Reaching the Formerly Reached

What kinds of habits have you established in your life? Many people have worked hard to create good habits, such as:

  • Eating well
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Giving back to the community

Christians might extend that list and add regular worship, Bible study, prayer, and service, to name just a few other good habits.

You may have heard that it takes 21 days to establish a habit. That’s actually not exactly true. It’s different for each of us. Some establish a habit in as little as 18 days; others take up to 254 days, according to the website Healthline. The average is 66 days to establish a new habit.

During COVID-19 this year, a good number of believers have “unlearned” the habit of attending church and Bible study groups. Perhaps they had legitimate health concerns about COVID-19; some realized they could worship online, and even though they had no real concerns about the virus. The convenience factor has kept them away from our church campuses. They have fallen out of the habit of spiritual disciplines they once embraced. This has led some church experts to predict that many people in our congregations may not return when the COVID-19 crisis finally passes.

Whether 10%, 20%, or 30% of people formerly connected to our churches through regular worship and Bible study groups ultimately return remains to be seen. What is clear is that people who were once reached by the church will have to be “re-reached” because they have drifted away during the last 9 months. I want to suggest three things you and your group can do to reach the formerly reached:

  1. Be Intentional. Reclaiming group members who have drifted away during COVID-19 will start with you, the group leader. It is your job to lead the people in your group to take action and begin the reclamation process. Setting dates and goals will provide the accountability you and your people will need in order to reach the formerly reached.
  2. Be Prayerful. Reaching people begins by praying specifically for them. Pray for opportunities to re-engage with them in organic ways, such as parties, outtings, meals at restaurants, local ministry days in your community, and more. Don’t make reclaiming them all about an invitation to come back to Bible study. Yes, they need to be back in your group, but they may feel a barrier to re-entry because of their long absence. Instead, give them “on ramps” to reconnect through some fun, beyond-the-group-time activities. But remember, this all starts by praying for them regularly! If they are on your mind, you’ll be much more likely to recognize opportunities to encourage them to tag along with the group again. One final thing: these people are “low hanging fruit.” By that I mean they have identified with your church and your group; they have been present before – they know people, and people know them. They should be the easiest people to reach since they’ve been there before.
  3. Be Persistent. The time required to reconnect people to your group may be longer than you’d like. A sure way to fail in reconnecting people will be to reach out to them once, and if they don’t respond, to move on. Reclamation is a long-term process with most people who’ve been absent, so hang in there. Don’t give up. Be like the persistent widow found in Luke 18. I can say this from experience, because long ago when I was much younger and less wise, I dropped out of church for a short time. It was through the ongoing encouragement of one person who kept checking on me that I returned and reconnected with my fellow church members. After a few months of being out of church, I went back – and I never looked back! Persistence works. It did in my case. I am thankful for my friend who did not give up on me.

Strange days, yes? As we approach the beginning of a new year, it’s the right time to work hard to reclaim those people who were once regular attenders but have drifted away from the good spiritual habits they had once established. Don’t judge them. Love them. Don’t label them. Instead, reach the formerly reached!

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