In the business world, there is a clear understanding about the dynamic between acquisition vs. retention. Meaning the value of gaining new customers vs. keeping existing customers. Both, of course, are important.
What is clearly understood is that while it’s important to expand your customer base, it is imperative to keep your existing customers. Far too many businesses focus more energy on acquisition alone because…
… getting a new customer is harder than keeping a current one,
… getting a new customer is more expensive than keeping a current one,
… and getting a new customer to the “place” of a current customer takes time.
But keeping current customers and building loyalty is just as valuable.
Think about someone who buys a car. Smart car dealers know that this is not the end of the game, but the beginning. After the sale, there are oil changes and new tires, repairs and tune-ups.
Not to mention the buying, in the future, of new cars.
Keeping that customer is gold.
Churches need to learn from this. I know, the crass consumerism in which this has been laid out is distasteful and not fully applicable to the Christ life, much less Christian community.
But play with it for a minute.
I trust that no one who reads these blogs questions my maniacal focus on reaching the unchurched. But I hope I am also street-smart enough to know that keeping those we’ve reached is also important.
Not in the sense of catering to felt-needs that detract from the mission, but in the sense of ensuring that they are receiving what they need in order to be on the front lines of the mission.
When you have reached someone, poured into them in terms of teaching and discipleship and mentoring, and they become servers and givers and inviters and leaders, they are your rock stars. They are the ones advancing the mission down the field. God honors their commitment and uses them in disproportionate ways.
And it often takes years to get them to that place.
A new acquisition is always celebrated—someone bursting forth from the waters of baptism is always the reward. But it takes an enormous amount of time and effort before they, in turn, contribute to someone else bursting from those same waters.
I’ve often said that evangelism and discipleship are not pitted against each other, nor do they offer competing missions. They are simply two sides of the same coin. But make no mistake—if you do not flip over the coin and ensure that you are as committed to retention as acquisition, you are biting the hand that feeds you.
Actually, no. That’s not worded quite right.
You are cutting off the hand that’s fueling your growth.
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.