Have you ever lost something precious? What did you do to try and recover it? Did you say to yourself, “Oh, forget about it. I’m sure it’ll turn up someday.” Probably not. It’s much more likely that you searched tirelessly until you recovered the missing item.
In Luke 15:3-10 (NIV), Jesus tells two parables:
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
How does the Seventh-day Adventist Church treat those who have left? Do we seek them out tirelessly, doing all we can to bring them back? If this is not our course of action, what should be we doing when those who were once sitting amongst us in the pews, but have since somehow slipped away?
In a recent study (2013) conducted by the Center for Creative Ministry, former and inactive Seventh-day Adventists were asked how the church reacted to their decisions to leave. For 40% of respondents, there was no contact made by the church. Nineteen percent had a church member visit them, 17% had an elder visit, and 9% had their pastor visit.
If we learn anything from the parables of Jesus, as well as His example, we know that we must seek out those who are lost. As you can see, many members who have left the Church have not been pursued and sought after.
How can we better reach out to those who have left or are on the brink of leaving the Church? Here are some simple ideas to reach out to church dropouts:
- Reach out. As we saw above, 40% of church dropouts received no contact or follow-up from church members (CCM, 2013). Something as simple as a call or Sabbath afternoon visit might be the deciding factor for someone who is considering leaving the church. We must become strategic and intentional about staying connected with missing members.
It should be noted that a study conducted by the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research discovered that there is a correlation between former members being visited and an openness to reconnect with the Church (ASTR, 2014). While the fruits of reaching out may not be immediately evident, it is likely that dropouts who are visited will be more likely to the possibility of reconnecting in the future. This is significant, and drives home the importance of not letting those who leave slip by unnoticed!
- Deal with the “baggage.” In a previous blog, we saw that 25% of those who left cited that the church’s perceived lack of compassion for the hurting was their reason for leaving (CCM, 2013). If church members feel this way, it is important that these negative feelings are not simply brushed under the rug; they must be addressed. By opening up an active dialog about compassion ministries misunderstandings can be resolved. This also gives the Church opportunities to improve and more carefully meet the needs of its members.
- Love the sinner, not the sin. Nineteen percent of those who left the Church said that they did so because of their own moral failure (CCM, 2013). It is important to reach out to those who find themselves caught in sin; this is the exact reason that Jesus came to earth. Just because you reach out to someone who has failed does not mean that you are condoning their sin; it simply means that are you extending the same grace to them that Jesus extended to you. By loving these members unconditionally, they may be brought back into the Body and are given the opportunity to understand the grace of Jesus more fully!
How has leaving the church affected those who are already gone? Is it possible to reach out to them with the hope of bringing them? For answers to these questions, check out the next blog in this series.
To read further:
Survey of Former and Inactive Church Members
2015 General Conference Session Report: Membership Audits and Losses (PDF)
2015 General Conference Session Report: Membership Audits and Losses (PowerPoint)
Nurture, Retention & Discipleship: An Integral Part of Evangelism and Witness
Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry
Published by ASTR