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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

"How to Reconnect with Inactive Members and Revitalize Your Community"

Updated: Apr 5



"When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold. When people choose to withdraw far from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness."

— Augustine

Today, it seems inconceivable that a store would not be open seven days a week to attract more customers. Despite over 1,300 stores in 37 states, Chik-fil-A, a fast-food chain specializing in chicken meals, is closed on Sunday. "Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and focusing our attention on things more important than our business," said Truett Cathy, its founder. If it took seven days to make a living with a restaurant, we needed to be in another line of work. Even though some argue that a restaurant doesn't need a Sabbath, its employees do-meaning "day off"-one cannot but respect Mr. Cathy's commitment to living his faith at work. For him, they are inseparable.


Faith, however, is relegated to the confines of private life for many, perhaps even most. There has been a steep decline in attendance among those under 35. That decline has gone from around 35% to 29% since the pandemic. According to recent statistics that digitally adjusted group has become inactive in the life of local congregations. Many churches have asked me how to reconnect with inactive members. Some have forgotten the importance of the Sabbath day, a day set aside to honor God.


What Constitutes an Inactive Member?


Inactive members in a church context refer to those who have voluntarily stopped attending worship services. The reasons for their absence can vary, from being busy with other commitments to experiencing hurt related to the congregation. These inactive members fall into two categories:

  1. Long-term inactive members: These individuals have been absent from worship for six months or more. Some congregations even have members who have been away for years or decades.

  2. Short-term inactive members: These have been absent for a relatively shorter period, typically six weeks to six months.


Some Ideas to Reconnect.



Some Ideas to Reconnect.

Fellowship Opportunities:

Encourage inactive members to join small groups or Bible studies. These settings provide a more intimate and supportive environment for building relationships.

Host regular fellowship events such as potlucks, coffee hours, or game nights. These gatherings allow people to connect beyond the formal worship service.

Addressing the specific concerns of inactive members requires a thoughtful and compassionate approach. Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Personal Outreach:

  • Listen Actively: Reach out to inactive members individually. Listen to their concerns, experiences, and reasons for disengagement. Show empathy and understanding.

  • Pastoral Care: Assign a pastor and/or Elder to connect with each inactive member. Regular phone calls, emails, or personal visits can make a significant impact.

2. Customized Support:

  • Identify Concerns: Ask inactive members directly about their specific concerns. Common issues may include personal struggles, disagreements, or feelings of isolation.

  • Tailored Solutions: Based on their responses, offer personalized solutions. For example:

  • If someone feels disconnected, invite them to small group gatherings or special events.

  • If they express theological doubts, provide resources for study and discussion.

  • If they’ve experienced hurt, address it with sensitivity and seek reconciliation.

3. Reintegration Events:

  • Welcome Back Services: Host special services or events for inactive members. Acknowledge their absence and express joy at their return.

  • Testimonials: During these services, invite previously inactive members to share their stories. Hearing about their journey can inspire others.

4. Spiritual Growth Opportunities:

  • Bible Studies: Offer engaging Bible studies or book clubs. Encourage inactive members to explore faith-related topics in a supportive environment.

  • Discipleship Programs: Provide opportunities for spiritual growth, mentorship, and prayer. Help them deepen their relationship with God.

5. Community Involvement:

  • Service Projects: Involve inactive members in community service or outreach. Serving together can foster connections and a sense of purpose.

  • Volunteer Roles: Invite them to participate in church ministries or committees. Feeling needed and valued can motivate their return.

6. Healing and Reconciliation:

  • Acknowledge Past Hurts: If an inactive member left due to hurt or conflict, acknowledge it openly. Apologize if necessary and seek reconciliation.

  • Forgiveness and Grace: Emphasize God’s grace and forgiveness. Encourage them to extend grace to others as well.

7. Prayer and Intercession:

  • Pray Specifically: Lift up inactive members in prayer. Ask God to work in their hearts, heal wounds, and guide their steps.

  • Prayer Chains: Involve the congregation in interceding for those who are absent.


Outside the Box Approach:

Many of these members have been inactive for a long time, so getting them back to their home congregation might be difficult. Consider sharing your inactive with another LCMS congregation, getting theirs, and then using the above ideas to contact them. You and those members have no history, so they could start fresh with a new congregation without the previous hurdles.


Sample Inactive Letter


Dear Friend,


I wanted to write you a letter of encouragement. I have noticed lately that you have not been as present in the life and worship of the congregation as you once were. I understand that many things in life detract from or hinder us from being as active as we should be, and we need a bit of a nudge in the right direction. In fact, it is a temptation that the Bible encourages us against: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25). So, with that in mind, let me encourage you not to neglect the church's life, service, and worship.


First, I want to encourage you because God is worthy. When we meet week-by-week to worship God, we do not do it because it is tradition or mere formality. Rather, we do it because God is worthy to be worshiped: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12). When we come together in worship—as God wants us to do—we are saying, “You are worthy! Yet when we do not worship because we do not feel like it, are too busy, or prefer to do something else, we deny Him His due.

 

Second, I want to encourage you because the church is a body. Paul wrote: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:4-5). By the Holy Spirit, we are united to Jesus and one another. We feel your absence when you are not participating in life, service, and especially church worship. We value you—your presence, service, gifts, and graces. To put it this way, when you are not with us, we are not complete, but we are a body missing a part.


Third, I want to encourage you because of your spiritual growth. God does not intend Christians to grow all by themselves. Rather, we are to grow together. Again, Paul wrote that we have the ministry of the church so that “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). I am afraid to say it. Still, it is a biblical assumption that your inactivity means you may not grow spiritually. My concern as your pastor is that you are not growing in a love for God or your neighbor; you are not growing in your knowledge and understanding of the things of God. This is not a good place to be; we do not want you to be there.


Fourth, I want to encourage you because of the wiles of Satan. Peter wrote: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). I do not know much about the habits of lions, but I do know that they prey on those detached from the herd. I worry that in being inactive and not participating, you have separated yourself from the herd and have become easy prey for Satan—his lies, flaming darts, and temptations. There is a reason that just before this, Peter wrote, “Be alert.” We do not want you to resist the devil all on your own; that’s why God has given you to us and us to you.


Fifth, I want to encourage you because of mutual edification. Even Paul, who was an Apostle, wanted and needed to be with the church. He wrote to the congregation in Rome: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12). You are a member of this church, a friend, and a family member in Jesus. We want to have opportunities to edify you and to be edified by you.


Sixth, I want to encourage you because of joy. In writing to a church, John said: “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 1:12). Everyone wants to be happy, glad and joyful. The Bible reminds us that we find joy in the face-to-face presence of one another. You contribute to our joy when you are present, and we contribute to yours.


Finally, we all need encouragement from time to time to not quit but to keep with it. I hope you know that just as you need us, so we need you: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).


In Jesus’ Name,


Your Pastor

 

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