Every church has a list of people.
They used to attend.
They used to volunteer.
They used to give.
But for one reason or another, they have fallen away. They are no longer active. They are no longer participating.
They are still in the database but they are inactive in the church.
It’s likely they didn’t leave in a huff or make a scene. They just faded away. Even now as you’re reading this, a few people come to mind. “I wonder what happened to them,” you think.
We spend a lot of time and energy trying to close the back door (and we should), but what if we could bring some of these people back into the family?
In this article, I want to share with you four steps to re-engaging people who used to be a part of the church but are no longer active participants. I want to give you ideas to invite these people back into the church through the back door.
Step 1: Make a list.
In every church, there are people who used to attend, but haven’t been in six months or more. There are people who used to give, but who have not made any donation this year. There are people who used to serve, but they aren’t doing it anymore.
So the first step is to run your reports and make your list.
You can track attendees through children’s and student ministry. You can run a donation report through your church management software. And you can ask your team leaders who is missing.
You can look at records, but you can also brainstorm with your team. Your mission in this step is just to come up with your list.
This would be a great project to do every six months.
Step 2: Ask Questions.
Once you have your list of people who could re-engage with your church, it’s time to do some real work.
Don’t send mass emails or form letters. Those don’t work. They are cold and only hint at a desire to reconnect. Instead, it’s time to do the work of a pastor.
Call them on the phone and ask questions.
It’s more efficient to text and email, but your mission here is to create conversations, not simply invite someone back to church. Your goal is to find out what happened and where people are spiritually.
When you call, say something like this…
“Hey, this is Jimmy from Cross Church. I want you to know I’m not going to ask you do anything, but I’d love to learn from you today. Do you have about 10 minutes to chat?”
If they give you permission, it’s time to ask a few questions and listen.
- I know you used to attend pretty regularly, but you’re not anymore…did something happen? Did we do anything to push you away?
- I know you used to serve with Guest Services, but James tells me it’s been a while. I’m not trying to guilt you into serving again, but I’d love to know about your experience there.
- You used to financially support the church, but it looks like something changed, and I just wanted to see if something happened in your life where we could help.
Your questions might catch people off guard, so remind them you’d really love to know and give them permission to share. If you ask open-ended questions and give people permission to share honestly, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.
This is tough.
You’re going to hear things you don’t like. But in this moment, you don’t need to defend, you need to listen.
Several months ago, I helped one of my business clients with a product launch. When it didn’t go as expected, I suggested they call people who indicated interested but did not make a purchase. I offered to call 10 or 20 people myself.
As I made these cold calls (scary!), I said, “Hey, this is Michael and I’m not calling to sell you anything today, but if you have 5 minutes, I’d really love to learn from you.” Everyone was willing to talk and share their experience and their responses really helped us take the next step.
Something like this could help your church in a big way. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll create conversations. You could even involve others in the process and make it a bi-annual project.
Step Three: Help Them Find a New Place
As you have conversations, you’ll find that some people have moved on. In this case, you can skip to step four.
But you’ll also find a lot of people in need of a pastor. For these people, it’s time to step in and shepherd them to the right place.
If they had a bad experience with one ministry, maybe they should connect with someone else. If they didn’t connect with one small group, perhaps they would connect with another. If they stopped attending because something happened in their personal life, maybe you need to remind them the church is place of grace and they are welcome.
If there’s an issue, you might meet them for coffee and continue the conversation.
If it’s appropriate, you can personally connect them to another staff member, another group leader, or another volunteer team leader.
Personally guiding people back into the life of the church is not efficient. But neither is discipleship.
You cannot mass produce disciples, and when it comes to reconnecting people, you’ll have to be willing to go one at a time.
Step Four: Say Goodbye with Grace
In the end, your church might not be the place where they need to serve Jesus and share the gospel with the world. Another church might be a better fit.
While it’s tough to see people leave, say goodbye with grace. If you reach this point, you’ll know you’ve done everything you know to connect them and minister to them. It might be a necessary ending.
In your initial conversation or in the developing conversation, if it’s apparent the person has already connected elsewhere or is a better fit at another church, show love.
Like a friend who leaves your home, say goodbye with a smile and don’t slam the door.
Be mature. Be godly. Be nice.
You, your church, and the person will all be better because of this process.
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