Keeping the Faith—and Reclaiming Inactive Members
Waldo J. Werning
CHURCH LIFE is meant to involve a continuous process in which all the members are busy speaking the Word to one another (Eph 4: 15). It starts with the pastor, who speaks the Word to the members, but all are to speak the Word to each other in spiritual activities in groups and in contacts with one another. They are to speak the Word in homes, where husbands and wives are to be priests to each other and to their children, and where the children are to be priests to their parents and to one another.
The intensity of the response of members to God’s Word and the life of fellowship varies in every congregation. Some have a low level of faith and commitment as they neglect the means whereby God’s grace is bestowed to them. To those the church must minister, because the same love and concern which prompts outreach to non-Christians will also prompt the ministry of the Gospel for the strengthening of the weak ones in the congregation (cf. Luke 15). Since it is the Holy Spirit who creates, nourishes, and strengthens faith in people through the Word of God, our effective ministry to each other must be centered through the use of that Word.
Too often some try humanistic appeals and pressures and then wonder why there is little or no result. A simple testimony about the truth of God’s grace in Christ will achieve much. Repeated witness by a number of fellow Christians is needed. They need to give a witness to Christ rather than a “come to church” appeal. Most Christians and congregations make a serious mistake in their contact with weak members by merely inviting them to change their church attendance habits instead of an effective and practical Christian witness which educates such delinquents about God’s Word.
We should strive to go back to first-century Christianity in our communication, where believers effectively reached people. They did this through person-to-person communication, not by mimeographed messages. Today, congregations tend to wholesale their communications. Instead of teaching in relevant group situations or through personal calls on members, most congregations will give their messages to the members via announcements through the pulpit, short promotions in quick meetings, or in a mimeographed appeal. A great factor that affects how well a message is received is how carefully the sender conveys it. When we expect small results, we ordinarily use form letters. When we expect larger results, we take time to contact groups or individuals.
There are occasions that require discipline, as seen in Jesus giving instruction how to deal with erring members (Matt 18: 15-18). The purpose of discipline is positive and should express the grace of God so that the delinquent member or the person who has committed a fault may be restored. The reasons why every Christian congregation should practice loving discipline follow:
1. To restore a person who is somehow denying the Word of God or who has given offense (Gal 6:1; Matt 6:14-15)
2. To correct a wrong situation where offense needs to be removed (1 Cor 8:9)
3. To maintain the Christian testimony of the church (1 Tim 3:7)
4. To encourage all members to remain faithful in their witness and not to become careless (1 Cor 5:6-7)
Discipline should not be considered as a way in which the church punishes a guilty person who has not sought the forgiveness of Christ. Jesus gave guidelines how a believer who has committed a fault should be treated. When it is possible, the difficulty should be corrected privately by a member who is aware of the problem, or between persons who are involved. If this personal encounter does not solve the difficulty, two or three others should be requested to help get to the root of the matter. If the offending person still refuses to repent, the matter should be brought to the attention of the church. If the person still does not change and seek forgiveness, he should be removed from the fellowship of the group. The purpose is to arouse the conscience of the unrepentant one and remind him how serious his situation is (Matt 18:15-18).
After a person has been dealt with in such a severe manner and excluded from a congregation, he should not be treated as an enemy, but he should be sought in love to win him back to repentance and forgiveness in Christ (2 Thess 3:15; James 5 :19-20). If the guilty person repents and seeks full fellowship with God again in the church, he should be assured full forgiveness (2 Cor 2:6-7; Gal 6:1-2). All of this must be done in the spirit of meekness and love in order to win and restore.
Church discipline is that love to brothers and sisters in Christ which is concerned for their soul’s salvation. It is shown by edification, admonition, and prayer, through the communication of the Word of God. A church that compromises at this point denies the perfect character of God and does not fulfill God’s purpose for the church’s own members. The church then loses its testimony to the world. When a church has heard the Word of its Lord, it should establish and practice discipline in some form. The church community or fellowship is required to establish certain ordinances and standards to be observed as a response to God’s Word. All of this is important, however, only insofar as it is related to the forgiveness of sins and the communication of the Gospel to all members. The congregation disintegrates to the extent that admonition and discipline are absent. Compromise opens the door to divisions and separations among God’s people.
