In Matthew 18, we are introduced to a shepherd that has lost one sheep and leaves his flock to go find it.
How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.—Matthew 18:12–13
While the primary application of that passage teaches the importance of reaching people with the gospel, it is also true that the care of the flock was interrupted by the need to search for the lost sheep.
The same is true in churches today. When a pastor has to spend time and energy trying to reclaim church members that have grown cold spiritually, the continuity and momentum of the church suffers. While people leave churches for many reasons (many of which are outside our control), sometimes they leave because of mistakes we have made, or because of something that was not our fault, but we could have addressed it and helped encourage them to keep growing spiritually.
It has been said that people don’t typically quit ministries; they quit people. In other words, people are more likely to drop out of church or quit serving in a ministry because of a real or imagined shortcoming of the pastor or ministry leader than because they disagree with the doctrine or philosophy of the church. In fact, it has been estimated that sixty-five percent of people who leave their organizations do so due to a bad relationship with a leader.
While we cannot keep everyone from leaving our churches or decreasing their involvement, we can work to make sure that when people do leave, it is not our fault.
There Are Four Types of People that People Quit:
1. People quit people who devalue them. It is impossible to add value to someone we devalue! If we don’t respect someone, we cannot treat them with respect. Why? We cannot consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with our beliefs.
Work at appreciating your volunteers and expressing that openly, publicly, and often. Sometimes we have to bring up negative topics, but we should make it a personal policy not to broach a negative topic without preceding it with a heart-felt praise. If you find something to appreciate in a volunteer, they will appreciate working for you.
2. People quit people who are untrustworthy. In Leadership Gold, John Maxwell writes about a survey conducted by Manchester Consulting, which indicates that trust in the workplace is on the decline. They discovered that the five quickest ways for leaders to lose the trust of their people are:
- Acting inconsistently in what they say and do
- Seeking personal gain above shared gain
- Withholding information
- Lying or telling half-truths
- Being closed-minded
When leaders break trust with their people, it is like breaking a mirror; it can be put back together, but it will always show the cracks.
In contrast, the survey found that the best ways for leaders to build trust are to:
- Maintain integrity
- Openly communicate their vision and values
- Show respect for fellow employees as equal partners
- Focus on shared goals more than personal agendas
- Do the right thing regardless of personal risk
3. People quit people who are incompetent. Leaders need to inspire confidence; and they do that, not with charisma, but with competence. We must constantly be growing as a leader and in our areas of leadership. When we stop growing, it becomes obvious to those we are leading and diminishes their confidence in our ability to lead.
Here are some ways to inspire confidence in those you lead:
- Be punctual. If you do not show respect for the time of other people, do not be surprised when they begin to lose confidence in you.
- Be prepared. Know what to do when things don’t go the way you planned.
- Be consistent. Don’t make people wonder how you will respond to a given situation.
- Listen to those who follow you.
- Never say, “I don’t know.” Instead, say, “Let me find out.”
- Do what you say you will do.
4. People quit people who are insecure. Even if a leader values people, possesses integrity, and displays competence, there is still one characteristic that will drive people away from him—insecurity. We must commit to not be threatened by the success of others.
People will follow a leader if they believe that leader truly has their best interest at heart. Rather than trying to increase our authority or position, we must lead in such a way that helps others reach their full potential. Instead of being threatened by the success of others, applaud it. Make sure those who follow you know that you are their biggest cheerleader.
Recipe for Retention
No matter how good of a leader you are, you will occasionally lose people. What can we do to help retain people? Here are six ways:
1. Take responsibility for your relationships with others. When a relationship goes bad, initiate action to try to make the relationship better.
2. When people leave, find out why (when appropriate). The purpose of this is to find out if you were the reason they are leaving. If so, apologize and take the high road with them.
3. Put a high value on those who work with you. It’s wonderful when people believe in their leader. It’s more wonderful when the leader believes in the people.
On a practical level, this involves returning phone calls and messages, asking them what they think, putting yourself in their shoes, and expressing gratitude.
4. Put credibility at the top of your leadership list. We may not be an expert at everything that comes our way, but we can always be trustworthy. It should be known that if you say you will do it, it will get done!
5. Recognize that your positive emotional health creates a secure environment for people. It is incredibly important that you think positively and treat others right. Leaders must not be moody or lash out at others.
6. Maintain a teachable spirit and nurture your passion for personal growth. We must keep learning if we intend to keep leading.
It can be discouraging when people leave our churches or a particular area of service. If we are truly doing our best, with God’s help and by His grace, these occurrences can be fewer and less hurtful. As spiritual leaders, we should have a mentor or a trusted friend who can evaluate these areas of our lives and provide honest feedback for areas of improvement, and then let us be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is revealing to us.