Exit Interviews for a Church

Exit Interview

Are you kidding? Who performs exit interviews for a church?

I run a company and we have exit interviews to help us improve ourselves and to gently release a member of staff who may have resigned, or sometimes, been terminated. One day, I sat back and thought… how different is a church from my company? Why shouldn’t we have a series of questions to help members wanting to leave the church?

Of course, the questions would have to be tailored for the relevant environment – but wouldn’t it be good to connect with someone who is on the way out? It would show some degree of love and care if done well.

In a large church setting, an exit interview could be done by the cell group leaders, zone leaders or ministry leader. In a smaller church, having a  pastor-in-charge or even the senior pastor, shows how important they view members of the congregation. In special circumstances, use email – though I don’t recommend it.

Here are some questions that I structured for a church that I consult with.

SEVEN SHORT QUESTIONS

How old are you now?

Are you married? Married with kids?

Were you serving when you were attending XYZ Church? If so, which area?

Which church are you attending now?
(We’re asking so that we know which churches are relevant based on the demographics questions above)

What do you like about your new church?
(Ignore this question if you have not left, unless you want to describe another church)

Why do you feel XYZ Church wasn’t serving your needs? Please be as specific as possible.
(You may cover areas from preaching to youth programs to worship to ministries to decoration to volunteerism. Which means anything, really!)

If you could say something to the senior pastor anonymously, what would it be?


As a communications consultant, I had to test it out, so I rang a few people I knew who had left the church and floated these questions with them. Here are some of the responses I received – the length shows that they still care enough for the previous church to reply in a constructive manner.

These is one almost unedited response (names of the church and people have been redacted).

How old are you now? 36

Are you married? Married with kids? Yes. One kid.

Were you serving when you were attending XYZ Church? If so, which area?
Helping out in cell group and some graphic design work.

Which church are you attending now? ABC Church

What do you like about your new church?

Excellence.
In everything, I see the spirit of achieving excellence for Christ – whether it is the traffic ministry, ushers or even design. The God-culture feels cohesive and genuine. As visitors, many people come up to my family to talk to us, explain what the church is about, where the children facilities are, etc. We were also invited to a “Meet the Pastors” dinner session so that we could get to know the DNA of the church, together with others who were exploring ABC Church. At now time did we feel pressure to join the church.

For someone who appreciates aesthetics – the audio visuals (City News) + printed materials were just well-designed. It may seem trivial, but my peers appreciate such things. The website is also updated.

Practical Messages.
I once voiced out that the sermons at XYZ Church were more like bible study – where we study a topic and go through the series on a chapter by chapter basis. I was told that we are adults and should find ways to supplement our spiritual growth ourselves. I started visiting other churches and found ABC Church to have relevant messages for my life.

While messages on transformation beyond the church are good to hear once in awhile, I feel I need working on. I would love to walk out of church with a sense of, “I’m going to try something new this week to improve myself”, rather than, “OK, so how do I impact my community” or “Evangelise to the taxi driver again?”

Oftentimes, when asked in the middle of the week what the previous message was about, I am dumbfounded. I cannot remember because it had no relevance to me. I still remember some messages from abroad that had excellent stories and humour interwoven to make it memorable. Perhaps the use of some media or acting would be good. Pastor Chris does a good job of singing!

Vibrant & Passionate.
I feel amazed my the aura emitted by the church – perhaps it is because the church is made up of younger people, but the leadership are still very much older (with a young heart and focus). After a church service, I saw a young-looking boy go up to a lady in a wheelchair to volunteer to pray for her – he said, “I’m one of the pastors here at ABC Church and I would like to pray for you. May I?” That blew me away.

After a baptism service, the floor was slightly wet and I saw young students volunteering to look for a mop. It was genuinely not assigned to them because they had no idea where to find it! It just exudes a homely feeling where people belong.

It’s not because it’s a small church by any means. The congregation is now about 3,000 strong and it was probably about half of that when I joined two years ago. It is definitely one of the fastest growing churches in Malaysia.

Why do you feel XYZ Church wasn’t serving your needs? Please be as specific as possible. (You may cover areas from preaching to youth programs to worship to ministries to decoration to volunteerism. Which means anything, really!)

I believe XYZ Church has good intentions, but the strategy for making it happen is questionable. It feels like an extremely top-down approach from the “Management to the People” and people like to feel they can make suggestions and see things happen. Ministries are run the same way – “I tell you, and you do it”.

