On Christmas Eve in my church I looked to my left and saw a Chreaster family sitting in the next section of pews. Although the service was crowded, I hoped that I could arrange to greet them at the conclusion of the service. I did.
I had started thinking about this family the day before the Christmas Eve service. By my informal count I saw them in worship about three times per year. One was Christmas. The second was Easter. The third was some special service like a funeral or wedding. They clearly fit the definition of Chreasters. But they have not always been Chreasters.
My recollection is that they have been members of our congregation for more than 20 years. Throughout that time they have been related to the same Sunday School class that I now co-teach. For the first half of their tenure they were very active in the congregation. Both were leaders. They took pride in their roles in the congregation.
Then something happened. I do not know what. If some people who keep up with them on a regular basis know, they are not telling. Whatever it is, it has not led them to leave our congregation and connect with another one. It has just led them to become inactive.
Some of their actions are typical of couples who reach the empty nest stage of life, and rather than going deeper in their relationship to their congregation, become less involved. Children are no longer pulling them to be a regular part of the congregation. They pursue interests they have delayed.
When grandchildren come along they use their desire to see them as an excuse for not participating in church. This is one type of Chreaster who formerly was more active in a congregation.
Another set of this family’s actions are typical of individuals, couples, or families who experience a crisis of faith, health, or life circumstances, and the congregations under-responds, or mis-responds to this crisis. In some circumstances this drives people away.
Disagreements with actions of the congregation can also turn loyal, active people into Chreasters. They believe the congregation is making poor, shallow or wrong decisions they cannot support. These can involve a theological issue, or something less in depth like a church staff hiring or firing decision, a building construction or renovation decision, or an unwise use of money.
A sin situation in their lives about which they are embarrassed can also impact loyal, active people. Perhaps the congregation does not even know about this situation, but they are afraid to face the congregation, or they assume the congregation knows. They may even have the illusion that by not attending the congregation they are hiding their sin from God.
Whatever the reason, they have moved from involved to uninvolved, from active church persons to Chreasters, from people with the opportunity to grow deeper in their faith within a congregational community, to people who are unlikely to be addressing their discipleship journey while lacking a commitment to a congregational community.
Will they be back? The rule of thumb I have always heard is that it is three times harder to get an inactive member in your congregation to reactivate than it is to attract a new member. If this is true, then why should congregations care about Chreasters?
Our care should be based not on trying to get them to become active once again in our congregation. Rather, our care should be based on concern that they renew their commitment to the Triune God, and to a journey of spiritual formation and missional engagement. Our care should focus on helping them continually experience the kingdom of God on earth as a small taste of their full realization of the coming kingdom of God.
Getting Chreasters more active in our congregation should be seen as lagniappe, or something of joy yet unexpected, even undeserved. Certainly many Chreasters–once reactivated–have gifts, skills, and preferences that can be a blessing in the life and ministry of your congregation. Certainly their witness and service to others adds a value that would be missing without them.
At the same time, let’s be genuine in our concern for Chreasters and focus on what deepening their involvement in our congregation can mean to them. See them as persons of worth created in the image of God to live and to love.
Who are the Chreasters in your congregation? What other types of Chreasters are there beyond what are mentioned here? What about the various types of Chreasters who were never active in your congregation, and being a Chreaster is as deep as they have traveled in their church-related journey?
Postscript: If you did not know, Chreasters are people who attend their church on Christmas and Easter.