Trust Officer, a financial planning expert, and a Certified Mediator. He maintains other continuing education pursuits, awards, and recognitions. Jackson Doggette has a guiding theme text Matthew 22:34-40 (Love God, Love Self, Love Others) and 1 John 4:8 (God is Love). Jackson Doggette is very happily married to Mrs. Celia Doggette. And they share three wonderful adult children, David, Jacquelyn, and Jackson III.Visit https//www.JacksonDoggette.com to purchase your copy of Retaining The Harvest.
For other PAX Global articles on ministry management VISIT HERE.