In the corporate world, structures are changing to make it flatter and employees are challenged to give their input to make the organisation better. I feel XYZ Church can get a lot if they seek for input from the congregation and not sit on the feedback. Making it happen well is a strategy it itself. Change behavior and organisation change are complete specialisations in themselves! This form is probably the first-time in 12 years I have been invited to give input to the church, and I hope it does make a difference.

I have been told the church is now changing its focus to the young working adults. I think it’s an excellent decision to have a specific focus, but a lot has to happen in order for you to reel them back in. There are many “competing” churches out there and XYZ Church sadly, isn’t quite there yet. Invite a group of the young working adults to be part of the change committee and empower them to give suggestions and make serious changes to almost anything from worship music, style of dressing for preachers, ushers, training programmes, etc… You may be surprised to see how forward thinking they can be based on their wide exposure outside the church.

The worst thing to do is for a committee of “pastors and leaders” who are not young working adults to try and reengineer the church based on what they think is right. Times have changed radically and so has culture – kids are willing to spend RM12 on a coffee while a senior person would suggest going to a kopitiam for RM2 kopi-o. Listen to the young, do not judge.

If you could say something to the senior pastor anonymously, what would it be?

You’ve done a good job so far.
Do hire younger people to help you run further. Be willing to invest good money in good people, technology and systems. When making decisions on investing money, the mindset shouldn’t be on how many direct souls it will save – hiring good administrators can provide good assistance to pastors to do more. Investing in a good media team will allow your messages to go further. Hiring good designers will allow you to brand your church amongst organisations vying for attention – WorldVision, Alpha Malaysia, Acts Church are good examples of where money is spent for branding and image.

Be willing to do things differently from how they have always been done. Spend time with the young working adults and hear their heartbeat, immerse in their culture, then you can speak their lingo and share relevant messages.


Here are some selected responses.

Were you serving when you were attending XYZ Church? If so, which area?

CG leader / Youth Worship Leader

Why do you feel XYZ Church wasn’t serving your needs?

I think all these while when I was in XYZ Church, I love my time in XYZ Church. I enjoyed serving in the capacity that I was serving in. There were some challenges faced but overall, I could say this, XYZ Church is and will always be my home church. You may be asking, if this is so, why did I not come back? The reasons as follows.

Having gone to a new church, I guess this also help to reduce the unspoken expectations from people who know me in XYZ Church to immediately take on leadership, etc when I first came back. I had numbers of encounter in the past months where it was expected of me to pick up where I left 5/6 years ago when I came back for good this time. Personally, I think these are added pressures or expectations which I do not need. In that sense, I think I wasn’t able to get the support I would like to have as part of my transition back to Malaysia in XYZ Church.

Even as I type, I think it would be a good idea for XYZ Church to explore on having some form of support facility available for returnees (be in students who were away overseas for long time for studies or working adults who were away for studies/work). If the church wants the people to come back after being away, having this support facility readily available for them will definitely help them tremendously to adjust, to talk things through, to be listened to and eventually to assimilate back to the normal life of church. And this is even more so when demographic of 20-35s is identified as XYZ Church’s focus moving forward.

The other two areas that I would like to highlight that are probably lacking in XYZ Church are as follows:- (This is purely my observations after being in the church and serving for the many years)

Care for Leaders
Personally for me being the leader in the past, I didn’t really experience the lack of care when I became a cell leader. Probably because I was very intentionally seeking out for help when I knew I needed help. However, along the way, I discovered and heard stories of leaders stepping down because of burnt out one after another (I am talking about cell leaders, zone leaders, etc). Personally, I questioned it and wondered why this was happening. I don’t think God wants us to go through this kind of burnout especially when most leaders that went through burnt-out never actually recovered from it and remain where they are for years and years and never embraced leadership in that capacity anymore. I kind of come to a conclusion that there is the lack of routine care for the leaders. When care was extended to the leaders concerned, in most cases, it was too late. The care was done more on an emergency basis instead of continuous care and accountability too.

Counselling facility
Maybe I am passionate about this but I just wonder a church as big as XYZ Church, why is there no proper counselling centre for hurting people to go to freely where they could seek further help. I am fully aware that the cell leaders/zone leaders/zone pastors/etc are to be the “counsellors” for the people but a lot of times, people who needs counselling facilities may need more than just pastoral care and prayers. Additionally, if there is a counselling facility where confidentiality is adhered to 100%, it could provide a safer avenue for hurting people to come and seek help.

