GROUP EXIT & An Exercise to Help You Notice When People Are Preparing to Leave a Church

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/23/15.

Research indicates there are six stages and five triggers that occur before groups exit a church in disgust.  But research also demonstrates that be altering just two triggers, you can prevent group exit.  I have written an entire book on this (Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press) as well as excerpted a short introduction from on it from my book “Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Wesleyan Publishing House) at this link.  If you have not already done so, read the link before undertaking the exercise.

For this leadership exercise, investigate how to correctly spot (and not replicate) “Negative Legitimizing Events.” This exercise is called “Locate the Negative Legitimizing Event.” It is similar to pin the tail on the donkey.

We begin with a scenario with three actors.

1  Read the story and tell us which one created a Negative Legitimizing Event.

2 Then, create your own story.

2.1  Make it about a ministry-related situation and include three characters.

2.2  Then give us three options for the person who committed the management faux paux:   they created a Negative Legitimizing Event.

I’ll start.

Pastor H had been a proponent of Sunday evening small groups, and he had spoken on this at many denominational seminars.  Pastor H thinks Sunday evening small groups might work for this new church, and he consults a nearby pastor (Pastor D) who tells Pastor H, “you must be firm with them.  They’ve drove off other pastors and they will if you aren’t forceful with them.”  Pastor H decided that Sunday evening small groups had been successful in his previous church. Thus, he decided to announce to the congregation that everyone should go to Sunday evening small groups, even if they were already involved in committees, Sunday Schools, etc..  He announced this from the pulpit. Pastor J is a retired pastor who attends the church and was sitting in the audience.  Pastor J begins to call others congregants from his Sunday School class to complain.

Here are the options for a “Negative Legitimizing Event”

Option 1:  Pastor H tells the congregation the church is going to implement Sunday evening small groups.
Option 2:  Pastor D tells Pastor H he must be firm and forceful with the congregation.
Option 3:  Pastor J calls other congregants from his Sunday School class to complain.

FIGURE Staying Power Process Model p. 177

For more info see Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change to Your Church, by Bob Whitesel 2010.  The figure is from Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press, 2003, p. 177).