Trying to help those who are indifferent and are drifting away from the Lord requires much love and patience. The results of our witness are not dependent upon us but on the Holy Spirit. We can never tell what effect the Word may have on their lives and what fruit it may someday bring forth. The Lord does not hold us responsible for results, but for patient and persistent work.
The problem of the delinquent or lapsed member is one with which every congregation must deal. It should be considered with great concern because it is truly a matter of life and death-spiritual life or eternal death. The delinquent or inactive church member thus becomes one of the most important objects of evangelism in the church today. As the treasurer’s books are audited meticulously to make sure that every penny is accounted for, so we should be equally concerned to give a careful accounting of the souls that God has committed to our care in the congregation. For this reason the measurement instrument (4 in Appendix) deals not only with biological, transfer, and conversion growth, but also with growth from reclaiming delinquents and lapsed members.
We need to consider carefully specific suggestions for reviving inactive or indifferent members. It appears that some congregations have almost 25 percent of their members who can be classified as delinquents or inactive, habitually neglecting God’s Word and worship and thus estranging themselves from Christian fellowship. This chapter seeks to assist church leaders in developing a program for revising indifferent church members as one vital aspect of church growth. This is a guide for internal evangelism and soul conservation.
RECLAIMING LAPSED CHRISTIANS
It is tragic that hundreds of thousands of persons are dropped from the membership lists of American churches each year. This sad situation is aggravated by the fact that the church rolls continue to carry the names of many more members who give little evidence of spiritual life. There are thousands of members in the Body of Christ who are weak, lethargic, stumbling, slow to believe, and little interested in growing in the grace of God. They do not accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which could transform them into active, dynamic Christians. Such people need the ministry of their fellow members. The church must bring this ministry to them.
The greatest disservice we can do to inactive Christians is to let them drift away from Christ, unaware of the spiritual sickness taking place in their lives. It is God’s will for all sincere Christians that they should be their brothers’ keeper in matters of faith and life. Only a heartless person would sit and watch a drowning man without trying to save him. How much worse it is to sit idly by and watch a soul sink slowly because of his disregard of the Saviour.
SOME SPIRITUAL IMPERATIVES
The three parables of Luke 15 encourage efforts in soul conservation. The parable of the lost sheep typifies the believer lost in the wilderness of sin and separated from the Great Shepherd and the flock. He must be found and brought back. The Shepherd is greatly concerned about a 1 percent loss. The parable of the lost coin typifies those who are still in the church but out of circulation. Sweep, not to sweep anyone out, but to find them and make them serviceable to the Lord and His Kingdom. The parable of the lost son typifies those who have willfully left their Father’s house. They must be reminded that they are wasting their substance and that an anxious Father is eagerly awaiting their return.
Paul says to the Ephesian Christians: “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph 5:19-21).
Jesus’ parable about the fruitless fig tree indicates His concern about fruitless Christians. The owner told his gardener: “Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?” (Luke 13:7). The answer of the gardener gives a clue to our responsibility toward the inactive members of our congregational vineyards. The gardener pleads that the tree be spared one more year while he gives it special attention, digging about it and giving it a bit of fertilizer. “And,” he says, “if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down” (Luke 13:9). The spiritual imperative in this parable is clear: Cultivate each inactive member carefully. God makes us gardeners in His Kingdom.
The apostle Paul did not overlook the defects in the church at Corinth. He would not allow the church to condone evil, to surrender to worldliness, or to forget its “diseased” members. He urged the Corinthian Christians to deal drastically with the diseased parts and the cancerous growths that were hurting the church. Paul insisted that the church dare not make peace with the dangerous elements in its midst. Renewed and sanctified lives can then be achieved through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.
Our witness in the church creates a God-ordained “people-to-people” influence or a “people-affecting-people” situation. Our witness affects others, for none of us lives for himself alone, but for the Lord and the good of others.
