We all know that the church is not a building–it’s a people. It’s the gathering of believers. Literally, it’s the “called out ones” or “called together ones.”
There always seems to be a number of people who identify as Christian, but don’t seem to take part in the process. They don’t attend services. They don’t give of their time. And, apparently, they don’t give of their money either.
This, of course, is nothing new.
In many Christian denominations, pastors and other leaders are happy when a third of the members show up. It’s an age-old story. Sorry folks, but that’s just the way it is.
More recently, however, I’ve come face to face with a whole new population of dropouts. And when I say dropouts, I mean that in a very literal sense. These are people who have just gotten fed up and left—period.
The reasons for their leaving are myriad. I won’t even begin to list them here. Suffice it to say, a lot of those reasons are legitimate. They tried for a long time to “go to church.” They’ve even tried two or three or seven different congregations. They’ve done this over long periods of time. Now they’re just done.
These are not people who, as one might suppose, were just hanging around the fringes of the church. This new segment (at least new to me) is comprised of leaders, standouts, elders, pastors, and diehard church folks. Now they’re gone.
When I say gone, I mean gone. I’ve listened to some of these people. I’ve heard their stories. I’ve spoken to some of them. Not only have they left, they have no intention of ever coming back.
If they’re gone for two months, you may as well cross them off the list.
When I was a young pastor, I remember attending a clergy meeting where absentees were discussed. The statement was put forth in that gathering that if someone was MIA for two weeks, you had better check up on him or her. The ensuing statistics indicated if they were gone for two months, you might as well cross them off your list.
That sounds a bit harsh. As a pastor, I can’t bring myself to cross people off the list (particularly after a mere two months). But alas, those are the statistics.
This is a dilemma for those of us left behind.
All this leaves a dilemma for those of us left behind. Do we spend our time trying to re-enlist the services of the dear departed, or do we move onto more fertile ground? Do we attempt to learn why such devoted people leave and then proceed to plug the dike? Or do we go about business as usual and consider their absence an anomaly?
These are not questions we can take lightly, nor are they easy to answer. There’s only so much time. Where is it most appropriately spent?