We hear this figure bandied around a lot, but how accurate is it?
In the last year, seven visitors have darkened the doorstep of my UU church who came there with me. At least a few of them signed the guestbook as visitors.
-One of them didn't join because he went home to Ohio mere hours after the service.
-Two of them didn't join because they are already members of CLF. (They came for a social event, not a service, but they still visited.)
-Two of them didn't join because they are presbyterians and were just coming to see me give my lay service.
-One of them didn't join because she's perfectly happy to attend Sunday services in her old folks home, except for the one sermon on a topic of great interest to her that my church happened to have.
-One didn't join because he refuses to join a UUA church because of its stands on political issues. Also, he likes to sleep in on Sundays. He also came to see my lay service and work on the church bazaar.
Yep, my church has a zero percent Chalicechick friend retention rate.
But not one of those visits-without-return was the church's fault. Indeed, my church could have put years of effort and planning into increasing their retention rate, and it would not have made one tiny bit of difference to whether those seven people joined the church.
Similarly, when I had moved back to my area and was choosing a UU church I visited at least ten of them in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia before chosing the one I wanted. So for 2004, DC-area churches had something like a ten percent retention rate of me alone.
That sounds silly, but think about it. For something like nine churches, I attended between one and one dozen times, then left and never came back, in most cases because I'm really picky about the kind of preaching I like, though there were in many cases hundreds of people attending a church with preaching I thought wasn't first rate, so clearly my taste is far from universal*.
And I ended up not chosing the church with the best preaching because that church takes an hour to get to from my house on Sunday morning.
Are we taking stuff like this into account when we bemoan our admittedly tiny-appearing retention rate? Goodness knows that people do sometimes leave churches and never return because of reasons relating to the church itself.
But that's far from always the case, and even if it is, sometimes they just end up at a different UU church.
* Let's not forget, I once walked away from a church because the people were TOO NICE.