LAPSED CHRISTIANS-SOME SYMPTOMS OF FALLING AWAY
We need to recognize the symptoms common to people who are drifting away from Christ and who may be becoming deliquent in membership. With each symptom are citations from Scripture, showing divine precepts and practices which the faltering Christian is likely to ignore or avoid. The inactive member will fit one or more of the following descriptions:
1. A person who no longer uses the means of grace diligently: one who neglects to read God’s Word and no longer attends Communion regularly; one who habitually disregards the Christian practices (Luke 11:28; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 11: 26; Heb 10:25)
2. A person who does not lead a godly life and whose life does not conform to the will of Christ as expressed in Scripture (John 15:6-8; 2 Cor 5:15; Gal 5:19-26; James 1:22)
3. A person who does not accept the doctrines of the Bible (John 8:31, 47; 2 John 9)
4. A person who is wrapped up in self and materialism and has no interest in evangelism, Christian education, or stewardship (Matt 16:26; 13:22; 22:37-39; Rom 12:2; 1 Tim 6: 10; 1 John 2:15)
5. A person who does not accept brotherly admonition and no longer desires church membership (Col 3:16; Titus 3: 10; Heb 10:24; James 5:16)
CAUSES OF FALLING AWAY AND SOME CURES
Some church leaders seem afraid that a firm approach to delinquent members might offend people and drive them away, but we must remember that they cannot get much farther away from the church than they already are. We do not help them by neglecting them or by making only feeble contacts with them. If we fail to deal with wavering Christians, we are delinquent ourselves in our responsibility for others. Christian love will not allow friends to drift alone in their uncertainty.
CAUSES OF LOSS OF INTEREST
Martin Luther pointed out that the basic reasons for spiritual delinquency are the attacks of the devil, the world, and sinful flesh. This “big three” can produce delinquency by inducing uncertainty of faith, presenting strong temptations, and leading a person into a life of habitual sin.
Certain attitudes of the individual himself may be factors contributing to his delinquency. He may not understand how the Holy Spirit can work in the life of a Christian, especially through the means of God’s Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. There may be the sin of idolatry, a “me first” attitude which gives God the leftovers in thought and life. The delinquent may be too sensitive, too easily offended. He may have no desire to serve in the Saviour’s Kingdom.
Leaders interested in reclamation should check the following areas to discover possible causes of delinquency among church members.
1. PSYCHOLOGICAL REASONS
A member may sense some inadequacy in the church and feel that its program is not relevant to his needs. He may fear being asked for services that he cannot give. The ideals of the church may seem too difficult to meet. There may be a fear of losing out on some of life’s secular pleasures. The tensions and speed of our age and the pressure of being always on the go may affect him to the extent that God has been crowded out of his life.
Perhaps he cannot cope with the tensions of his work and life and has a fear of being asked for responses that are hard to fulfill. Some sense of guilt may keep him from realizing a close fellowship with God. Perhaps he would rather run away from God than meet Him in His Word. Keeping things inside himself may make him unhappy, frustrated, and finally indifferent. The church may have failed to challenge him to think through his faith. Some peculiar religious ideas of his own may have been built up without scriptural foundation.
Some people have difficulties in associating with others because of personality clashes, feelings of not being wanted, or feelings of inferiority and insecurity. Such people are especially in need of sympathetic understanding and help, for they allow people to come between them and their Lord.
2. THEOLOGICAL REASONS
Indifferent members may lack adequate knowledge and understanding of the Bible. They may have grown very little in Christian knowledge since they became church members. Some people fall away from the faith because the Gospel was never fully presented to them or understood by them. Instruction for church membership could have been superficially given or received, so that they never came to a clear realization of what Christ did for them or what God’s will is for their lives. They may lack a true commitment to Christ as Saviour and Lord.
Certain theological difficulties and doubts which may have been ignored or answered superficially may raise serious questions about the Christian faith. Some may feel a need for more educational emphasis in the sermons.
In our secularistic age, some people find themselves increasingly confronted with doubt concerning the Word of God and its truths. Sometimes the uncertainty comes from an imperfect understanding of what is the truth of God’s Word. At other times, there is lack of preparation for the challenge between simple faith and modern unbelief. Opportunity for patient, sympathetic discussion with others is usually needed. If such people can be helped through their period of doubt, their faith often emerges stronger as a result.
3. ECCLESIASTICAL REASONS
The program of the church may seem dull and lifeless. The members of the congregation may not be acting in keeping with the New Testament character and mission of the church. The church may not be reaching the delinquent with its message. A person may sometimes feel that he lives in a twentieth-century world during the week but in a nineteenth-century atmosphere on Sunday, not in doctrine but in church tradition.
An increasing cause for delinquent members, especially among young people, is the resentment against the church which forms part of the larger pattern of a general rebellion against authority. Often the church can be at fault here with a tendency to legalism and an imperfect presentation of the authority of God’s Word.
