There’s an urgent question many church leaders are asking as we all try to figure out how to respond as people who attend church now attend less often.
The question is this:
How do you interact with infrequent church attenders who don’t seem to be embracing the mission of your church the way you hoped they would?
I think it’s simple.
You embrace them anyway.
I chose the word ‘embrace’ on purpose. Because I know there’s something deep-seated in many of us that wants to reject people if we sense they’re rejecting us. And people who don’t come out to church much on Sunday can feel like rejection if you’re an insecure church leader. (Which, by the way, is many of us on this side of heaven. Here are five signs that will tell you whether you’re an insecure leader.)
When I started in ministry in the mid ’90s, if someone didn’t attend church for awhile, it was almost always was because they left.
Today, I don’t actually sense that the people who haven’t been at our church for a few weeks or a few months are rejecting us. In fact, when I run into them, they tell me they love our church. And that they can’t wait to get back at some point.
So no, they haven’t left. They just haven’t been lately.
So what do you do?
There are at least five things you can do.
And before we go there, if you’re interested in this subject, this article is Part 3 of a blog series on why even committed church attenders are attending church less often. Part 1 offers 10 reasons why people are attending church less often, and Part 2 features a podcast I did with Will Mancini exploring the trend in more detail. Part 4 and 5 will go live next week (February 23 and 24).
Now to the five things.
1. Develop some empathy.
Many of today’s church leaders grew up in church. We remember a time when church attendance was simply the thing you did every Sunday. And as church leaders or volunteers, it’s what we still do every Sunday.
So at times it can be a little hard to empathize with people who don’t see things the way we see them.
Personally, I think participating in the mission of a great church weekly (including Sundays) is one of the best things a Christian can do. Unless I’m fooling myself, I think this is a personal conviction, not just a vocational conviction. If I stopped doing vocational ministry tomorrow, I would still want to participate weekly in the mission of a local church, including the Sunday ministry.
But just because I see it that way doesn’t mean everyone sees it that way.
And … here’s the danger … if you start judging people for not seeing it your way, you almost certainly turn them off. People—especially teens and young adults—can smell judgment a mile away. Judgment creates barriers.
So what do you do instead?