Survey Articles

What can be done to win back those who have disconnected?

Survey comments by Michael Harvey

Back to Church Sunday has prompted hundreds of thousands of invitations over the past decade, resulting in thousands of people being re-connected with their local church. My findings after conducting over 500 focus groups containing church leaders and lay people concur with a finding from Journey’s research that fear is the major obstacle facing the church in winning back those who are disconnected. The Journey research finding also suggests that there are people open to a connection but who need an invitation. Many who reconnected list that they felt a pull from God, guilt and being laid low by illness as reasons prompting a return but they say the first step over the threshold is the hardest of all. I believe we have fear on either side of a church threshold, we are afraid to go and invite and there are people outside of a church setting who are being prompted by God, and they are afraid to come on their own.

In my book Unlocking the growth I say that fear of rejection is the root cause of the problem. I have visited mega churches in the US, township churches in South Africa, churches of all sizes and denominations in Canada, New Zealand, Australia Singapore and the UK. Fascinatingly they had behaviours and choices in common. They have ways of thinking about invitation in common. For example people interviewed don't want to damage a relationship by inviting them to church. They think the worst thing that can happen sometimes is that a friend says yes to an invitation. This means they are going to have go through the trauma of sitting through a church service with them in a church service in whom they have little confidence. Getting a no from a friend is a blessed relief.

Many of us at some point in our lives have actually plucked up the courage to invite a friend to church with us, but they’ve turned down our invitation. No-one wants to hear the word no. It is a rejection. All our lives, we do what we can to avoid rejection, steer away from exposing the innermost workings of our hearts. So therefore in order to win back those who are disconnected, we must tackle the fear of rejection in the lives of our congregational members. Fear of rejection is an enemy to our souls and if left to fester it grows more callused. In my Seminars we bring out the flip chart and ask the audience to name the obstacles and then study them. We then have a practical exercise of invitation and then come back and teach each other what happened. The more invitation we do the more resilient we become and the more disconnected are won back. This is not an easy process, but who said Christianity was easy. The process produces fruits of the spirit like patience. The problem with our generation of Christianity is that we want patience without delay!

The role of the church leader is vital in winning back the disconnected. I have suggested that there are 12 steps to becoming an invitational church in Unlocking the Growth. The first three steps are all for the church leader to take. They are vision, modelling and cascading. I have seen churches double their congregations in a day by setting an high expectation vision. We should rarely ask our congregations to do something that we are not prepared to do ourselves and thus modelling of invitation is the second step. I call cascading  the exponential growth step, or we could call it the discipling step. This is the step all ordained people have in their original call from God. That call consists of coming alongside individual people and helping them in their faith journey. We need to combat the fear of rejection in the lives of our congregational members by personally inviting them to invite.

Now does this all work the first time you do it, no, of course not. But if you keep inviting, disconnected people do get re-connected, but our enemy, fear will always be lurking ready to whisper in our ear, is this really worth it? For the ones and twos that are added, after all you have lots of disappointed people in the congregation who have been rejected or refused to take part. But behind the fear is the fruit of re-connection.

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