Since the church often fails in action against social injustice and for the release of human suffering and need, many lose patience with the church. Such people fail to understand the place of social action in the total mission of the church and to ac-knowledge the good the church has accomplished in this area. They also tend to blame the church for the feelings of others involved in the problem, and do not see that by deserting the church they are contributing to the very thing they criticize.
4. SOCIOLOGICAL REASONS
A delinquent member may have a sense of not being wanted or needed. Church members may have failed to help others appreciate true fellowship within the church. Some have the feeling that the church fences them in, restricting their freedom and action. The careless morals and low standards of modern society may have made delinquents callous to the laws of God so that they cannot see themselves as God sees them. The Gospel has lost its meaning to them as they are unwilling to face their sins and their Saviour. The tragedy of a breakdown in family relationships may be experienced. A lack of family solidarity can cause a person to go sour.
5. ECONOMIC REASONS
Financial obligation and Christian stewardship, if not properly presented or understood, can become a source of personal indignation or sense of guilt. In such cases it may be that the members have not received the proper scriptural motivation for giving, or the program may be too need-centered and budget-conscious. As a result, resentment grows against the church about seeming demands that appear unreasonable.
6. PERSONAL REASONS
There may be real or fancied personal grievances—misunderstandings, insults, or indifferences involving another member, a relative, a pastor, or an organization.
Allowing their heart to become captured by worries, cares, and worldly desires, these people destroy the good seed of the Word and bear little or no fruit.
Some fall away from the Lord because they are conquered by a sinful habit which is inconsistent with their Christian discipleship. Instead of giving up the habit, they give up their church and faith. Earnest witness and loving concern early in such a situation are very important.
Having wrong expectations, some become dissatisfied with the church. When the church does not fulfill their faulty hope, they refuse to have anything more to do with it. Included in such are those who think that joining the church will mean material success and prosperity under all conditions. During illness, unemployment, or other setbacks they blame God for not keeping His part of the bargain, and they turn away from Him.
A person may have become so engrossed in the business of making a living that he gives no time to his spiritual needs. Materialism keeps many from obeying the admonition to “seek first His [God’s] kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33).
RESPONSIBLE WORKERS FOR RECLAMATION
The responsibility of winning back inactive members belongs to the whole church. The pastor is the spiritual leader, guiding in love according to the precepts expressed in Matthew 18. The elders or deacons are the pastoral assistants who should be especially concerned with delinquent members. The evangelism committee also should concern itself with effective measures to help solve the problem. Finally, all members of the congregation should think of themselves as their brother’s keeper and should interest themselves in the whole program of membership conservation.
A pastor’s first responsibility should be to build up a spirit of genuine concern among all members of the congregation. He can do much through sermons. Attention might be given to a sharper distinction between the Law and the Gospel-the Law is intended to cut deeply, while the Gospel is designed to show how Christ takes away all guilt and bestows power to overcome the sins that plague us all.
The pastor may conduct a series of “Nights with the Pastor” when he can present the true mission of the church. Each session should be followed by a fellowship hour. He should try to make regular personal contacts with each delinquent member.
After making a spiritual analysis of the church itself, the officers may want to consider the following suggestions:
1. Work out a schedule for calling on each inactive member regularly. Hold monthly meetings in which reports are given on calls that have been made, and then plan the kind of calls to be made in the future. Take note of the church and Communion attendance records of each inactive family and also of the Sunday school attendance records of the children.
2. Send Sunday bulletins to all those who are absent. Some churches stamp the bulletins with some message like, “We missed you last Sunday.” The pastor or other church leaders might make regular telephone calls to inactive members.
3. When inactive members appear in church, give them a warm welcome, but do not shower them with so much attention that they feel conspicuous and embarrassed. All that is required is genuine friendliness.
4. Arrange for active families to sponsor inactive families. Different members of the active family can make definite dates to go with members of the other family to congregational functions. The families can also exchange social calls.
VISITING INACTIVE MEMBERS
THE PURPOSE OF THE VISITS
Those who have drifted away must feel that the church is interested in them as persons, not in what it can get out of them or what it can get them to do. They should realize that they are objects of Christ’s love and that they are also loved by the men and women who are God’s people. Lay leaders should have an understanding of the spiritual resources that God offers all believers. Those who call on lapsed families should use commonsense methods in establishing friendly relationships, and they should try to help others discover the real joy there is in living a genuine Christian life.
