We had heard that fully 1/3 of a church would leave when the senior pastor fell due to an affair. We hoped for a better outcome, but knew that others before us found the statistics to be close to reality. So, we braced ourselves and did what we could to connect to our church family and communicate with them. We discovered very quickly that communication was more important than we knew. Wounded sheep needed to be cared for, and part of the care was communication.
One of the things we had in our favor was our home group ministry. We had over 40 home groups and more than 1/2 of our church family involved in a home group. They were and are a core part of our church life. What we discovered quickly was that those on the fringe, those not connected in relationship, quickly fell away and left the church. There were some who felt they had to leave. I was dealing with several couples at the time who were recovering from affairs in their marriages and both couples told me they couldn’t stay, it was simply too painful for them. There were many on the fringes who left rather quickly. Some told me, “I’ve been through this before, and I’m not doing it again.” But one of our new families, who came for the first time on the day we announced our pastor’s affair, told me, “if this is how your church handles sin like this then this is our church!” And they have stayed and become part of our familly. When a pastor falls really strange things happen.
One of the things that surprised me was who left. There were many who had been part of our church for years, but when our pastor fell they were the first ones out the door. It was a surprise to me who left, but even more interesting was who stayed. When all the dust settled what we discovered was that those who were in home groups stayed. They had a support system, they had friends…..this was their church. In fact, what we discovered was more than 90% of those in home groups are still part of our church family. It was, and is, their family and no one person’s sin would run them off. In fact, as I connected with people in our church, I would often ask, “So, are you staying?” Most in our home groups would respond, “why would I leave, this is my church.” Community made a huge difference in our survivability.
We are now almost 2 years after our earthquake and tremors continue to interupt our lives as a church. I think they will for a few more years, but we are beginning to see a hint of the sun rising in the east. Our dark night is nearly over. God has sustained us through this time, and the body of Christ has cared for its members. Who will stay? Those who are part of the family of your church. Who will go? Those who have come for the music or the pastor….they will not stay.
As the old story goes when two pastors met, one asked the other, “did you have any additions to your church this year?” The other pastor responded, “no, but we had some blessed subtractions.” An earthquake like we have endured will bring the shepherds and sheep together to care for one another, and it will also show who your “fringe people” are. Sometime losing a few people isn’t such a bad thing.
We are growing again. Now we are seeing new people who have no idea what we have been through. They love the church and are getting involved in our home groups. They are the new sheep who are making this their church home. It’s now our goal to make sure everyone in part of our small group ministry. It made an amazing difference for us.