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From church members to church family

SUMMARY: Survey findings by Ellison Research of Phoenix, Ariz., suggest 70 percent of those worshiping on Sunday morning could be persuaded to leave their denominations. 

Developing a sense of community and family could mean the difference between members staying or leaving. A recent Ellison Research study measured loyalty to denominations among mainline and evangelical Protestants, nondenominational churchgoers and Roman Catholics who attend services regularly.

The report found 70 percent of all churchgoers are not particular about the denomination of the church they attend and Protestants, in particular, are more willing to switch denominations because they do not see strong differences from one denomination to another.

With that in mind, here are some ways to nurture bonds that will keep members of your congregation connected to one another so your church is not easily interchangeable for another.

Guess who's coming to dinner? 
Host a weekly or monthly potluck dinner, barbecue, picnic or road trip to a local restaurant. Prescott (Ariz.) United Methodist Church invites members to a monthly Spring Dining Out—with a twist. Leaders assign participants to different groups, and each group goes independently to a restaurant. The groups change each month, so participants have a chance to meet new people.

Is there a doctor—or a nurse—in the house? 
Ask health professionals in your congregation to help with simple health screenings.  A retired Mayo Clinic nurse does that for the Scottsdale (Ariz.) UMC by giving blood-pressure checks, skin-cancer screenings, CPR training and wellness classes.

"In Jesus' name, we play."
Organize exercise and recreation programs. These could include walking, stretching or yoga programs led by church members.

Such drama!
Consider music or theater productions. The congregation at Boston Avenue UMC, Tulsa, Okla., produces a Broadway musical every summer. In addition, junior and senior high students perform in a group called BAY Troupe. The drama ministry includes eight vocal choirs for ages 4 through adult, an orchestra, a brass ensemble and six bell choirs.

Reading is fundamental.
Start a book club. Club members or a group leader can choose a book to read and discuss. Some church book clubs read works of fiction that convey a life lesson or a spiritual message. Others select more broadly, from authors ranging from John Steinbeck to Mary Higgins Clark.

Take a hike!
Get to know each other in God's backyard! A hiking ministry combines fitness and peaceful time with nature.

Give them what they want.
Hold “cottage” meetings of five to 10 members at a time in a comfortable setting until everyone in the congregation has had a chance to attend. Encourage all to offer ideas on how to improve the church experience. 

The challenge presented by Ellison Research is to make your church stand out from the crowd. Make a difference to your members by creating a valuable, supportive community they will not want to leave.