High Expectations: The Unexpected Key to Member Retention, Rev. Donn Dobberstein
A recent research study looked at hundreds of young adults who did not follow the trend of quitting church when they left their parents’ home, but instead stayed involved at church into adulthood themselves. A commonality identified in the congregations that retained these individuals: high-expectations.
As American Christianity has declined, congregations have felt a pressure to lower expectations. Entrance into membership has become easier and quicker. Worshiping once every month or two is a cultural norm within the congregation. Discipleship and service are talked about only vaguely; however, there is no systematic effort to those things. Financial stewardship is addressed once a year through on a Stewardship Sunday. Why such low expectations? “Press people too hard, and they will leave altogether.”
In this session, we will challenge that assumption. We will discuss the expectations of membership that are present in your congregation, be they stated or unstated. Are they healthy or harmful to your people and church? We will talk about how to raise expectations—for worship attendance, for growth in Biblical knowledge, for growth in service in all one’s God-given vocations—without slipping into legalism. For example: “Come 75% of the time, or you cannot be a member anymore!”
Let’s encourage your congregation to have high expectations of your members:
- expecting them to feed their own faith regularly with Word and sacrament.
- expecting them to place the mission of the Church ahead of personal preferences.
- expecting them to assist in planning and carrying out gospel ministry.
- expecting them to encourage other members spiritually.
- expecting them to do what they can to reach the lost God brings into their lives.
That does not hurt membership. It builds members up. That’s discipleship, and it is a key to member retention!
Rev. Donn Dobberstein
Since growing up in Lutheran parsonages throughout the Midwest, Donn served mission parishes in Topeka, Kans. and Port Orange, Fla. for twenty-two years. Additionally, he served on the Nebraska District Mission Board and South Atlantic District Evangelism Commission. In 2004, he was appointed to the WELS Commission on Evangelism and served as chairman from 2007-2017. He has presented for the WELS Schools of Outreach, Telling the Next Generation workshops, and past National Conferences on Worship and the Arts. In November 2017, he accepted the call to be Director of WELS Discipleship (a merger of adult discipleship and youth and family ministry). Donn is married to Beth, an art teacher in the Palmyra-Eagle, Wis. school district where they live. They have four children.