What do you do when someone stops coming to church, or when they change their pattern of church attendance from weekly to fortnightly, or to “every so often”? Do you mention it to them, in the hope that they’ll be encouraged to come back to church, or do you try to ignore the problem, counting on them to work out what the best use of their time is?
If you mention it to them, what do you say? How do you avoid making it sound like you’re running a guilt trip? What’s the best way to raise it with them – do you send them a text message so they know their presence was missed, or do you call? do you email? take them out for coffee and try and raise the subject gently?
So many questions for a single post. Years ago, if some of our friends skipped church, we would text them, and ask “are you falling away?” (this is the terminology used to describe the process of moving from a regular church-goer to joining the ranks of those who no longer call themselves Christians). This proved to be helpful the first time, and then degenerated to something that we found amusing, and then stopped altogether.
You walk a fine line between making someone feel welcomed, and driving them further away. Sometimes, even to raise the topic is to raise in them feelings of guilt – surely they have enough guilt in their life without your help!
Lately, I’ve been favouring the email or text message: a phonecall or other meeting just seems too confrontational, and I have the tendency – on occasion – to say things that aren’t helpful to people, so I like to avoid those opportunities, for fear of making a bad situation worse.
Of course, encouraging people who are losing the habit of attending church is a two-way street. You can’t encourage someone to go to church if your own attendance is patchy – or can you? Perhaps this is one of those times where it’s okay to declare speck week.