You may be surprised at what we see as the “biggest mission field in the church.” Most congregations do not effectively communicate with this group. We teach better ways of helping people participate in the areas of ministry in your congregation. The growth comes especially from those who are currently “Uninvolved, Under-involved, Uninvited and/or Uncomfortable.” We teach better ways of communicating, new things to celebrate, and more important things to measure. Excitement occurs naturally when members see results.
How We Do It
Our HealthierChurch.org approach means that we:
- Take a before and after snapshot of how we are doing
- Teach leaders how to think transformationally
- Provide practical big-results in time management in planning, budgeting, and decision-making
- Develop congregation readiness for growth
- Facilitate learning through experience
- Create dignity-enhancing ways for uninvolved, under-involved, and new members to participate in areas of ministry
- Measure appealing and significant improvement
- Discern the most effective ways of organizing future ministry
Embracing Inactive Members Again for the First Time
By Dr. Ed Kruse
A faithful member of our congregation said, “Pastor, don’t ever ask me to call on inactive members again. That’s your job.” If you were the pastor, what would you say?
I confess that at first I felt like berating the member. But I didn’t. I knew I needed to learn how to call on inactive members and, at that moment in my young pastoral ministry, humility had not yet seized me. I didn’t particularly want to learn. Also I certainly did not know how to teach teams of two to make visits so that we could be the church. When he said, “That’s your job,” I got defensive, but I also resolved to tackle the issue. What I discovered may surprise you.
I made a number of those calls. I experienced frustration. Only one member promised he’d come back to church and he never did. I batted zero. Then I came up with an idea, though not a very spiritual one: to quit trying. Back then I used to say getting rid of the inactive members was, “cleaning the membership rolls,” and “getting rid of the dead wood.” How sacrilegious. They are not wood or entries on a membership roll; they are people for whom Jesus died. “We think we may have identified the biggest mission field in the church; it is a threefold group we call the Uninvolved, Under-involved, and New Members. Our experience is that congregations have more than 50% of their members in that group. There are alternatives that are more God-pleasing than making a statistical adjustment.”
Later I served as an advisor to pastors, I learned than many other pastors didn’t make these calls either. One pastor said, “Church members are like stars – there are three kinds – shooting stars, shining stars, and falling stars. Don’t be fooled by the shooting stars; they fizzle out soon after they catch fire. Stick with the shining stars. And forget about the falling stars.” How sad. It was not much of an improvement to change from dead wood to a distant star except to make it easier to avoid the issue, though totally lacking in pastoral care and ministry of the Gospel. Worse yet, I told those pastors, “Don’t invest your resources in areas that have such poor returns.” I also quoted someone else who said, “There are members who are truly engaged in mission, and members who are marginally engaged in mission, and members who are opposed to being in mission. Get rid of that last bunch.” Still not very spiritual or Christ-centered to think about “getting rid” of people for whom Jesus died.
I taught, and I am ashamed of this, “In my experience, and all the books I’ve read, indicate that it is not worth the investment to try to activate the inactive. I encourage you not to expose yourself to this pain.” I’m glad Jesus didn’t feel that way as he walked to Calvary. By the way, have any of you ever noticed that once you make up your mind about something, you tend to quote authors who agree with you? I am not proud of that either.
So when faithful leaders in the congregation said, “I’ll visit anyone you ask, Pastor, except…” I turned my back on the Uninvolved, Under-involved, and New Members, or “Uns” for short. None of our members were enthusiastic about their calls. None of them were successful. Soon our group of visitors evaporated.
This story illustrates several things:
- Our experience is not always a good guide. In fact, in this instance my experience was misguided. I had not been spiritually mature enough to act on it, and I finally understood that God was calling me to repentance.
- There is hope when we go to our knees in repentance. I learned that the problem was not the “inactives,” and I seldom use that word anymore; the problem was within me, and specifically how I was approaching the Uns.
- Since that time, I have become even more dedicated to growing in this area of ministry of the Gospel, and I can tell you it is fun as well as Christ-centered, though I still have much to learn.
That’s how the soul of our ministry developed. It is still emerging, and we at HealthierChurch.org call it, “Embracing Inactive Members Again for the First Time.” God was calling us to do the opposite of what we had been doing. What we had been doing was not designed with the interests of those we had been visiting, but our own institutional interest.
If that seems a bit harsh, consider, as we have, that we may be describing the people who make up “the biggest mission field in the church.” This threefold group, the Uninvolved, Under-involved, and New Members may also be one of the most marginalized groups by other members. We project our shortcomings on them. We have the illusion that we would grow, saying profanely, “If we had more butts in the pew we would get more bucks in the plate.” Instead of trying to coax them to show up to meet our needs, which is arguably the entirely wrong reason, we seek to learn ways to approach these people more respectfully. We want to shift our attitude from our institutional needs to their real “need,” and to discern their gifts to help them meet that need!
