Mark G. Schroeder
Every congregation has them. Every member in our congregations knows them. They may be out of sight, but in Christian congregations, they should never be out of mind.
“They” are members of our congregations who, for a variety of reasons, have slipped away from worship and active membership in our congregations. “They” are people we know—close friends, acquaintances, family members—who at one time worshiped regularly, communed often, and participated in the life and work of our congregations, but who are now rarely, if ever, seen in church.
The reasons are many and varied. Some have disagreements with the pastor or other church members and simply stop coming to worship. Some become disillusioned with one or more of the teachings of the church and decide they will protest by their absence. Some become so busy with other activities and interests that they no longer consider worship as a priority. Others, like plants that slowly die from lack of water and nourishment, let their faith wither and weaken to the point where they no longer see the need or value in hearing the Word. Still others have made lifestyle choices that they know are simply not compatible with what should characterize the life of a faithful, practicing Christian.
The reason for their absence is not as important as the reality. These are people who have drifted away from worship, away from Word and sacrament, and away from fellowship with their spiritual brothers and sisters.
The Scriptures have much to say about people who have drifted away. Jesus’ story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) acknowledges the reality that people stray and emphasizes God’s desire to forgive and welcome them back. Jesus’ parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20) illustrates that, yes, some people are brought to faith but can leave their Savior because of a lack of spiritual nourishment or an abundance of other interests and cares. The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15:1-10) highlight the searching love of a God who does not want to lose those who have wandered away. The apostle Paul, in one of his most emotion-filled letters, agonized over the fact that the Galatian Christians surrendered the truth and abandoned the gospel. He wrote not simply to condemn their unfaithfulness but also to bring them to repentance and win them back.
The God-given mission of the church is to seek the lost. Knowing that, we rightly dedicate much effort and resources to reaching the unchurched and those who have never known their Savior. But that same zeal for missions should lead us also to recognize that we have a ripe mission field right in our own congregations, among family, friends, and neighbors who once worshiped with us but have now strayed.
Later this year, our synod will be addressing this important need. Congregations will be encouraged to redouble their efforts to regain the straying. Special worship services will be held. Resources will be made available. Sermon outlines and Bible classes will be provided. Our attention will be focused on this vital need.
But this will not be an effort that belongs just to the pastor or to the board of elders. It will depend on all of us. It will depend on us going to those people we already know and letting them know that we have missed them in worship. Letting them know that we love them and are concerned about them. Letting them know that when they return, God’s people will welcome them back and God will bless them in more ways than they could ever imagine.
Learn more about Welcome Home, the synod’s initiative to regain straying members int he new WELCOME HOME series.
Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019