The Rt. Rev. Dan Thomas Edwards, Bishop of Nevada, begins his recent blog post with three experiences of people returning to a parish they have been absent from. In all three cases, it’s the last time they go back:
When I consult with churches whose membership has declined, they often express little desire to attract new members. Instead they say they want to win back the “lapsed.” I generally warn them that the so-called “lapsed” are the least likely demographic group to resume regular attendance at the church they left.
There are various explanations for that statistic. It could be the ex-members have bad memories of the church. It could be the “been there, done that” attitude. But here’s another hypothesis:
Our gatekeepers know the people who used to worship with us, so they are better prepared with solid techniques to drive them away. A new person comes in the door. We don’t know him. It may take us awhile to find his vulnerabilities and drive him out. But the folks we know, we can kick out the door in a New York minute. Something else may be going on consciously. Maybe the church folks just don’t know good manners. Maybe there is some personal pathology at work – but it looks to me as if the church system that tries to keep everything the way it is, knows that to keep things stable you have to keep the outsiders outside – even the ones who used to be inside – maybe especially the ones who used to be inside.
Bishop Dan includes a list of suggestions on how “not to be a jerk” to people who come back on their own.
The list has been positively received by many, if the comments and Facebook are any indication. The one suggestion people seem to have the most problem with is the statement:
Do not say, “We have missed you
(Which the bishop repeats for emphasis.)
Bishop Dan also suggests that we do not let the people wander off unnoticed in the first place.
If we pay proper attention to our people, fewer of them will wander off. If we simply treat them with ordinary courtesy when they return, they are far more likely to stick with us.
All to often when relationship breaks down between the church and a member, a goodly share of the fault lies with the church. I suspect we know that, and I suspect that’s why we are so quick to blame the member.