By Barry Howard
A young professional said: “I got out of the habit of going to church while I was in college. I usually slept in on Sunday mornings. I’ll get started back when I get my life together.”
A single woman said: “Since my divorce, I’ve been too embarrassed to return. I feel like a failure and I really don’t want to answer questions about my ex-husband.”
A businessman said: “My wife and I used to teach youth Sunday school. I was an active deacon and she served on a couple of committees. But we decided to take a sabbatical from church for a while, you know, so we don’t get burned out. We will be back someday.” Their sabbatical was moving into its fifth year.
An engaged couple said: “We want to start after we get married. But since we’ve moved in together already, we feel sort of strange coming to church right now. We don’t want people to judge us.”
And the list goes on. Through the years I have learned that people disengage from church for a variety of reasons, sometimes intentionally and at other times not. Whatever the reason, our responsibility as church members is not to judge them, but to lovingly welcome and reconnect with them.
Sunday, Sept. 18, is National Back to Church Sunday, a multi-denominational effort to re-enlist those who have become inactive or disengaged from the life of the church. Although 83 percent of American adults identify themselves as Christians, only about 20 percent attend church on any given Sunday.
This Sunday is a great time to invite friends and neighbors who have become disconnected from their church family to come to church with you. A 2008 study by LifeWay Research and the North American Mission Board of 15,000 adults found that 67 percent of Americans say a personal invitation from a family member would be effective in getting them to visit a church. Sixty-three percent say an invitation from a friend or neighbor would likely get them to respond.
While there are many seekers who float from church to church to hear popular preachers and trendy Christian music, there are also thousands of non-churchgoers who long to connect or reconnect with a caring spiritual community — a church that accepts them as they are and challenges them toward a journey of growth and discovery. Isn’t that how Jesus related to his early followers?
A personal invitation from you can open the door for someone who is disconnected to become an engaged participant. Who can you invite to come to church with you this Sunday?