“Dealing with Inactive Members in Hopes that they Will Become Active”
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42, 46-47
Anyone who has been around a congregation knows that membership rolls often get bloated with inactive members. Simply look on the LCMS website at congregations and you will see numbers like, 1000 members, but 200 in church on Sundays. Our membership is 92, by the way. It is a sad reality that active members become inactive and fall away from their confirmation vows (I mean those who could attend, but choose not to. I don’t mean the homebound or those with health issues and other unique circumstances.) However, this should serve as a reminder to us all that the devil, world and our flesh are always looking to lead us away from Christ’s gifts in order to quench our faith.
Dealing with inactive members isn’t easy, but it is loving and necessary. But, how should a congregation deal with inactive members? First, whose responsibility is it that a member is in church often? The pastor, the elders, or the other members? No, the responsibility is on the member, himself or herself. All of us made the confirmation vow to be with Christ often in Church and would rather suffer death than fall away. It won’t be a valid excuse on Judgment Day to say, “Yes, I broke my vow and I despised preaching and God’s Word by not coming to church, but it was because the pastor or elders never called me.” With that said, out of love in our Christian freedom, we do reach out to our inactive brothers and sisters. This act of love, however, falls to all of us, and not just to the pastor and elders. If you notice someone falling away, you are free to use your pictorial directory and give them a call and encourage them in their confirmation vows.
With that said, it is important that the Board of Elders and I continually help maintain the church roster to reflect our true membership, while doing what we can to reach out to inactive members, as congregational representatives, before acknowledging their unwillingness to attend by removing them from membership. Our constitution states that to remain a member one must attend worship regularly/often and be active in the life of the church. What is often? Is only attending at Christmas and Easter often/regular and active? Would you define me as a pastor who preaches often and regularly if I only preached twice a year, 6 times a year, or 12 times a year? Martin Luther said in his Small Catechism that if a Christian doesn’t desire and receive Holy Communion at least 4 times a year, we shouldn’t consider him a Christian [much less a church member in good standing]. When a member starts becoming inactive, the procedure of the elders and I is to continue to reach out them in informal ways. If this proves unfruitful, we have a set of formal letters to send, as a final plea to win them back, before recommending their removal from membership.
So why not let sleeping dogs lie? One of the goals of sending the formal letters is to remove a false sense of security from the one who thinks he or she can remain a Christian, but rarely receive Christ’s Word and Sacrament. You will eventually die physically if you rarely eat food or drink water—the same is true spiritually. The other and primary goal by sending these final formal letters (to those we have contact information for) is to regain our erring brother or sister with one more invitation to the Wedding Banquet. While it isn’t our responsibility at all to get inactive members back in church—that is solely their duty as they promised at confirmation—we want go the extra mile and send them these letters before proceeding to remove them by acknowledging the reality that they have already removed themselves. Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches, apart from me you can do nothing.”
May we all continue to encourage one another to remain active in Christ’s Church where He richly forgives our sins and strengthens our faith!
In Christ, Pastor
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