People visit your church for a variety of reasons. This also means they have a lot of reasons to either return—or worship elsewhere.
Even if someone was just passing through town, you don’t want to miss out on any opportunity to reengage with missing church members.
They could one day become part of your community!
Of course, you would approach a long-time parishioner’s absence differently than a one-time visitor at a wedding. But that only goes to further demonstrate the importance of developing a strategy for communicating with missing members.
How might you go about doing this?
We’re glad you asked!
The Pew Research Center reports that, on average, only 3 million of 7.6 million church members in the U.S. attend worship each week.
Figuring out why these numbers dip so drastically is a job for another day.
What’s important is re-lighting the fire of what brought people to you in the first place. The future of your parish may even depend on it.
In the past, we’ve shared some tips on ways to welcome new church members. Today, we’ll share some ideas on re-inviting inactive ones.
Many churches have a core group of volunteers who make up most of the parish’s familiar faces. You’ll want to propose to them the idea of joining your outreach team. A group of folks who you can task with calling, texting, and emailing your absent members and inviting them to come worship with you again.
The first step then, in a sense, is realizing this job is too big for just one person. You need your strongest ambassadors at the helm.
Be sure to give your outreach team all the tool they need to be successful. Some of your members may not feel comfortable texting people from their personal phones. Instead, sign up for a church texting service and grant them access to a virtual texting platform.
Most of the time you won’t have a very solid idea of why a member has been absent from church. It could be something like a lack of time, work conflicts, or hectic schedules. But it could also be something more severe or an event they’re embarrassed about. It’s best to assume the latter and approach every message with empathy. This will ensure everyone feels welcome, heard, and therefore more positive about returning.
Who said you only had to stick to one type of communication method? In fact, it’s more likely these days that someone favors text over email, or email over phone calls. It’s important to equip your outreach team with a variety of mediums to connect with members.
Technology will also help you connect quickly and engage in conversation—something direct mail lacks.
When reaching out to inactive church members the last thing you want to do is make them feel like a number. You know that these people are more than just bodies in seats, they’re part of your community. So be sure your message reflects that!
For example, instead of saying:
Try this instead:
Public recognition is also a great accountability measure for members. Perhaps your church should make it a habit to recognize first-time visitors as well as visitors who have come for 100, 250, 500 masses! Reaching these more tangible stages might make the idea of returning more regularly a bit more inviting and fun!
As we touched on before, you don’t know why someone stopped coming to church. And even if you do, approaching them with guilt may push them further away. Instead, try and approach them with honesty and share that you’ve missed them. This creates a more welcoming space.
Your audience may not be in a place where they’re ready to return to church. With that being the case, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to find some way to connect with you. You may want to consider offering an alternative, like signing up to receive daily devotional texts, as a way to help them get their feet wet so they feel comfortable enough to return down the line.
According to a study at Michigan State University, using someone’s name can be an effective way of breaking into the conversation. When reaching out to inactive church members be sure your messages clearly show that they’re coming from a real person in your parish to see the best results. Like in the sample message from tip number four.
We ask children to use the buddy system as a way to prevent them from getting lost. Why not use that same accountability measure with church? Encourage your missing members to reach out if they’d like to be paired up with a buddy to remind them about mass, sit with them, and motivate them to keep coming to church! You could also invite them to sign up and receive text message reminders, like a virtual buddy!
A successful outreach strategy requires consistency. Be sure to make note of what tactics seem to bring in the most response and do more of it. This gives you a better chance of growing attendance gradually over time!
Just because you don’t get someone back after a message or two doesn’t mean you should give up. It may not be until the seventh or eighth time that the messages get through. With enough time between outreach, you’ll be consistent rather than pestering.
It’s also important that your messaging stays encouraging. Treat each reach out as if it’s the very first.
Methods like texting are excellent for this as the recipient has control to unsubscribe from your messages at any time. They’re in the driver’s seat, and if they haven’t told you to stop you know your messages are still getting through!
At the end of the day, the best piece of advice we can give you is to remember your mission. Stay true to your objectives and, as they always do, the people will come.