Have you ever wondered why some people stick to your church and others don’t. As a pastor I think about that a lot. Especially in regard to visitors and members who decide their journey with us is over. You may not have known this but there’s even a pastoral leadership book called “Sticky Church.” Pastors reading books on how to cause people to stick sounds pretty crazy right? I thought this religion thing was supposed to be…you know about God. But actually its pretty nominal among church leaders. And seeking conventional wisdom is a far cry from trusting alone in conventional wisdom.
I heard a statistic awhile back that only 10% of people in church plants were unchurched before they were apart of the plant. Apparently the rest are due to transfer growth or stage of life shifts that make church involvement more tenable or they were dechurched and being apart of a fresh community gave them the chance to grow and be healed. Now I don’t know if that statistic above is right but it is sure a depressing figure isn’t it. Somewhere I saw that same figure a bit higher, 24%. Yikes 24%! That’s it….
Back to the sticky church business: So if getting people to stick is really important why do certain people stick and why do others keep steeping up to the ‘church and turf’ buffet bar? Part of the reason may be explained by some terms developed by Robert Bellah. Bellah is a sociologist who wrote a significant book back in the 80’s called “Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life.”
Bellah suggested that a lot of people live in lifestyle enclaves rather than genuine community. What are lifestyle enclaves?
“A lifestyle enclave is formed by people who share some feature of private life. Members of a lifestyle enclave express their identity through shared patterns of appearance, consumption, and leisure activities.”
Community on the other hand is based upon social interdependence, shared history, and shared participation in politics.
As I’ve heard people process why they haven’t stuck in churches in the past but feel as though they’re sticking now I’ve noticed that a lot of the language they use sounds like the language representing a lifestyle enclave. We couldn’t fit in there because everybody was “X” (shared patterns of appearance). We didn’t like what they were offering us in “X” (consumption). We couldn’t connect socially with anyone outside the church to do things like “X” (leisure activities).
Perhaps why some people stick to your church and others don’t is because they find a lifestyle enclave that is easy enough to land in, which in turn provides them with the opportunity to find or foster community with your church.
Thoughts, criticisms, questions…
(Photographic art by Justus Thane, piece entitled “Honeycomb“)
Further Reading: Stanley Grenz, Ecclesiology in “The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology” ed. by Kevin Vanhoozer