This attitude shift was the key for us, and it was not I who accomplished this shift, but the Holy Spirit who shifted me. The result is that we are learning to listen to the uninvolved, under-involved, and new members. We are learning that by listening to their ideas for ministry we can make a difference in the world that God reconciled to himself in Jesus Christ. We see these people as called by God to be ambassadors of that reconciliation with others. These people are gifts of God to us and we can learn to embrace them for the first time. We no longer recommend making membership changes by “statistical adjustment.” We begin coaching congregation leaders by teaching all of us about “Embracing the ‘Uns’ Again for the First Time.” This is one of the most joyful discoveries I have made, and I am grateful. And the discovery seems to have come from the Holy Spirit.
We now “embrace the Uns” and commit ourselves to understanding their perspective and listen to their insights. You know what it sounds like? It sounds like integrity. Their insights sound transformational for the body of Christ. We begin by respecting them instead of criticizing and judging them. Our HealthierChurch.org Coach facilitates congregations to walk with the Uns, not for an hour, but for a year.
Here is our secret. When we ask people, “What organization do you think has made the greatest impact on the world?” they say “Microsoft” and “Apple;” until we suggest that perhaps the organization that has made the greatest impact on the world is the congregation! Then they begin to imagine all the caring things congregations have done throughout history, big things like health care, education reform, social justice. Congregation have banded together in districts and synods and presbyteries and dioceses to build hospitals, orphanages, adoption centers, colleges, and all sorts of faith-based initiatives before the term was ever coined.
Starting with the motley bunch of disciples, one of whom quit after embezzling money from the treasury, who lost their leader in death on the cross. This was hardly the marketing plan for a successful institution. And look what God’s body of Christ has become today! What changed the world is Sprit-filled faith communities, at Pentecost, in New Testament times, and they continue to do so today. The same Spirit fills us to impact the world today.
During the year the HealthierChurch.org Coach walks with a congregations, our approach elevates the importance of the congregation 24-7, and we do everything in a relational way; it is an intentional way we embrace the Uns. And we ask that congregations agree to do it in a way that does not burden the church staff and leadership team; they already have full plates.
The results are eye-opening. We now teach a comprehensive missional approach to congregations and offer a full course in spiritual gifts. We are blessed to see results of various kinds. In the first year, we see 15-20% of the uninvolved, under-involved and new members participating in the ministries of the congregation. We see a reduction in conflict and increased good will. More people feel free to offer suggestions for mission and ministry. After that first year, one congregation said, “It gets better every year.”[i] They learned that helping others shift their attitudes was a good experience. They teach each other, somewhat like Ephesians 4:12, “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.”
That’s how we now see it too. The Uninvolved, Under-involved, and New Members are quite the people. Some of them used to be faithful, leaders on the council. Some of them used to be generous givers, tithers. Some of them never knew the joy of being involved in a congregation.
Our favorite practice is that in addition to coaching congregations, we identify and equip a local leader to carry on this mission the following year. That’s transformational. It shifts the congregation from frustration to celebration.
How does this happen? Well, let’s start with what we do not do. We don’t warn people with the Constitution. We don’t caution them with, “Don’t try this at home.” We don’t exclude people. We don’t promise human success and prosperity, though that happens. We simply invite. We invite members to grow, to follow a process and leave the results to God. “God is faithful,” we say. We also say, “The system only fails when you don’t follow it.” Once you learn “the way,” and measure the results God provides, leaving the timetable to God, we want to celebrate. Naturally! One congregation president told us, “I get this. You know why? I used to be one of the Uns!” We do encourage you to “try this at home” with children and parents, spouses and grandparents and grandchildren. It is a joyful experience.
We hope you will join us in “Embracing the ‘Uns’ Again for the First Time.”
[i] Pastors Paula and Scott Geister-Jones, Christ Lutheran Church, Stoughton, Wisconsin.
What It Costs and What You Get
Our short events start at about $1500 depending on need and size of congregation. The most effective in-depth service we provide is walking together for long-term growth in the discipleship culture in the congregation; pricing is on a sliding scale according to size of congregation, starting at $1500 per month for a full year of coaching. Some of the benefits are increased member participation, creating a culture of generosity, improved experience in biblical mission, and an enriched understanding of stewardship that results in increased giving. View what other congregations experienced after they engaged our services in a 9-minute DVD at http://wwwvision2serve.com/video.html.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Is It Paid For?
There are a variety of ways to fund this initiatve but most congregations choose either:
- special or designated funds
- borrowing from yourself with intent to repay yourselves in two years out of increased giving
- ask about other options – we do not recommend using funds from the operating budget
How To Proceed
E-mail info@HealthierChurch.org or call 816-806-9170 to arrange an on-site visit with the leadership of the congregation.