The approach of the caller will vary with persons and situations. Be prepared with some questions and suggestions. Indifferent members should be encouraged not to think of the church as a gathering place for perfect people, but as a group of ordinary people on a spiritual pilgrimage, all moving toward the goal of the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3: 14
TECHNIQUES OF HOME VISITING
Church callers should not beg people to come to church, thus giving the impression that people do God a favor by coming to church. Instead, they should help the lapsed members realize how much they are missing by not maintaining a close relationship with Christ.
When you visit, it is vital to let the other person talk. If there is a grievance, listen patiently, restate the problem, and then urge the person to discuss the matter with you or the pastor. Stress the need for understanding, repentance, and forgiveness (Col 3:13). Keep the discussion positive and on a spiritual level. Be a helper, not a judge. Try to be impartial but sympathetic. Deal with excuses cautiously, looking for the real reason behind the excuse. Ask the Holy Spirit to work through you, providing you with light from the Scriptures in answering questions and dealing with problems.
If the member has not admitted his own laxity, encourage him to do some Bible reading at home and to start having family devotions. Offer to leave a devotional guide with the family. Try to enroll members of the family in Bible classes. Enlist their talents in some Christian service and seek definite commitments. When anyone says he will try to do better, indicate gently that without the grace and power of God we cannot do better. When there are signs of agreement, thank God for it. Always leave the door open for future calls. If there has been no apparent favorable response, avoid showing disappointment or dissatisfaction, but witness to the Gospel and its meaning to the situation.
Center the conversation on the major issues of Christianity. If a person shows that he is depending too much on his own good life, or on having had good Christian parents, or on other external factors for his salvation, your response can be something like this: “You may have had Christian parents, but they cannot help you through heaven’s gates without Christ. You may be living a clean, wholesome life, which is important, but it will not avail you anything unless you have accepted forgiveness for your sins. You may deny yourself worldly pleasures, pay all your financial obligations, and give something to the church, but this is no passport to heaven unless you have accepted the grace of God in your life. You may be honest and serve your fellowmen, but this of itself does not make you a child of God. You may go to church once in a while, but that will not make up for the lack of the Spirit of Christ in your life.”
One can prepare a series of leading questions for each visit. As a person tries to answer such questions, he may come to a realization of some of the fallacies in his own thinking. Your questions should lead the person to some solutions. If a person knows in his heart that he is wrong, letting him talk things out will help him to do some fresh thinking. The goal of a caller is not to get surface assent to his propositions, but to help others to make a right decision and translate it into action. We want to help a person, not to condemn him.
Once the caller has a picture of the situation and the personality involved in a given mission, he is ready to plan his call and message. Here are some suggestions:
1. Avoid the lecture-type approach, but keep in mind certain salient points to try to work into the conversation, such as: God has given each person a mission to perform. In becoming a Christian, it may seem as if you took the initiative, but actually you were drawn to faith by a love far greater than any human force. God made you His own by faith, and He now has a part for you in His plans. The Bible tells us that we are God’s building (1 Cor 3:9); a temple of God (1 Cor 3:16); and that we are Christ’s (1 Cor 3:23). Try to discern what His purpose is for you. Realize that He is Lord of your life, and ask for His guidance. He wants no rivals for first place in your life. Have you been letting rivals tempt you? Will you now seek to grow in God’s grace?
2. If there are children in a family who should be attending Sunday school or young people who should be in a weekday class, the caller’s emphasis should be put upon parental responsibility: God has given the basic responsibility for the spiritual training of children to their parents. Parents can be learners along with their children. In fact, we are all pupils of the Lord Jesus. We must not act as if we have tossed aside our Bibles and catechisms. By encouraging our children to attend Sunday school and weekday classes regularly, we will be building up a healthy Christian climate in our home.
3. If a family feels defeated in its religious life by problems and worldly concerns, the members may need to be reminded again of the heart of the Christian faith: You have problems and concerns? You would like to be freed of some of the habits and practices that hamper you? The strongest power in the world is the cross of Christ. The cross can lift you from your problems; worldliness, sinful habits, the things that bog you down. The cross can take away your guilt. It can help you grow in strength and constancy. Your realization and acceptance of the drawing power of the cross will help you put God back in your life.
