Hold Fast Your Members

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to:

  • Explain the four basic reasons why people stop attending church.
  • Identify five ways of reinstating nonattending members.
  • List a few tips on visiting missing members.
  • Develop a strategy for the conservation of Sabbath School membership.

Why They Leave

Studies indicate that approximately 40 percent of members on church records are inactive. Why? In the book Responsibilities of Sabbath School Personnel the writer pointed out that there are four basic reasons why people stop attending church: conflict, unmet expectations, lack of affinity, and inability to relate.

Conflict

Researchers observed that more than half of all inactive members leave because of unresolved conflict with the pastor, members, theological issues, or church standards and policies. Conflict creates discomfort, and the tendency is to simply retreat. 

Unmet Expectations

The many situations that can lead to a church member believing that his or her needs are not being met include these:

  • Feelings of being ignored in general or in particular times of need.
  • Getting burned out with church work and not being affirmed for their efforts.
  • Expecting to find friends in the church but not being welcomed into existing church groups.

Affinity

  • A single parent may feel out of place with married couples.
  • A young person may feel alienated in a congregation of senior citizens.
  • Professionals and working class members may not try to communicate with one another on a personal level.

Inability to Relate

There are some people who may experience challenges in developing social relationships wherever they may go. Reasons include lack of self-esteem, fear of rejection, or lack of social skills. 

Find a Coordinator for Membership

The problem of missing members is of paramount importance. I encourage each superintendent to assign a member of the team to the role of membership coordinator. Tap the member who already exhibits these qualities:

  • Determination to be led by the Holy Spirit.
  • Caring and compassion.
  • Effective communication skills with all membership groups.

Sister White counsels that “the workers in our Sabbath schools have a very important, broad field to cultivate. They need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit of God, that their minds may be impressed to use the very best methods, and follow the best plans to make their work wholly successful. The Lord will work with their efforts. . . . Exert every influence you can possibly command to interest them in the Scriptures. Labor for their souls, that they themselves shall become zealous workers, using their talents to impart to others that which has been imparted to them” (Testimonies on Sabbath School Work, p. 83).

Responsibilities of the coordinator for membership include the following:

  • Analysis of the local membership. Compare the Sabbath School attendance records with the church membership record. Include your active cell groups and Branch Sabbath School(s) in the analysis.
  • Maintenance of an up-to-date annotated directory. Include the names of members and prospective members. Directory details include names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and notes of importance and interest that will help the visitation team: family status (single, spouse, children); work (job and hours, e.g., nights or days); hobbies, etc. Sabbath School class members are often the most effective visitation teams who can quickly connect with members who are occasionally absent.
  • Gathering newly baptized members and newly transferred members into the Sabbath School program. Develop a loose-leaf Sabbath School manual for newly baptized members and transfers to your church. Include a diagram of your church with class locations. List projects and activities for the previous year for each class, e.g., special outreach projects and fellowship activities. List the four goals of Sabbath School and optional study resources, e.g., the Easy Reading and large print editions of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide and how to order these specialty items. List the hours of your church library, and include photos of class facilitators and a few words about their class style and the class composition. Explain the purpose and program of Investment, Birthday Thank Offerings, and Thirteenth Sabbath. List dates for the year, e.g., “Mission Spotlight” viewing dates for your church, the Investment focus, Thirteenth Sabbath programs, and the Sabbath School picnic. As you can see, some pages must be updated yearly, and this helps keep the classes and programs from drifting into an uninviting sameness.
  • Ensuring that the class attendance record is taken every week at all Sabbath School locations. This can be unobtrusively recorded by a member (care coordinator) for each class or group. All names should be included, including those of members known to be home with a cold or traveling for pleasure or business.
  • Building visitation pairs. Train class members in visitation skills or accompany them to such training offered by other church groups or your conference. Distribute assignment slips at the end of each class session. Most effective are visitation teams established within each class and group. Even members with travel limitations can contribute by making telephone, e-mail, and ground mail contacts.

More Tips for Staying Connected

  • Encourage class facilitators to learn the names of class members, their spouses, and their children, so they can use the names in conversation and other communications. Impress the need for them to be acquainted with their members’ lines of work, hobbies, and leisure time activities.
  • Ensure that the Sabbath School class is interesting. Know the four audiences (groups) who attend Sabbath School, and plan to reach the needs of more than those in the same audience as yourself.
  • Look for the hidden hurts you can help to heal.
  • Develop a list of interesting group-fellowship activities: concerts, dinners, picnics, theme parties, etc.
  • Encourage prayer. Encourage regular members to place missing members on their personal prayer list. Pray for specific needs when you know them.

Tips on Visiting Missing Members

  • Pray daily and encourage Sabbath School members to also pray. Ask that the angels of God will accompany you on your visit and that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom to say and do the most appropriate things during your visit.
  • Make the first visit brief.
  • Engage the person in a nonthreatening conversation (talk about family, school, or work). Extend an invitation to a church activity, e.g., a concert or special program.
  • If the member mentions that a negative experience has prevented him or her from attending church, do not try to defend the church. You may want to say, “I am so sorry to hear about this.” It may be helpful to do more listening than talking at this point.
  • Express that you and the Sabbath School miss the person and ask if there is any way you can be of assistance to the family.
  • Ask if the person would like another visit. If so, set up an appointment that is convenient for the person. Ask if you can pray at the close of the visit.
  • Create a plan on how to continue working with the missing.

Always have a positive attitude and a mind-set that God in His time will reclaim the missing members. Remember as a defense mechanism people may set up barriers to avoid being hurt again. Love and persistence will break down all barriers.


Janice Emmanuel-Bunn, Ph.D.
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Self-assessment

  1. Identify reasons why people stop attending church.
  2. Explain to Sabbath School five strategies for reclaiming missing members. 
  3. Describe how you would organize visitation to missing members.  
 

Rank yourself on a scale from 1-5: 1= needs improvement; 2= average; 3= good; 4= very good; 5= excellent. Invite your members to evaluate you.
 

•  My understanding of the importance of reclaiming the missing members.
       1       2       3       4       5

•  My ability to plan, organize, and implement missing member evangelism.
       1       2       3       4       5

•  Ability to motivate members to be involved in this ministry.
       1       2       3       4       5

•  Willingness to pray for and visit missing members.
       1       2       3       4       5

•  Setting of goals and objectives for reclaiming missing members.
       1       2       3       4       5