Monday, September 24, 2007

The Case of the Vanishing Members

At a stewardship committee meeting yesterday the subject arose of formerly active members who seem be taking a vacation from church life. How to encourage them to return?

The big push seemed to be for a high tech solution. If we could do a better job collecting the data from the little "friendship pads" in the pew, we could manipulate that data on a regular basis, (quarterly seemed to be general consensus),to find out who had missed worship more than, say, 10 times. The Pastors could then call on those folks to see what's going on and, so the theory goes, nip potential discontent and unhappiness in the bud.

My response was that the most sophisticated "attendence tracking" program available would not resolve this issue. What is needed is the very low tech, but apparently too difficult and awkward, strategy of being community for one another. If you notice someone hasn't been around in a while, give them a call. Or if that seems to "in your face" wait until you run into them at the grocery store and say, "The choir's Easter music was amazing! I was so sorry you missed it!" Or something. When I have contacted inactive members in the past the most common lament I've heard was, "When I stopped coming NONE OF MY FRIENDS FROM CHURCH seemed to notice." A computer program can't replace people actually paying attention.

Or am I the crazy one?


LutheranChik said...

You are absolutely right.

When I fell off the Christianity bus for awhile, back in my 30's, one of the precipitating factors was not being contacted by my church friends when, in a state of extreme unhappiness, I stopped attending church. I even worked with some of these folks, and only one of these coworkers brought up my absence from church. My gut reaction was, These people really don't care about me. Which in retrospect I don't think was entirely fair to my fellow parishoners...but "feelings are facts" when you're down and out, and it seemed like real indifference to me.

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

You are not crazy! You are right on track.

Rev Kim said...

What a great post! YOu are so right.

I can't tell you how many times when I've noticed someone hasn't been in church for awhile and I call them, they are so appreciative to know that we noticed they were gone and they were missed. What I'm facing now is encouraging the congregation that it's not only my responsibility to do that, and that we all need to do that.

Rev. Dulce said...

Preach it Sister.

They are taking the easy way out---after all, isn't that what they pay you to do??

zorra said...

No, you're absolutely right.

You know what's wierd, though? Sometimes it works the other way. Example: our pastor left a few months ago, and predictably, several families (not a huge exodus, but some) left too. One couple were charter members of the church, choir members since forever. Phone calls and e-mails from choir members went unreturned. A party invitation was declined. Then about two weeks ago, they reappeared. Not much explanation besides "we've been busy", and we decided then that it was none of our business, and we were just glad they were back. (Maybe they came back BECAUSE we wouldn't leave them alone? I don't know.)

Listing Straight said...

Not. Crazy. You.

One of my pet peeves is when I get calls from members wanting to know the state/status of other members.

Call them yourself, I've started saying.

Not-A-Rev said...

When the pastor calls, my assumption is that is because it is her/his job. When a fellow member calls to find out where I was, if I'm feeling better, if my business trip was successful, if I had a good vacation, etc. it's because she/he cares. Maybe I'm a little too cynical about the clergy aspect of it, but I know how MUCH I appreciate expressions of community from other members.

Songbird said...

You are completely correct. Nothing works better than hearing from your peers that they care about where you are. People don't want to ask because they fear being rejected.

Presbyterian Gal said...

You are so dead on correct!

At my church the pastors motto seems to be: Don't pay attention to anyone or we won't be able to reach everyone! Which trickles down to the church community. I haven't heard from my own deacon in two years.

Sue said...

You are absolutely right on this one.