In the back of each year’s November issue of The Moravian Magazine, the Interprovincial Board of Communication shares the annual listing of the “Statistics of the Moravian Church in the U.S. and Canada.” We are drawn to review the list in some detail each year, knowing the churches pretty well after 30 years of ministry in Districts and Provinces. Some of what we see in these numbers is, well, troubling, and thus this commentary.
For most of the churches that offer their statistics regarding membership and attendance, it is clear there is a general “norm.” Not only is average worship attendance less than membership, which is not surprising, but average worship attendance is generally about one-third of membership. There are several churches that report their average worship attendance closer to half of membership. But in each setting there is certainly room for growth, especially with those who would be considered less-active or inactive.
A question looms; what is a ministry of “stewardship” and “education” to those less active or inactive? If we believe a ministry of biblical stewardship and education begins with those who are members of the church, we therefore believe that all who at one time joined the church are vital, especially a church that is healthy. From our studies, churches that are most vital and healthy record 60 – 80 percent of their members attend worship on a weekly basis. How do they do that? The answer is…strategically.
Very few of our churches have a specific strategy to reach out to, visit, invite, encourage and raise the bar when it comes to worship attendance by those less active and inactive. Indeed, it is not easy and does take work, but it is possible. To increase the percentage of those regularly attending worship, consider these points:
Effective, strategic and successful ministries to reach those less active are based upon our Moravian tradition of relationship and care for the individual and commands found within biblical testimony.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) These words of Jesus are meant for all believers, not only those who regularly attend worship services. We believe that it is a command to nurture even those less active.
“If a shepherd has 100 sheep and one of them has gone astray…go in search of the one that went astray…it is not the will of your Father in Heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:12-14) We do not wait for one whom at one time was with the flock to return to the flock on his/her own. We are called to search and make an effort to bring them back. We must also recognize that bringing back may mean to encourage and assist, as necessary, the inactive member(s) in finding a faith community in which they may actively participate in their life-long faith journey.
As part of our ministries of Stewardship and Christian Education, we believe that we can achieve success and that average numbers can increase. We agree that it is very difficult to reactivate those who are inactive for many years, but it is critical to make the effort. If we reach out to them in the early stages of inactivity, it is far easier to bring them back into active participation and, thus, with the potential of becoming disciples and committed followers of Jesus.
A successful strategy is based upon a series of visits made by leaders within the church trained to make such caring and encouraging visits.
- A first visit is made after a person misses six consecutive weeks of worship attendance.
- A second visit is made after missing three consecutive months of worship attendance.
- A third visit is made after missing six consecutive months of worship attendance.
- A fourth visit is made after missing one full year of worship attendance.
- A fifth visit is made after missing two full years of worship attendance.
This strategy, as well as others, is effective in activating less active members especially when people are reached in the early stages of inactivity.
Finally, we recognize that we are called to minister to all God’s people—members and non-members alike—and attention to the inactive members is in no way intended to neglect the outreach to new members or the care and feeding of active members. Ministry to “inactives” is one component of the total ministry of the Church.
Our hope is when we see the statistics listed in 2013, we will see some positive changes. We think this is very possible. We also believe that those not yet involved in a church, those seeking a relationship with Christ through the church, will look first at those churches healthy and vital, those that have more members attending than fewer. Again, the health and vitality we all desire for our churches is possible, and a part of it may just demand our reconsideration of our ministry to those less active and inactive.
From the April 2013 Moravian Magaine