Sunday morning quarterbacking: “We haven’t been in years.”

Have you ever been in a situation where you are introduced to a person, and as your brain scans his face, your brain is thinking—“come on now, I know this person, where have I seen or met him before?”

After a few more awkward seconds, you blurt out the name of the church you attend, and the person immediately affirms that is the connection—church, but then the person confesses—“we haven’t been in years.”

The person’s response—“we haven’t been in years” triggers a wide range of questions in my mind. With curiosity and care, churches should be asking this person:

Why haven’t you attended?

Did you stop coming before COVID-19 hit, or did the ensuing pandemic pause your church attendance?

If it wasn’t the pandemic, what caused you to stop attending church?

Was it the preacher, the sermons, the congregation, the programming?

Or was it something else?

And in my mind, the most important question that needs to be asked of inactive church members—“Did the church reach out to you during your absence?”

Attempting to rise up out of the pandemic will require churches to think differently.

Additionally, churches should be pushing their staffs and their congregations to develop a basic, very simple means for reaching out to members who were inactive during the pandemic, and even to those who were inactive prior to the pandemic.

Pastors, their staffs, and congregational leaders must reach out and follow-up with inactive members. Failure to follow-up isn’t good thinking. Not following up suggests an unwillingness to learn and listen. A reluctance to learn and listen isn’t a wise choice for struggling churches.

Reaching out to the inactive is an opportunity for a church to learn. That learning can potentially lead to growth, and the good Lord knows, churches are struggling with growth.

Even if the feedback a church receives from an inactive member is harsh and highly critical that is ok. That honest venting can help frame productive changes for a church.

Southern Living Magazine is probably not the type of monthly periodical where a reader might unearth an interesting comment about church. But, I found one in the March 2022 edition.

In an article by Tracey Minkin titled “Best Places To Retire,” this comment from Curtis Williams caught my attention. Williams was talking about moving with his wife from Charlotte to be nearer to their daughter in the Asheville area of North Carolina.

Mr. Williams states their daughter helped them to find a church. Here is what he said about the church search: “We found a church that fit us so much better in terms of acceptance, community outreach, and support.”(Southern Living page 69)

That statement by Mr. Williams should be posted with duct tape throughout a church building. And when it is posted, the following words need to be highlighted or boldly printed: fit, acceptance, outreach, and support.”

I wonder how many inactive church members might reference those same words when contacted by their church?

Will they respond with—“we never felt like we fit in at church, gaining acceptance was tough, when we participated in community outreach, we never found our comfort zone, and support was questionable.”

Look, the church business is tough work. Churches must really dig deep and hard to figure out how to meet the needs of people.

Meeting those needs isn’t just a one time shot. A church must be able to consistently meet the needs of their congregation in everything the church offers.

Churches that can’t figure out how to stay in contact with their congregation and at the same time meet their needs will continue to hear this comment: “we haven’t been in years.”

This is really pretty simple math.

To survive churches need people.

But in that struggle to regain the inactive and sustain the active, churches must listen.

In that listening, churches will find opportunities to help people fit and gain acceptance. This also means comfortably involving them in community outreach, and maybe most important being available for support when needed.

Without being overbearing, churches who can improve fit, acceptance, make community outreach comfortable, and be available for support might be a half step away from helping an inactive member to return.

Church, this is important.

Don’t let another year pass.

Go find “we haven’t been in years.”

l

Photo by Bill Pike

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