4. Certain questions may make a family think seriously about the place of religion in their lives: What do you as a family want most out of life? What do you see as the true meaning or purpose of life? What value is there in life without Christ? What place have you given to Christ in your life? Do you have family devotions in your home? Do you think that more regular church attendance and more time for family devotions might help you see life in better perspective?
5. Members of a family who seem unconcerned about the effects of worldliness may need to be reminded of the results of spiritual carelessness: Spiritual laziness can destroy fellowship with God, and ignoring God can ruin a life. Beware of grieving the Holy Spirit. Unbridled sins have their own law of gravity as they pull a person down into ruin. One can stray so far that prayer is forgotten and forgiveness seems beyond reach. Unrepeated sins can poison one’s life. A lack of recognition of the presence of sin can deaden one’s spiritual life.
6. Put the emphasis on the positive features of a truly Christian life: Do you feel the need of peace and security in your life? How are love and faithfulness evident in your home? Love and faithfulness are fruits of a Christian life, which will flourish in our lives if we are true branches of the Vine through faith in Christ. Wishful thinking is harmful, not helpful. Only God can help us achieve real peace and security. These blessings are ours only as we surrender our wills to His will. Is there tension in your life because your purposes are at odds with God’s purposes for you? Try to work with Him instead of against Him so that you may enjoy the fruits of His Spirit in your home.
There may come the time when callers need to make a statement such as this: Something must be wrong. We cannot understand why we have come to the point where the situation has become very serious. What has happened? Have we failed to show love and understanding? Have we failed you anywhere? We cannot see why matters have come to this serious point.
Officers need to adopt a policy which outlines sterner measures according to Matthew 18:15-20 when some fail to respond adequately after a series of visits. The law of love will dictate what kind and how many visits should be made in serious cases where it appears the member is headed for severance of membership.
If a member does not respond to the visits and the letters, he might be asked what he plans to do about his relationship with the Saviour and his church. If the proposal and plan indicate a step forward with the help of God in all sincerity, the callers should encourage this step and share interest and offer prayer for such spiritual growth.
Reclaiming indifferent members takes plowing, harrowing, raking, and much labor before the seed grows and the harvest may be expected.
NEW ANCHORAGE FOR FAMILIES THAT HAVE MOVED
A problem most churches face concerns members who move away. Some families that move away from a parish insist on continuing their membership in the home church. Others display no interest in membership anywhere. A church does these members no favor by keeping their names on the membership rolls, even though the families may send an occasional check to keep their membership active. This is also true of young, unmarried men and women working away from home.
The great mobility of people in America today challenges our churches to transfer members as quickly as possible to churches in their new localities. When members move away without transfers, their names should be removed as soon as possible from the rolls of the former church.
PARISH ZONE, OR SHEPHERDING, PLAN
In spite of various efforts of the church, some members still find it an impersonal institution, and its message fails to penetrate all homes. Next to the sermon and pastoral calls, personal contacts of member with member offer the best opportunity of strengthening the spiritual life of individual members.
The best way of encouraging member-to-member contacts is the use of a shepherding plan through which all members are visited regularly by other members of the church. The plan is a practical application of the scriptural doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. When the church goes into the homes with its message, then we can expect the homes to come to church.
Some people lack a sense of vital fellowship. Others have little part in the church programs. Many are surprisingly uninformed about the total work of the church. New members sometimes find it hard to become integrated into the congregation. It is impossible for the pastor to get into homes often enough to give all the spiritual encouragement that is needed. A shepherding plan can give an answer to the criticism, “The only time the church is interested in me is when it is after money.”
The reason for a shepherding plan and fellowship groups is to develop Christian maturity throughout the congregation so that it is effective in all the facets of the spiritual life.
The congregation is to be divided into convenient geographic zones, each under the charge of an elder or deacon (shepherd) who has several assistants. Each leader makes at least three visits a year into the homes of his zone.
Each caller should have seven to ten families assigned to his care. Before each round of calls, the callers meet to consider the information and material they will be taking into the homes.
The shepherding plan is designed to undergird the major tasks of the church in education, evangelism, and stewardship. The visits encourage greater participation on the part of lay members in the work of the Church. The plan, if carried out well, should result in revitalization of the spiritual life of the church and bring about marked gains in soul-keeping and reclamation of those who were drifting away.
