Absent group members are just one facet of group life. Most Bible study groups have regular attenders, guests, prospects, and the absentee member. How soon should you reach out to someone who goes AWOL? Or perhaps the question is, “Does contacting an absentee group member cause them to think, ‘Why is the church bugging me?'” Perhaps we should leave them alone. After all, they know where we are and they’ve got two legs – they can come back any time they want to.
There was a time in my younger days when I dropped out of church. If it were not for the herculean efforts of one young man in the church who regularly contacted me and encouraged me to get back into the groove, I might not be in church today. My life could have taken a very different path. So yes, I’m a big fan of reaching out to absentees. My life and ministry owe a debt of gratitude to a persistent young man who cared more about me than he did his feelings of awkwardness every time he contacted me to come back to the Lord and come back to the church. Here are three things we should remember about absentee group members:
- They may have dropped out because they are hurting – and they just haven’t said anything. This happens all the time. A person’s feelings get hurt, or they have a tragedy in their life and just don’t feel like they can open up to the group about it, so they leave. Leaving is one way they deal with the pain, whatever the source. It’s not true in every absentee’s case, but sometimes the absence is a symptom of a deeper issue they are facing.
- They aren’t going to just jump back into group life. As much as we’d like them to come back, many absentee group members feel very awkward about their absence. They think that everyone would stare at them if they came back. They imagine that people are whispering about them. The fear of being embarrassed in front of their group becomes overpowering. When these feelings settle in, the active group members must continually encourage the absentee member to come back – the person simply isn’t going to do that on their own.
- The longer you and your group wait to contact the absentee, the more awkward it is for everyone involved. Try calling someone who has been absent from your group four or five times in a row – talk about your awkward phone calls! You might imagine the absentee saying something to you like, “What took you so long to call me? I’ve been missing for 4 weeks now!” Or worse yet, you imagine they’d say something like, “Buzz off!” The first time a person goes AWOL, it’s time to reach out to them and find out what happened. It may be nothing. It might be sickness. It could be work-related travel. Or it could be that they are on vacation. But you’ll never know unless you call or contact them.
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