Doing Exit Interviews

Q. We lose a lot of members within several years of joining. Should we be talking to these people to find out why they left? Is there an established way to do this?

A. Unfortunately, many congregations lose a significant number of members within three years, says Rev. William Zelazny, District Executive of the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) Ballou Channing district. An exit interview can be useful, but keep in mind that people often will not tell the real reason for their departure. It does not hurt to ask.

This interview is best done by phone, by the membership committee or the committee on ministry since it relates to the overall ministry of the church. Introduce it as a way for the church to better understand itself and its ministry, says Zelazny. Keep the interview short, asking perhaps:

  • What brought you to the church initially?
  • With what activities/groups were you involved?
  • What is your overall impression of the church?
  • Would you mind saying why you stopped coming?

Close by wishing the person well in their spiritual quest and give an open invitation to come back if the church will fit their life and religious needs.

In addition to phone interviews look at the overall picture. Do dropouts come from any particular population in the church? Do they go to another Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation or another religion?

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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