December 17, 2016

The Leaky Bucket: Examining Church Dropouts

Have you ever carried a leaky bucket? One that, no matter how cautiously you carried it or how carefully you patched it up, just won’t stop dripping? Even if you haven’t been in such a situation, it’s obvious that you couldn’t let the bucket drip indefinitely. Think of the cost - how much water you would waste and how high your water bill would be if you had to continue refilling the bucket!

How would you ultimately deal with the water leakage? Maybe you would watch a video online that taught you how to properly patch your bucket. Or, perhaps, you might get out your toolbox and tinker with them to get it to stop dripping. Or, maybe as a last resort, you might seek out an expert to fix the leak. No matter what, one thing remains clear: you will not let the bucket continue to drip!

Now think about our Church. Have you noticed any “leaking” of church members in your local congregation? People who attend for any amount of time, but then suddenly disappear? What is being done to reclaim the dropouts from our Church?

According to a recent study, 39.25% of all members over the last 50 years have left the Church (Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, 2015). Our Church is experiencing the same heartrending trend as many other Christian denominations when it comes to church membership – the number of those leaving continues to increase. To stem this distressing drip, we have learned some important information about individuals who have left the Church.


In 2013, the Center for Creative Ministry conducted an international survey of 1,053 former or inactive Seventh-day Adventists. These in-depth interviews looked at respondents’ experience with the church as a whole – from the beginning of their journey to the present.

Many of the respondents interviewed were not raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Only 30% were brought up in Adventist homes; the remaining 70% were converted at some point in their lives. Forty-five percent of respondents had been raised or affiliated with another church previously, while 27% reported that they claimed no religion prior to converting to the Adventist Church.


What happened to these people? Can our churches do something to stop the leaking? Will we choose to ignore the problem and say: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). Or will we unite our efforts to support and disciple those who have come to our churches and united with God’s remnant Church?

Be sure to check our next article on retention to know what events triggered people’s decision to leave the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

— by Petr Činčala, Ph.D., Director, Institute of Church Ministry;

David Trim, Ph.D., F.R.Hist.S., Director of Archives, Statistics, and Research, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; and Galina Stele, D.Min., Research and Evaluation Manager, GC Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research