Why do you feel XYZ Church wasn’t serving your needs?

1. Serving : I was very upset that the traffic marshal ministry and the XYZ Church building management staff members could not work together. We had multiple disagreements about traffic flow and traffic management.

We kept changing the traffic flow and the parking arrangements, and it seemed like it was done as a trial-and-error method. Personally, I felt that we were ignored / dismissed due to our age (or lack thereof) which felt very discriminatory.

We eventually shut down the ministry, as we had arguments with church members & even members of the public. The team members found it too stressful to keep re-learning and changing everything, as well as having to deal with upset people.

2. Continuance : I joined XYZ Church as a college student and I was part of the campus group. It seemed like we we a little bit isolated from the ‘main body of the church’ in that we seemed to have our own plans and programs, and in the following 4 years, I found that there was no cohesive plan / method for me to continue from campus group to … whatever was the next step.

I spoke to cell-leaders, pastors, zone leaders… apparently I was expected to do it myself.

I started feeling lost among all the CGs and didn’t really transition properly out of campus group into the cell-groups.

As I talked to people around me, I found I wasn’t the only one. Many people around me were in the same place and couldn’t find out what to do.

3. Clique-ish : I often felt judged, that somehow I was broken / damaged goods. It was a feeling that I needed to do more, be more, just to live up to this expectation. There seemed to be a group of “Elite” church people who would be welcomed and treated differently, and a group of “outcasts” who were rejected no matter what.

It was very disheartening and it felt very very wrong, as I knew that a church is where everyone is welcomed, just as they are. I didn’t feel that. I didn’t feel welcomed. Even when I was a leader, my pastors & zone leaders still treated me differently and treated my team-members differently. My pastor even used the terms “Elite” & “outcasts” when talking to me.

What do you like about your new church?

I am very refreshed in ABC Church as they are very personal (they are 1700 ppl strong, over 3 services on Sundays and last year, 2013, they had >800 salvation! so, it’s not about the size of the church that makes the experience and fellowship cold) We attended the “This is ABC Church” night – a night to meet the staff and pastors. Since there were about 200 people, the setup was very personalised, amazing ambience and the “games” played ensured that we get to spend time with at least 7-8 staff on a personal level. There is so much thought and intention put into the works!

If you could say something to the senior pastor anonymously, what would it be?

I honour and respect Pr DEF for his unwavering beliefs and steadfastness in the things that he do. In keeping in line with the needs of the people, he has also tweaked his sermons with jokes, illustrations and lessons. Perhaps it can be more relevant and applicable to the real needs of the people by actually listening to the congregation/ members who are not afraid to voice their honest opinion about the sermon titles.

For example: we have already done Nehemiah two preaching rounds, Philippians and one more preaching series repeatedly – with almost similar contents.

I question back the ORIGINAL intention of pulpit time – to teach and brain wash the people for certain ideology or to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ command to feed His sheep.

The acid test is asking a random church member on a weekday about what he/she learnt over the previous weekend sermon and if it was practical/used at the workplace/home/school. I can hardly recall the lessons plus I can see a big number of people on their electronic devices during sermon time. I assure you, their screens are not on the note-taking application. How then can we say we are feeding His sheep?

Unless this is not the main intention of pulpit time. Then, a lot of things can happen.

If you could say something to the senior pastor anonymously, what would it be?

I don’t think I have anything to say to senior pastor anonymously. Think what I have typed above are the ones that I felt XYZ Church could possibly look into for the betterment of the church and the people especially for the leaders.

Recognising myself in transition mode at this season of my life, it helps me to fully appreciate my passion for the things that God has put in my heart and to be prayerful about what is now and what is to come.

Lastly but not the least, I would really like to appreciate XYZ Church for being the many years of my initial growth platform and early adventures opportunities in ministry serving. Though at the moment I am not attending XYZ Church, I am also not completely ruling out the possibility of coming back when the right time comes.

I really hope these thoughts that I have put in would be used for the extension of His Kingdom in XYZ Church. Please feel free to ask if you do need any further clarification. I am very happy to contribute as I think constructive feedbacks play an important part of the church growth and planning. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate.

Be willing to do things differently from how they have always been done. Spend time with the young working adults and hear their heartbeat, immerse in their culture, then you can speak their lingo and share relevant messages.

1 Comment

  1. Kenneth Yu - May 19, 2014

    “This is ABC Church”.

    Hahaha. :) I know where! 😉

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