A congregation with approximately 150 family units might be divided into five zones:
Zone 1: elder, or shepherd; 3 assistants; 30 family units Zone 2: elder, or shepherd; 3 assistants; 30 family units Zone 3: elder, or shepherd; 3 assistants; 30 family units Zone 4: elder, or shepherd; 3 assistants; 30 family units Zone 5: elder, or shepherd; 3 assistants; 30 family units
The objective of each round of visits will be decided by the church council and the pastor. The elders, the Christian education board, evangelism committee, and stewardship committee should give direct guidance to the messages of the program. The emphases and plans of each board will suggest what should be brought into the homes. Usually the calling periods may be planned according to this schedule:
1. February—emphasis on evangelism
2. May—emphasis on education
3. November—emphasis on stewardship
Various aids, such as flip charts and booklets, are available from church headquarters, publishing houses, and other organizations to meet the needs of each round of visits.
Callers will find that these visits can help them discover talents of various members and give those members a chance to use their talents. The callers can notify the pastor of needs, problems, and situations they have discovered. Through the members, the caller may learn of unchurched prospects that have moved into or out of the church neighborhood.
This parish zone plan allows for many services to the parish which are not possible otherwise. Zone leaders can keep a silent check on all members. They can express the friendly spirit of the church on such occasions as sickness and hospitalization, deaths, births, weddings, anniversaries, achievements, promotions, and graduations. Transportation can be arranged for the aged, the needy, and the unchurched for worship and Sunday school. People can be enlisted for Bible classes and special opportunities of service. Devotional booklets may be distributed by zone leaders. Zone leaders will have complete lists of telephone numbers for emergencies and special occasions.
Each caller should be given exact information as to what the specific task is. The church leaders should conduct a meeting to prepare all callers in their tasks. Callers should be competent enough to feel at ease with the message and materials they are to deliver to the homes. No one should go into a home without some familiarity with the subject matter he is presenting. Every caller should have a mimeographed or typed outline of the message if no printed material is available. If one caller is missing from the training meeting, another caller from that zone should take the information to him. If one caller in the zone fails to make all assigned calls, the elder should make the calls himself or arrange to have someone else do it. No one should be allowed to lag behind in making calls.
On some occasions, instead of visits to the homes, each zone could be called together for a night at the church to discuss the given topic. Another variation is to conduct a “cottage meeting,” inviting the families to the home of the leader and combining the spiritual message with a period of fellowship. There are values in group meetings at the church or in cottage meetings that cannot be gained through home visits. Such meetings are good for discussion and sociability. However, it is important that all those who missed the meeting be called on individually.
Some churches may feel they do not need such a plan as this. The disintegration of society and families in our day requires individual care of families in such a shepherding program, especially for the sake of delinquents.
No caller should be allowed to falter, for these workers are the lifeline in the church. Adequate preparation and will help assure success. Training should include such courses as a Bible overview, counseling, and witnessing principles.
The shepherding plan provides unlimited opportunities for nurture and renewal of members. From time to time the shepherd should gather his group together for a meeting designed to provide opportunity for growth and renewal through study and discussion.
REPORT FORM FOR VISITS
Each caller should fill out a report form for each call. Below are some suggestions for questions.
1. What need did you hear or sense in the comments of the people to which our church should be responsive? Where did you sense that this person was “hurting”?
2. What were the most affirmative things about our church that were communicated to you?
3. What were the most significant negative comments you received?
4. What are the key items of input that came from this visit that should be considered in the program-planning and decision-making process of our church as a result of this visit?
5. Several researchers in the field of communication contend that 80 percent or more of all communication is nonverbal (body language, attitudes, actions, gestures). What nonverbal messages did you receive from the person(s) you called on?
6. What is your point of reentry? What is the response to a question that was asked, a complaint that was aired, or a comment that was made that gives you an opening to make a repeat visit?
7. Did anything come up that you should refer to the pastor?
Winning back inactive members is a solemn responsibility that calls for participation on the part of the pastor, elders, and members year in and year out. Leaders should identify delinquents and share God’s Word with them until a decision is made. This chapter has given encouragement for nurture and renewal of weak members so that once again they may have a strong and active faith.
The above article, “Keeping the Faith – and Reclaiming Inactive Members” was written by Waldo J. Werning. The article was excerpted from chapter seven in Werning’s book, Vision and Strategy for Church Growth.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”