While serving as a pastor of a local church, I learned to read the behaviors of some folks that indicated a change was coming. Being able to discern when someone was distancing themselves from the church helped me to head off some problems, and more than few times, it helped prevent me from being blindsided. I now use some of these same methods on a State level by reading the habits of ministers.
When a committed member starts to miss worship services, look out. When tithing and giving reduces, pay attention. When folks who used to hang around to fellowship after church now leave immediately, be alert. When people “need a break” from serving, it may be a warning sign.In many cases, I’ve noticed people who used to sit toward the front of the church begin moving toward the back. Too many times, they were headed toward the back door. Of course, this is not true in every case, but it seems that they are (intentionally or not) indicating that they are inching themselves out of the church.
Why is this important? Too many times, pastors are shocked that a stable family is leaving. We feel out of the loop and don’t know how to process their decisions. Long-time members or solid core people just up and quit! This always hurts. And it seems to hurt more if we had no warning. My point is – if we can learn to detect subtle changes, we may be able to head off a painful decision.
Know your flock. Pay attention to details. Look folks in the eyes. Become more emotionally intelligent. Read body language. Watch for sliding habits. And pray for discernment from the Holy Spirit. In my opinion, discernment is one of the most crucial Spiritual Gifts for Pastors.
You may or may not be able to stop someone from making the decision to leave your church. And you for sure will continue to be surprised by the behavior and decisions of people. But detecting shifts in your congregation will make you a more aware, and therefore, more effective Pastor.