I’ve just taken a small church. From the church membership records, I see there are a large number of backsliders in the area. Any ideas on how to reach them? Or should I even try?
You absolutely should try to reach them. In fact, I strongly believe that every church needs an ongoing ministry to pray for and consistently reach out to backsliders.
Let me begin by saying that it is never too late to reach out in love and compassion to a backslider. I personally feel that churches often give up too soon. Regardless of why they left the church, within a year or two, the backslider often realizes they made a terrible mistake. However, the devil usually has them convinced the church doesn’t care anymore, or that the embarrassment of returning will be too great. But if the church has been reaching out in a consistent manner, then like the prodigal son, the backslider will eventually come to himself and know it is never too late.
The best way to help the backslider is, of course, to reach him before he or she backslides. A good new convert care program will help in this aspect. Any church can improve their new convert retention rate by developing a care program which focuses upon instruction (a good new convert’s course), fellowship (help the convert make friends and make sure they are assigned a care partner), and involvement (insure that every convert is plugged into an involvement ministry as soon as they are ready). It also helps to have an ongoing program to involve all church members in ministry. People involved in active ministry are much less likely to leave the church.
But once a person leaves the church, the only method that has proven effective in reaching them is the personal contact.
A church should set up a system of regular visitation to all backsliders. They should visit two or three times a year, inviting them to special programs and revivals. The visits should continue as long as the individual is open and receptive to the visits or makes it clear that they want no more visits.
Each backslider should also be placed on the church mailing list for flyers and special invitations. Finally, the pastor should plan to visit at least one time each year – and more if his schedule will allow.
With a program like this a church can see a good number of backsliders return. And while you will not see them all saved, you can be assured of God’s blessing, because you have fulfilled the Lord’s command to reach for that one lost sheep. For more information on setting up a backslider ministry, I encourage you to get a copy of Reopening The Back Door by Kenneth C. Hauyck. For details on setting up a new convert care ministry, call (317) 781-7712 and request the Total Church Growth materials.