The Australian Union Conference will launch a number of ministry initiatives to reconnect with “former and missing” church members following a recent summit. A group of church administrators, pastors and members spent the weekend of March 18 to 20 exploring the stories, challenges and opportunities of the church’s disconnected or inactive members.
“It was a good beginning,” says Pastor Chester Stanley, president of the Australian Union Conference (AUC). “We hope this will be a catalyst for encouraging and inspiring our local conferences and churches to pick up this focus and for all of us to do some serious work and be intentional about reconnecting with people who once were with us.”
There are a lot of great people out there who we would love to have back as active members of our family.
AUC general secretary Pastor Ken Vogel introduced the urgency of this ministry with a report of the church attendance census conducted in 2009. These figures showed average attendance at 59 per cent of the total membership figure across Australia, with some conferences recording attendance at 50 per cent or lower, when compared to official church membership. While not an absolute figure—based on a one-off count—Pastor Stanley considers this a figure that is “indicative” of the size of the challenge that needs to be addressed.
Summit participants had the opportunity to learn from the experience of the North American Division (NAD) through presentations from Pastor Paul Richardson, coordinator of Reconnecting Ministries for the NAD. “We are making progress,” he says of the 17 years he has been ministering with this focus. “Last year in North America, 41 per cent of our membership said they were influential in inviting someone back to church. There is a receptivity there—what we do with it depends on the congregations. A number of conferences now have reconnecting coordinators in local churches and are prioritising it in the life of the church. More churches are now reporting that they are paying attention to the back door than even before.”
According to Pastor Richardson, public evangelism has its place but cannot be the church’s only focus. “God has brought people to our congregations for a purpose and good stewardship says we must care for those we have,” he says. “Retention is now being seen as a critical factor in the health of our churches.”
The NAD’s Reconnecting Ministries hold regular training events, develop focused leadership materials and have hosted satellite events, and Pastor Richardson was excited to see the energy being given to these people at the AUC summit. “It isn’t that I have all the answers,” he explains, “but collectively in the body, it is amazing what can come out of it.
“I am very impressed with what the AUC team have done to plan for this summit. They have been really intentional and have received input by emails and letters from more than 50 former and current members. They have committed to making a plan and then doing something with that plan.”
“We have not been very strategic about this in the past and we need to reprioritise this,” adds Pastor Stanley. “It needs to be more than a program, it needs to be based on a genuine love for people. There are a lot of great people out there who we would love to have back as active members of our family.
“I would love to think that summit participants went away with some realisation of what we might be able to do to stop people drifting away. I hope they will have the desire to put this on the agendas at conferences and local churches to connect with these people, to have conversations with them and to bring them back to the community of faith.”