What to do when the Sheep Wave Goodbye? (Part 3 of 3)

This is part 3of a three-part series on reclaiming inactive church members.  I have borrowed and expanded on material found in the book Reclaiming Inactive Church Members.  As I said in the first blog post, it’s an oldie but a goodie…

Reclamation is Central to the story told by The Bible

A ministry of reclamation is biblical and follows the example set by the Lord.  Ephesians 2:14-17 says that, “He is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might created in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God…”   Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone…” (ESV).  The word we translate “reasonableness” literally means “generous in overlooking injury or insult; rising above pettiness” in the original Greek language.  It is God’s desire that his people be in right relationship to one another at all times.  Luke 14:23 shows the heart of God and his passion to reach the cultural outcasts.  “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled (a picture of God turning his attention to the Gentile world so that they might hear the gospel message and also believe in him like the Jewish people).  People will not compel themselves to come to God’s house….they have to be compelled to come in.  Hebrews 10:25 tells us, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…”  Sometimes people fall out of the habit of coming to church and belonging to a local church, so they must be encouraged to continue to walk in Christ as members of his body, the church.  Perhaps the most familiar verse is John 3:16 which says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in would not perish, but have eternal life.”   God so loved you and I (and those absent members of your class) that he crafted a plan to sacrifice his Son so that we all might be reconciled to him.  Reclamation is the story the Bible tells over and over, cover to cover.

4 Characteristics of Great “Reclaimers”

A ministry of reclamation is hard, slow work.  It takes a special person to lead the charge and reach out to the inactive members on a Sunday School class role.  Here are a few thoughts about the types of people who make great reclaimers:

  1. Select people who can be NONDEFENSIVE in the face of antagonism.  As they reach out to people who’ve dropped out, they may face some uncomfortable conversations with people who want to stay “off the grid.”
  2. They must have SELFCONFIDENCE and courage to initiate ministry to absentee members who feel alienated from the church.
  3. The reclaimers must have the ability to LISTEN.  This is perhaps the most important characteristic of all!  They should be slow to speak and quick to listen.  Using phrases like, “Tell me more” or “Expand on that” can help reclaimers draw people into a deeper conversation by allowing a missing member to continue talking about their feelings and thoughts.
  4. Excellent reclaimers often have a spiritual gift of SHEPHERDING and a great love for people.  You will never hear them talk about the inactive members as “dead wood” that should be dropped from the class role.  On one occasion a Sunday School class secretary asked me to drop several people from the class role

Steps to Begin a Reclamation Ministry in your Class

Step 1:  Evaluate your own heart to see if it’s a shepherd’s heart.  Ask the Lord to give you a fresh burden for the men and women on your class role who have disconnected from your class.  “Shepherd” was Jesus’ favorite term for those of us who lead His people; sheep often go astray and have to be rescued.  Sheep often make dumb decisions….love them anyway.

Step 2:  Pray for the Lord to raise up one person in your class to lead a reclamation ministry (this is what Care Group Leaders do!).  You’re looking for the leader of your Care Group ministry – someone with organizational skills and a shepherd’s heart.  Care Groups that are functioning well always spot the straying sheep quickly and take action to keep them from wandering off.

Step 3:  Evaluate your class role and identify people who have become inactive.  If they attend your class less than 25% of the time, they are inactive.  If they haven’t attended for the last 6-8 weeks, they are inactive.  When a person or a couple’s attendance drops below 50%, they need some TLC.

Step 4:  Set an appointment with the potential leader of your Care Group Ministry in order to discuss their possible role in reconnecting people to the class, the church, and the Lord.  Appointments always communicate that something is important.  Do this face-to-face, not through a phone or email conversation.

Step 5:  Share a job description with them and cover the key tasks they would be required to do.  Although you must talk about essential tasks, don’t recruit the person to a task…instead, recruit them to a vision.  For instance, rather than recruiting someone to contact absentees, recruit them to the vision of helping absentees reconnect with God and your class members.

Step 6:  Arrange a time to get their response.  Give them a few days to think and pray about the decision.  Check on them to see if they have any additional questions.

Step 7:  Allow the Care Group Coordinator to enlist Care Group Leaders and divide the entire class into Care Groups.  Make sure you have a mixture of regular attenders, semi-regular attenders, and chronic absentees in each group!

Step 8:  Share victories with the class.  As you reconnect people to your class, celebrate what the Lord has done publically and continue to generate interest and excitement in this important class function.

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