since you’ve been gone

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.

4 thoughts on “since you’ve been gone”

  1. perhaps it’s better to encourage attendance rather than comment on its lack. an invitation to post-church dinner, or meeting for coffee before the service?

    in fact, maybe just being around for friends is the best thing – there are lots of reasons why church attendance can become a lower priority, and not all of them have to do with falling away. church doesn’t exist solely in the sunday meeting – i wonder if we might support our friends best by walking alongside them wherever they are in their journey of faith, be that in the church building or anywhere else.

  2. hey,

    julie, i agree with the sentiment of your post. often the reasons that we are not going to church have little to do with God and a great deal to do with ppl.

    Ive struggled with this and been told im not welcome at a church which made it even harder still to go regularly, not just there, but anywhere.

    but how do we encourage ppl to give up their sunday mornings once again, how do we ask ppl to fill their lives back up when they are used to being able to spend time wih family they have neglected for years cos they have always had church functions and responisbilities, how do we motivate them…

    how do we view God’s graciousness and its place in our lives? how do we view our responsibility to keeep ppl accountable as part of the body of Christ? how do we view anything thru the logs in our eyes?

    mat.t

  3. Hey Dave, speaking as someone i know you like to encourage to come to church, maybe you should take the same approach you do with me….invite them to hear you play or give your sermon. But if you do want to talk to them about what is going on, im sure you will do a great job. I know that you worry about saying the wrong thing, and sometimes you do, but it is always done in a manner that shows you are concerned about the other person. I like that quality in you. My suggestion though…..stay away from words starting with C!! 🙂

  4. I guess I would question whether church attendance and people’s relationship with God is necessarily correlated … it can be but I don’t necessaily think it is. Definately I think we should be encouraging people to be meeting together and worshipping God, reading the Bible, praying together … but I’m not convinced that church attendance and relationship with God is necessarily the thing to correlate.

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